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.