History – Attention Must Be Paid: Listening to Charlottesville

Nazis then and now

“History won’t forget that when the streets of Charlottesville echoed with evil, Donald Trump responded with silence.” Tom Perez. L) Image via Andy Campbell Twitter R) Nazi Germany

There’s no way to whitewash this – it’s time to pay attention to history again.

History played out in front of us all this past weekend and we could not look away from the vile images.

Angry torch wielding white supremacists in Charlottesville, Va. August 11, 2017.

Angry people carrying torches in the dark of night, hate-filled faces waving Nazi flags and proudly performing the Nazi salute. But this footage was not Adolph Hitler’s 1930’s Germany airing on the History Channel. It was breaking news on CNN and NBC, clogging up every Twitter and Facebook feed.

And it was right here on red, white, and blue American soil in the sleepy city of Charlottesville, that idyllic town in Virginia that is the home of my father’s beloved Alma Mater, the University Of Virginia. My father, whose four  years at this Jeffersonian college coincided with Hitler’s rise in Germany overseas would be appalled to know Nazi flags were being waved in his former college town.

Even more appalling  I never thought I’d be living in a country where the wave of a Nazi  did not immediately inspire our President to be outraged, disavowing these groups by name.

Protesting the hate and Nazis in Charlottesville. Former KKK leader David Duke who was at the Charlottesville rally said that protesters “were determined to take our country back. Were going to fulfill the promises of Donald Trump,” he said. “That’s what we believe , that’s why we voted for Donald Trump.”

Imagine a different world where our president would have shown shock and revulsion when the incident happened not  taking days to offer a tepid response – one where he did not single out the neo Nazis. Trumps refusal to condemn the white nationalists who had explicitly said they were participating in the rally because they supported him.  He could have told them emphatically he does not seek their support and firmly reject it.

Making America White Again

White Supremacists felt emboldened by Trump’s silence. Not surprising since that anti-Semite Steve Bannon who made white nationalism mainstream through Breitbart, is still President Donald Trump’s Goebbels…er…Chief Strategist.

Finally on Monday succumbing to pressure Trump spoke more forcefully, primarily because it seemed as though he were forced to do so. Like a chastened  child who had been scolded and made to apologize, he robotically read his prepared speech, remarking unremarkably that “racism is evil.”

Now months after Trump took office he has finally said the word white supremacist, it’s a little  too late. After the violent demonstrations in Charlottesville leaders of white nationalists claim success.

History has never seemed more relevant. Now we need to listen to what’s not being said.

History: Attention Must Be Paid

Last  summer with  the weight of history hanging heavy as the Republicans nominated Donald J. Trump as their candidate for president, historians spoke out as never before.

We didn’t listen then.

We need to listen now.

It’s a post worth repeating, so we don’t repeat history.

It’s Worth Repeating

We need to take a hard look at history. A Vanity Fair cover from July 1933 showing a despondent Uncle Sam seated on the Western hemisphere with storm clouds above can serve as a somber harbinger for our own times. Illustration by Paolo Garretto

A dozen distinguished  historians from David McCullough to  Ken Burns have bonded together to create a Facebook page called Historians on Donald Trump, dedicated to educating the voters on the disturbing threat trump poses to American democracy.

Historian Robert Caro called Trump a “demagogue” who appeals to the ugliest parts of human nature.

“History tells us we shouldn’t underestimate him,” Caro said. “History is full of demagogues and sometimes rise to the very heights of power by appealing to things that are unfortunately a part of human nature: racism, which I think is a part of human nature no matter how hard we try, and excessive virulent patriotism that goes by the name xenophobia.”

Joining them are Historians Against Trump, a group of  history professors, museum professionals, public historians  and scholars who are concerned about the ominous precedents for Trump’s candidacy. In a published open letter they wrote: “The lessons of history compel us to speak out against a movement rooted in fear and authoritarianism.”

They are all  urging us to take a hard look at history.

I didn’t need the urging

History surrounds me on a daily basis. Literally and figuratively.

Vanity Fair Covers 1933

The Depression era discrepancy between “the haves” and “have not’s” is illustrated in this Vanity Fair cover “Fat Cat and Hobo” from October 1933. The Vanity Fair of May 1933 (R) illustrates an unpredictable Washington DC , optimistic one minute, foreboding and disastrous the next. Illustration Vladimir Bobritsky

The flotsam and jetsam from over the past hundred years, the  vintage advertising, articles, newspapers, booklets and illustrations that permeated the American Twentieth century mass media play in an endless loop through my mind, cluttering it like so many teetering stacks of  vintage magazines and books that clutter my art studio.

In my constant field of vision, are a series of framed vintage Vanity Fair magazine covers from 1933 that powerfully illustrate that most tumultuous year, a year that would have far reaching global consequences. and offer a somber forewarning to our own troubled times.

