Today’s 80-year anniversary of Kristallnacht—“Night of Broken Glass”—often acknowledged as the beginning of the Holocaust, cannot go unmentioned in light of the madness that is occurring in our lives these days.
Thank God my parents are not alive to relive this.
They survived the Holocaust—six hellish years that crushed them—and heaped on them PTSS, anxiety, ceaseless fear, and depression. They rebuilt a “normal” life here in the U.S., where they could simply enjoy their little family, contribute to society, and … blend in. And for the most part, while daily mourning the murder of their parents, sisters, brothers (and so many more), they functioned, they had some fun, and they built a future for me, their only child.
Could they say it was the “fringe” population that began the rock throwing in Europe in 1938? The economic and political persecution of the Jews, followed by yet more radical imprisonment, starvation, humiliation, expulsion, torture, and murder of the Jews of Europe? How about what’s going on today, here, in the U.S., where pundits are blaming the “fringe,” the mentally unstable—who are able to get guns legally—for attacks on schools, churches, nightclubs, synagogues, concert venues. And we know there is a building sense of blame and hatred, some fueling that fear. The play of innocence in terminology is inciting these dangers again.
I started to write this blog in advance of Kristallnacht but then the Pittsburgh attack rocked me. If anything good came out of this reprehensible act, it is a concrete reminder to the world that history does repeat itself. And while this onslaught presented on a much smaller scale – a synagogue shooting versus attempted global annihilation – those suffering from “Holocaust fatigue” might consider dusting off their history books.
There are varying reasons for hatred, but I think fear is the strongest. Why do people fear entire groups of ethnicities? Will neighborhoods change? Property values decrease? Will the changes cause violence? Why is there a presumption that when people emigrate, they will not rise? Throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, immigrants to the U.S. worked to build better lives for their children, so their children could rise. They opened stores in decaying business districts and succeeded (and were hated for it); many worked six or more days a week so their children could go to college (and were hated for it); and they dignified themselves (and were hated for it). They were misunderstood. Who took the time to get to know someone who worshipped differently, who dressed differently, who spoke differently? So why did the poor schlemazels who owned bookshops and barely eked out a living on Main Street in Berlin threaten so many? Because they looked, dressed, and worshipped differently? So, kill them?
This was not “fringe” behavior in Europe in the 1930s. It was not the mentally ill who built slave camps and concentration camps and death camps. It was the government-led, government-sanctioned controlling Nazi party, and it was either disregarded or encouraged by the populace. It was the leader, the inciter, the megalomaniac, egomaniac, narcissistic, lying head of government who rallied the fearful and told them that intruders from the outside would threaten them, take their jobs, rape their children, pillage their homes, and destroy their way of life. Those who were not “pure,” those who looked different, worshipped differently, spoke differently, should be kept out. Expelled from the nation. If that didn’t work, find the final solution: slaughter.
I’m not in favor of open borders. I don’t want people pouring in with no place to live, or no means of support for themselves or their families. But there are ways of solving issues when thousands are fleeing for their lives, needing sanctuary. There are ways of showing rachmunas, compassion, to those who walked two thousand miles to escape their horror. Not even the worst of humanity would take the time or effort to do that just to sow trouble in the U.S. The answer is to brainstorm to find a solution. The answer is not to incite hatred and fear amongst an already anxious society that lives with terrorism—all homegrown—on an apparent monthly basis.
We are a nation of classes and divisions, ethnically, socially, economically, politically, and ideologically. That is how the founding fathers (not all of whom were born in the United States) envisioned our country, with each individual having the freedom and the right to practice their own religion and way of life. The logical interpretation is that the U.S. would contain multinational individuals. There is no “pure” in America, with the exception of our Native Americans. We are all descended from other nations.
I can smell the smoldering seeds of those who would repeat history. We are a divided nation. But I sense our leadership helping to prompt those who would like to lay blame for all wrongs on anyone not the same as them. If I feel it, I must not be the only one. Those who have already suffered the fates of hatred can feel it as well. If my parents were alive, they would feel it, too. Again.
Thank God my parents are not alive to relive this.
Eugene Ionesco said, “Ideologies separate us. Dreams and anguish bring us together.”