History continues to teach us a powerful lesson about hate and intolerance if we are willing and able to listen. The problem is that we are not listening as we ought to. We think we are protected by the Bill of Rights and the Constitution, and that our precious freedoms are unbreakable. History tells us otherwise.
I am an Ashkenazi Jew.
My great-grandparents came from Eastern Europe at the beginning of the 20th century looking for what they heard to be the goldene medina (the golden land). America represented new hopes, new opportunities and safety from the persecution that was part of daily life for Jews in Eastern Europe. But as much as America was a shield from the world they left behind, they were not immune to the horrors of World War II and The Holocaust.
After World War I, the Europe that existed before 1914 vanished into the history books. The Ottoman, Russian and Austro-Hungarian Empires that had ruled Europe for generations dissolved, creating an opportunity for new, independent countries to form. Germany was among them. The democratic Germany only existed for a few short years. In the early 1930’s, the Nazis, led by Adolf Hitler, took over the German government after winning a number of seats in the German parliament. The rest is history.
When Donald Trump announced that he was running for President, many of us thought it was a joke or another public relations stunt to bring in viewers for the upcoming season of “The Apprentice.” As we would soon find out, it was not a joke nor was it a public relations stunt. Donald Trump was actually running for President. As the election continued on and it was becoming clear that Trump would be the Republican nominee, many of us hoped and prayed that this nightmare would soon be over and Hillary Clinton would be taking the Oath of Office in January. Our hopes and prayers were dashed like a ship on jagged rocks during a hurricane when Trump won the election.
While Donald Trump is not Adolf Hitler, it’s not hard to see the similarities if looked at via a certain angle. From day one, his elevator pitch to voters was blaming Mexico and promising to build a wall that Mexico will pay for. His anti-immigration immigration policies specifically target Muslim majority countries. In aligning himself with Steve Bannon, Trump silently condoned the alt-right and the extremist hate groups that previously existed on the fringe of American society. He claimed that some of the marchers in Charlottesville were “good people”. Heather Heyer is dead because one of those “good people” killed her.
Did he not hear them chant “Jews will not replace us”? I did. So did everyone else watching the footage. I take no comfort in that Ivanka converted to Judaism when she married Jared Kushner and is raising her kids Jewish. If not as a President, as a father and grandfather, he should have reacted differently. But then, after nearly a year with Trump in The White House, do we really expect a response is that is remotely human or Presidential? No.
The phrase that often comes up when referring to The Holocaust is “Never Again”. Never again will we sit idly by as our brothers and sisters are being persecuted and murdered because they are different. Never again will we let a government destroy a democracy and brainwash citizens into believing that while one group is superior, the other is inferior and dispensable. The problem is that while we say “Never Again”, the same things keep happening over and over again.
America in 2017 is not Germany in 1933. We have the Bill of Rights and we have the Constitution. The question is, how long before our rights are taken away and the democracy that we have held near and dear for over 200 years becomes history?