I am not Jewish. But I am keenly aware that Anti-Semitism is evil, dangerous – and on the rise. I have seen those photos from the event last week with young people, and a beaming reality TV star, giving a straight-armed Nazi salute. This is not normal. This is not OK. This is not “cheeky” or “ironic” as the leader of that white supremacist conference has claimed (I refuse to name these people and give them amy more of the attention they crave).
The Nazi salute is a symbol of mass murder. Of the darkest moment in human history. I often wonder what would happen if you could send all of those clueless “heilers” back in time to spend a day in the thickest part of the Holocaust, to see what it was really like. A night in a freezing cattle car or in a death camp might make them consider their actions for the future.
I think a lot about this, about how to open the eyes of these younger people who are flocking to the alt-right, Neo-Nazi movements, how to help them understand what it is that they are truly supporting, ie, that the Nazi salute they refer to as “cheeky” is actually stating “I support the mass torture and murder of millions of people.” The energy of those actions has consequences to the world around them, as well as to their own souls. They are now two generations removed from the war, and it is not fresh or visceral for them. They do not feel it. I am 53, and my generation grew up with parents who were war babies and had granddads who told stories of being in Europe and fighting the Nazis. My grandfather was proud every day of his life that he had spent years fighting fascism in Europe as the commander of a tank corps; he would be devastated by what we are seeing as “normalized” in terms of fascism and Anti-Semitism. When my grandfather bought his home in Hollywood in the 50s, he intentionally settled in an all-Jewish neighborhood in the Fairfax district. He felt in his bones, til the day he died, that it was his duty to defend and protect his Jewish brothers and sisters.
But the generation which has followed my own was not raised with firsthand stories of Nazi atrocities. Most do not have this immediate frame of reference. Instead, some of them see “glamour” in the dark side – which Trump’s chief strategist, Steve Bannon, openly celebrates with comparisons to pop culture icons like Darth Vader. Some think it is a game, like playing dress up, or are acting out their rebellious streak. They are sadly desensitized to the horrors and suffering that were the reality of Hell on Earth for millions of people. And I am not sure what the cure is for that. We are clearly failing to educate the populace on the horrors – and the causes – of the rise in fascism that facilitated the Holocaust. There is certainly great literature and powerful film which portrays some of the suffering from WWII, and I have to believe that educators are using these tools. But it seems to me that it is not enough to have a chapter or two on the Second World War. Memorizing names and dates and famous battles is not enough to educate our children on what must NEVER AGAIN happen.
Perhaps our high school students should have to take a full course on genocide: the causes, the suffering and its aftermath. And yes, it will be uncomfortable and shocking and they will need to watch things that make them scared and sick, but perhaps we have shielded them from the horrors that we inflict upon each other a bit too much. The only way to truly say – and mean – Never Again is to understand at some visceral level what and why we are committed to that notion. The genocide against the Bosniaks in 1995 was not that long ago, and yet we have mostly forgotten about it already – if we were even aware that it happened at all. I visited the memorial at Srebrenica a few years ago, the site of events that are beyond comprehension, a genocidal massacre which occurred against the Bosniaks in July of 1995. The impact of that site on my mind and psyche was indelible. I will never shake the essence of Srebrenica from my consciousness – nor should I. We listened to stories from survivors, and walked among the haunted buildings where the unimaginable was facilitated. It made me, and those who traveled with me, physically ill. I was literally sick for a week after that visit. But the understanding of what we are capable of is something that will and must stay with me every day of my life.
I wish that all of these young Americans who are embracing these terrible ideas that relate to genocide could be sent to experience places like Auschwitz and Srebrenica. They need to understand that genocide begins with words, and with slogans – and salutes.
I do not need to be Jewish to powerfully oppose anti-Semitism. I do not need to be Bosnian to care about genocide in the Balkans. I do not need to be Muslim to care about hate crimes and Islamophobia. I need only to be human.
We are all one human family, and an attack on One is an attack on All.