A History Lesson


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Many years ago, when I was a young High School student, I learned about the terrible events in Nazi Germany.  I remember reading about the creation of the Jewish ghettos, and I remember reading about the way that the Jews were singled out and made to feel separate and inferior in Germany in the early 1930’s.

I read about Adolf Hitler, and his rise to power.

I was about 15 or 16 years old.  I learned that the average German didn’t seem to push back as Hitler rose to power.

I couldn’t understand it.  I thought to myself, “If I had been living in Germany in those days, I would have stood up for the Jews.”

When I got older, I read more about the events of WWII.  I read “The Diary of Anna Frank”.  I read the memoirs of Elie Wiezel.  I saw photos from Auschwitz and Dachau and Bergen-Belsen.

I was sure that if I had lived in those horrific times, I would have spoken out loudly and clearly against the actions of my government. I would have denounced Hitler with all my might, I told myself.

And still more years went by.  I went to college and majored in Russian language and Political Science.  I got a job as an interpreter for Jewish Family Services, where I helped to resettle Soviet Jews in the Boston area. I mostly worked as a medical interpreter, taking elderly Russian Jews to doctors’ visits at Beth Israel Hospital.

There I heard first hand accounts of life in the camps.  I saw the numbers tattooed on those old arms.  I listened in breathless horror as one woman told me her story of running through the forest, pregnant and carrying a toddler on her hip.  She was shot in the face, but the bullet did not kill her. She kept running, dragging her sobbing little son through the woods until they both collapsed.  She pointed to the ragged scar on her face.  She introduced me to her now adult son.

“If I had been there,” I told myself, “I would have fought against those damned Nazi’s with every ounce of my strength.”

I remember asking one Russian Jewess about those terrible times. “But how did the Nazi’s get so much power?”, I asked her. “How did they rise without anyone opposing them?”

She smiled, and nodded her head.  I can still see her solemn smile.  “Медленно”, she told me in Russian. “Slowly. Little by little.”   I didn’t understand.

I assumed that I would have known how to fight back against my leaders at a time of extreme xenophobia.  I thought, for some reason, that I would have been able to articulate a reasonable response to government officials who tried to rally the country against a helpless minority.

I was so sure, so very sure, that I would have stood up against the Nazi’s if I had lived in German at the time of their rise to power.

And now here I am, living in the age of anti-Muslim fervor.  On a day when my own Governor wants to stop Muslim refugees from finding safety in my state.

Here I am, living in a time when those who seek the highest office in our country use the same kind of anti-minority, xenophobic, “us vs them” rhetoric that once shaped events in Germany.  When one of the leading candidates for President makes up lies about Arabs and Muslims, blaming an entire community for the fear that so many Americans feel every day.

And I find that I am nearly powerless to speak out.

What can I do?

I have written to my Governor, to my local paper, to the White House.  I post my opinions on Facebook.

I write here, in this tiny, inconsequential blog, in a desperate attempt to make my voice heard.

I abhor the fear mongering that is part of this Presidential Campaign. I hate the lies that are being told by the likes of Donald Trump and Ben Carson.  I am afraid of the direction that my country is taking as we face the unrest and violence that is coming from the Middle East.

I want to believe that I can stand up against this horrific racist rhetoric.

But what can I do?

I am screaming, but I don’t think that anyone care hear me.

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21 thoughts on “A History Lesson

  1. Great post, you are not alone in how you feel on this matter. Sometimes, we can’t see what affect our actions have until later, just continue to do in your own life what you know to be right. Keep up the good work.

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    • Thank you; I think that I wrote the post in part because I need to hear that others feel the same way. But we all need to speak out, as loudly as we can. I’m afraid that out of a sense of civility , those on the right side may just become by standers.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I definitely understand that concern. It’s not been an easy thing to watch unfold and to watch so much harsh feelings come out.

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  2. Keep doing what you are doing. Remember we turned Jews away, too, and we have a less than stellar record of how we treat minorities. Ask someone who lives in South Dakota how they feel about Native Americans. Black Americans? Indian Americans? Asian? Latino? We would do well to remember that European Americans are soon to be a minority, and it’s not just whites against those of color. Prejudice is an equal opportunity fault.

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    • I’m from South Dakota and a liberal, as were my midwestern/plains state-born parents, surprisingly enough. (My father was born in Iowa but moved to S.D. as a toddler and my mother was born in Missouri and raised in eastern Kansas.) But, we were always in the minority there. S.D. did elect George McGovern, however, so there is always hope that fairness will be sparked by an incredible individual. Would that we had one now. I guess a black man followed by a woman is just too much for American to handle, but perhaps not! The alternative is so scary. I think whenever people live side-by-side there is an equal chance of prejudice or developing an understanding. It depends partially on the individuals and also whether they can find a common cause. Immigration without integration is always a problem, so perhaps the secret is in allowing an ingress into our society. Churches, who were responsible for much of the immigration from Somalia and Ethiopia, provide this. Other social programs to truly integrate the two cultures could do much to solve both the immigrant’s problems and our ignorance and racism.

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      • I’m sorry if you felt attacked by my comments about South Dakota. They were not intended to be a judgement of South Dakota residents. My grandfather spent most of his childhood in Utah. His opinion of Native Americans was not kind. He was not impressed that my Boston raised grandmother had an Abenaki ancestor and did not encourage knowledge of that fact. His views were shaped by what he heard and saw; abject poverty does not bring out the best in anybody. I only pointed to South Dakota as a state that has a more visible Native American population not because South Dakotans have a monopoly on bigotry or prejudice..

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      • Kind of you. Sorry I alarmed you. It’s a terrible feeling to think you’ve offended someone, I know. I’ve done it twice without intending to. Much of it has to do with understanding someone’s sense of humor–although this wasn’t the case here. I do not offend easily and certainly don’t look for excuses to take offense, so don’t worry! Just say what you wish. I know you wouldn’t knowingly offend!!!

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    • I just hope that more people speak up and speak out. We have a chance to act…..I remember teaching young children about some of the terrible events of our history, and explaining to them that it doesn’t help to feel guilty, nor is it necessary. What we CAN do is to prevent these times from being repeated.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I understand your frustration, but never, NEVER think that your “tiny, inconsequential blog” isn’t being heard. Not by the brown shirts, maybe, but it IS heard. And it gives hope to the rest of us to continue OUR tiny, inconsequential blogs. The voices add up. We must believe that…

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  4. I feel so sad that we are once again having a discussion about whether it is morally right to intervene & help this group of people. The us vs them mentality. How can we as humans turn our backs on people who are so desperately seeking refuge? Those of us born in countries where we have a voice, where we are free to live our lives without fear, we cannot fathom the desperation that causes one to flee their home despite the reality that it may result in death. How many times must we repeat history before we get it? We must continue to speak up, regardless of how insignificant we may feel our voices may be. Together, our voice is stronger.

    Liked by 1 person

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