Many are illustrated by Italian artist Paolo Garretto arguably one of the great European illustrators of his time, his graphic covers expose the unsettling climate of the 1930’s including Hitler’s rise to power.

These compelling images of that unsettling time  serve  as a cautionary tale.

Vanity Fair cover Dec 1933 Illustration Paolo Grarreto

The cover of Vanity Fair December 1933. Figures representing U.S. Italy, France and England “tangle’ over Hitler. Illustration Paolo Garreto

As I listened to  a speech in Cincinnati a few weeks ago, a rambling  Trump maniacally defending the use of the Star of David in his anti Clinton image,  it was clear he was  pandering to his racist anti-Semitic supporters. As  I looked up at the vintage Vanity Fair covers that hang directly in front of my computer, I felt a chill.

An expert demagogue whipping discontented  working class voters into a frenzy, stoking racial resentment and exaggerated threats, giving the disenfranchised a bogeyman to blame misrepresenting the facts and exploiting economic insecurities.

Sound familiar?

Vanity Fair 1932 Fascism

Vanity Fair Covers 1932 Hitler and Mussolini

The use of ethnic stereotypes,the exploitation of fear of foreigners, and the concerns about national decline  is an ugly stew of propaganda straight from  a fascist recipes book .

It’s a recipe for disaster.

But confused and angry voters can take the bait.


In a recent interview with Rolling Stone, Rachel Maddow said  that she has been studying Adolph Hitler in the first few months of his tenure as German chancellor:

“Over the past year I’ve been reading a lot about what it was like when Hitler first became chancellor. I am gravitating toward moments in history for subliminal reference in terms of cultures that have unexpectedly veered into dark places, because I think that’s possibly where we are.”

Vanity Fair Nov. 1933 Paolo Garretto illustration

Cover Vanity Fair November 1933. Artist Paolo Garretto envisioned the globe as a bomb with a fuse waiting go off as diplomats stand at the top of the world seemingly oblivious.

1933 opened with Adolph  Hitler becoming chancellor of Germany.  The great theme of his speeches throughout the previous year was that “politicians had ruined the Reich.”

Some thought a Hitler government would be a farcical affair. The right had the illusion that Hitler was a lightweight, a ridiculous Austrian demagogue whose oratorical gifts they could exploit while “managing” to contain him.

Over the course of the one year these magazine covers appeared,  Hitler was elected as chancellor of Germany, the Reichstag’s Enabling Act was passed after the burning of the Reichstag, enabling police to bypass courts giving Hitler everything he needed to set up a totalitarian state making him dictator of Germany

This was quickly followed by massive Nazi Book burnings, legalized eugenic sterilization, boycotting of Jewish businesses, prohibition of trade  unions and forbidding all non Nazi political parties in Germany.

The very month FDR was telling a frightened nation we had nothing to fear but fear itself, Dachau the first Nazi concentration camp  opened.

It was a frightening time.

Out of the Disturbing Darkness

There are compelling reasons to feel grave concern today.

Pulitzer prize winner Ron Chernow, one of the historians on Historians on Donald Trump page remarked in a video :  “I have been deeply disturbed by the Trump campaign — more deeply disturbed than by any other presidential campaign in our history.

“We’ve all been horrified by the many shocking statements this man has made, but no less frightening have been the omissions,” he continued.

“I’m disturbed by the words missing from the Trump campaign: liberty and justice, freedom and tolerance,” he added. “The only historical movement that Trump alludes to is a shameful one: America First,” he said, referring to Trump’s foreign policy slogan, which shares its name with an anti-Semitic group from the 1940s.”

“Please, please, please folks don’t let it happen here,” Chernow pleaded.”

We have the power to stop it.


Copyright (©) 2017 Sally Edelstein All Rights Reserved



  1. Pingback: Attention Must Be Paid To Charlottesville – The Militant Negro™

  2. Pingback: History – Attention Must Be Paid: Listening to Charlottesville — Envisioning The American Dream | Art History blog

  3. Laura C.

    I would never *actually* wish for a human being to be assassinated… But this brings me close.


  4. So these same Nazis and their friends will come to Boston this Saturday. This photographer will not be carrying a camera…….


  5. As an exercise in finding out what the other side was saying, I listened to Rush Limbaugh. It’s amazing we let this man, and his kind, have a microphone and given him the airwaves and paid him millions. He blamed the anti-Nazi, anti-klan protesters for the violence. He equated the Robert E. Lee and other confederate statues with the Jefferson Monument. Just like Donald Trump changed the subject in his press conference when asked about the confederate statues.

    Not once did either feel any sympathy for the young woman who died and those who were injured.


  6. Myra (Artist. Author. Lover)

    Sad my heart is broken but I believe love wins.


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