I am a Jew. I am a Jew with protective coloration, however: I’ve had a non-Jewish last name since the 1970s and I don’t have particularly “Jewish-looking” features.
People usually assume I’m Catholic, or at least Christian, because of my name and appearance. Over the years, a lot of anti-Semitic comments and jokes have been voiced in my presence but not directed at me personally, of course, because of that coloration. Those comments have offended me because of false and ugly stereotypes on which they are based, but the comments have never frightened me, and when I disclose my Jewish identity, the speakers are always contrite, ashamed, and genuinely embarrassed.
The events in Charlottesville frightened me. When I heard the chants about Jews and I saw the huge swastikas that were worn and waved with pride and arrogance, I was truly frightened.
Much of my extended family perished in the Holocaust, in the annihilation of the Jewish ghetto in Vilna, Lithuania. I work in human rights. I have followed the dramatic upsurge in hate groups and hate incidents that accompanied the Trump campaign, the election, and now the presidency itself. The chants of “Heil Trump” make my heart stop. Slogans having to do with Jews and ovens – I simply cannot believe that this is happening in my lifetime, in my country, from fellow Americans. And Trump is supporting this violence by failing to take a strong stand against the neo-Nazis, by demonizing the good people who were protesting hate, and by not disavowing the alt-right’s allegiance to him.
Young people are highly susceptible to online propaganda. The neo-Nazi website Daily Stormer, part of the organizing impetus for the Charlottesville demonstrations, was shut down in recent days by several hosting sites and now resides in the dark web. It has its ancestry in the Nazi newspaper Der Sturmer, circulated in Germany from the 1920s until the end of World War II. Der Sturmer’s publisher, Julius Streicher, was prosecuted at the Nuremberg trials after the Holocaust and was hanged for committing crimes against humanity.
Streicher never killed anybody, never filled shower rooms with poisonous gas, never rounded up Jews and packed them into cattle cars. He did something that in many ways was far worse. He incited ordinary people to hate Jews, to view them as objects to be reviled and defiled and exterminated.
These are the same messages we are hearing today, without opposition from the White House, without outrage and incredulity from Attorney General Jeff Sessions, without enough shock and horror from all of us to silence the hate speech and to put an end to the swastikas and the Hitler adulation forever.
This is no longer my country. This is a place where I am frightened, where the next Julius Streichers are taking boldly to the streets with encouragement and support.
Where will I go to feel safe?
Ellen J. Kennedy, Ph.D., is the executive director of World Without Genocide at Mitchell Hamline School of Law.
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