Social Issues, Theology

This is how it starts


I was talking to my brother on the phone the other day: “You know, lately I’ve been thinking about the anxiety Mom had when we were growing up, about Nazis coming to America. And we all thought she was crazy.”

“She wasn’t crazy,” he said. “That’s just a story we like to tell.”

“Okay,” I responded. “I thought she was crazy.”

That was her anxiety talking, I realize now – something that runs in my family. Both my maternal and paternal ancestors fled to America from Poland and Russia during the pogrom era, before the Holocaust started. But that doesn’t make the anxiety any less real. Holocaust Panic is just a side effect of being Jewish, in this day and age.

It’s not just that children have been stolen from the arms of their parents that infuriates me, although that alone is worthy enough. It’s not just that they are being held in internment-style camping grounds, while members of the Trump administration quote Romans 13 (a verse about obeying government authority) to justify it. All of that is beyond the pale, but that’s not the worst thing troubling me.

It’s the justification coming from ordinary citizens – college acquaintances, nice old church ladies, your own Aunt Linda. It’s the sanctimonious sighs and proclamations that “The parents shouldn’t have broken the law!” It’s the deflection, the what-about-ism. It’s the rallying cry (still) of BUT HER EMAILS.

And this is why the Holocaust comparisons are more relevant than ever: not because all immigrants are being forced to wear some kind of identifying symbol on their clothing. Not because their children are being murdered in gas chambers (God forbid). The real reason is far less dramatic, more mundane than that.

Adolf Hitler was just one person, but he was a powerful influencer. He drew attention to Germany’s financial problems, and connected dots to create the ideal scapegoat. He stirred up already existing fears and empowered already existing prejudices. He didn’t create anything that wasn’t already lurking beneath the surface: he merely stirred it up and then lit a match.

A government like ours is outnumbered by its citizens. But it requires the compliance of citizens in order to carry out an agenda. When the president gives a cabinet position to a man with ties to the KKK, it sends a message.

When the president uses buzz terms like “shithole countries” and “animals” to describe immigrants and where they come from, it sends a message. A stamp of approval.

It’s not the genocide that people are referring to when they compare the Trump administration to that of Nazi Germany, but the buildup to it. The moment you convince an ordinary person – be it a teacher, a church-goer, a housewife – that one group of humans is superior to another, or is inherently dangerous, disloyal, or untrustworthy, the wheel of destruction is set in motion.

You know what else turns that wheel even faster? Nationalism rebranded as religion.

That’s why “good people” could sleep well after they reported their Jewish neighbors. That’s why the “pro-life” party can shake their heads and claim these families had it coming.

And that is how history repeats. And repeats. And repeats.


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12 thoughts on “This is how it starts”

  1. Religion has always hated race so nothing new here. The most vocal people I know who want to harm others are church followers. It’s a tribal thing. You can only be safe with them if you join the church that has the most people going to it, otherwise, you are on the hat list (because you are evil).

    I believe in God but mankind’s church seems a bit twisted.

  2. Hi

    I understand what you mean. My grandparents were uprooted from the Jewish Babylonian community that had existed from biblical times , we’d helped to build modern Iraq and were middle-class business merchants with close ties to India ( my great grandmother was a Jewish Indian) which was snuffed out during the Farhud pogrom of 1941. They came to Britain and fought in the war and rebuilt their lives after it.

    I live in my grandparents house. When we were renovating it, we discovered a box of Swiss francs, some gold coins and other jewellery which was meant as a way of financing an escape from Britain if needs be, plus a fully packed suitcase underneath their bed. They’d written the following :

    “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.”

  3. It is a painful thing to understand and accept as fact that every step I have ever walked in my native country has been on stolen land, that it was built on the lashed backs of Black slaves, the graves of Native Americans, and the exploitation of immigrants deemed less than White and worthy. Painful, yes, but the only path to healing, not repeating, and making amends in some part for those crimes.

    Americans need to remember that many of our immigrant ancestors came to escape the very threats and limitations as those who come now, and care.

  4. Bobcabkings–your pithy statement is the most accurate assessment of the crisis before us. Ethnic cleansing in the Americas began with the European conquest of the New World during the 1500’s–1800’s. This current family separation horror is but the harbinger of more horrors to come. The horror is being “nurtured” not only by a hostile government, but by Americans who believe that desperate people who flee violence deserve to have their children stripped from them to enforce some “zero tolerance policy.” This current variety of ethnic cleansing is a signal to all of us that our government can and will get rid of anyone who is labeled
    “unworthy” to live in this country.

  5. I grew up with many of the same “irrational” fears. My fantasies were imagining where I would hide in the woods and of blowing up Nazi railroads. Now I am old and probably would not have the energy to do anything but march along to the gas chamber. That said Hitler was litterally a number in the Nazi party albeit an early one. Nazism started with the Aryan myth that was born in litterateur of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Hitler merely seized, amplified and distilled these myths which the Germans had already or were in the process of imbibing. There is no parallel movement in the United States that can be compared to that phenomenon. Americans, including the ones that voted for Trump have virtually nothing in common with early 20th century Germans philosophically and in fact would largely find their world view repugnant to the point where they would enthusiastically mount the beaches of Normandy again as they did then to blot horror from the face of the earth. All of that said children should never be forced to pay for the sins of their parents as Judaism gradually came to realize in its development from the early Torah to prophetic writings. Thankfully the vast majority of Republicans including Trump supporters realize this is a bridge too far and have spoken out against it. At the same time it is disgraceful that Democrats continue to hold up legislation that is far more lenient to immigrants than anything Obama proposed in the service of winning back the House. Finally the most virulent but rational anti-Trump thinkers recognize he was referring to MS-13 in his “animals” comment and that anything that glosses over the monsterous behavior of that gang is a disservice – see Sam Harris.

  6. Reblogged this on K. L. Romo and commented:
    Beth Caplan does a great job of expressing exactly what I feel about the danger of citizen compliance and justification in dehumanizing others.

  7. True compassion, that consciousness that sees another human being in a bad situation of whatever kind and knows the truth that there but for fortune I or someone I love, is uncomfortable, even painful and frightening, but it is essential to a moral life. I seem to recall that a fellow named Jesus spoke to that point, as did Buddha, and every true teacher worth their salt. When that is lost and people can say that those who break a law deserve whatever happens to them, no matter how dreadful, every horror becomes possible and mercy is banished.

  8. Protesters, people of faith, sympathetic legislators/politicians, immigrant advocacy and support groups need to call this Trump “zero tolerance policy” what it really is: SLAVERY. This is a classic example of how ENSLAVEMENT STARTS:

    1. Separate the young from their parents.
    2. Lock up the young in cages.
    3. Scatter the young anywhere it is convenient.
    4. Lie to, and misinform, the parents.
    5. Dump the parent out of the country anywhere it is convenient.
    6. Oh yes–make sure the children are stripped of their LANGUAGE and CULTURE.
    7. Sell it to the public any way that is convenient.


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