For This Jewish Woman, Past Has Become Present and No One Should Be Proud

Trump, The Proud Boys, and Nazi Youth

Last night the President of the United State of America refused to condemn white supremacy, enabling and ennobling them. On national TV. The same America whose story of the triumph of good over evil was the lessons of WWII.

Now emboldened, white supremacists are feeling proud of themselves and their president. For them, it was a victory. For the rest of us, it was a profound moment of disbelief, shame, and grief for our country. This collective national trauma has left many in a state of fear.

We are in danger, folks.

Out and Proud

That an American president could encourage the Proud Boys whose founder once ranted about the “10 Things I Hate About Jews” is unimaginable. As a 65-year-old New York Jewish woman who long thought antisemitism was a thing of the past and a husband who is a Holocaust survivor, we have had to navigate the ugliness of the Trump era together.

Nazis then and now

Nazi flags flapped and Seig Heils offered in Charlottesville eerily reminiscent of Nazi Germany L) Image via Andy Campbell Twitter R) Nazi Germany

When I saw the Nazi flag being waved proudly through the streets of Charlottesville, the hate-filled slogans like “Jews will not replace us,” chanted by neo-Nazis, all I could see was a little Polish boy, homeless, hungry and cold, living in a crowded Displaced Persons camp for 4 years in post-WWII Germany.

When I heard our President espousing the Proud Boys, the alt-right hate group founded by Holocaust denier Gavin McInnes, a man who mocks Jews “whiny paranoid fear of Nazis,” I saw the same little boy who would never know what it was like to grow up with a grandfather, a grandmother,  uncles, or aunts.

Because the holocaust did happen, Mr. McInnes.

I know this because this lonely little Polish boy born without a home and without an extended family would one day grow up to be my all-American husband. My in-laws were Holocaust survivors bearing witness to unspeakable horrors.

Holocaust denier vandalism

(L) Holocaust Denier vandalism, Seattle (R) My mother in laws family in Poland 1939. Within a year everyone but one would be executed by the Nazis.

His extended family were among the millions of unarmed Jewish civilians men women and children brutally slaughtered by the Nazis in the towns of Eastern Europe. Others were gassed in camps. Those swastikas wearing forebearers are the inspiration to today’s hate-filled Americans offering Sieg Heils on the streets of an American town.

Now 75 years later, that same little boy who would eventually grow up to be an American citizen and a public defender, defending the rights of our indigent, had to tragically hear his own President talk about the “good people” at the torchlit Nazi parade. And describe the “good genes” of a Minnesota crowd, eerily evoking Hitler’s eugenics.

In some ways, the past is always present in the little boy who lives within this man. With wounds too deep to ever heal, the decades-old walls built to cover pain too hard to feel and block out what is too hard to remember, remain impenetrable. Along with parts of himself, the trauma lives buried, its toxic damage leaching out over 75 years, affecting generations of loved ones later. Including his wife.

Though not my own history the damage from his tragedy becomes part of mine.

Marvel Comics The Greatest Superheroes of WWII

Marvel Comics The Greatest Superheroes of WWII

I had always felt fortunate to have been born when I was, a full decade after the end of WWII which in a child’s mind is an eternity. The Nazi atrocities of Auschwitz, Treblinka, and Belzec seemed ancient history. Storm Troopers in their black boots and their angry red flags emblazoned with swastikas became harmless villains easily beaten in movies, comics, and television. We had been victorious in our fight against Hitler resulting in the ultimate defeat of the ultimate evil.

The sober realities of what hate could bring were made manifest. After the horrors of the Holocaust were revealed the hope was the world would be cleansed of that virulent strain of hate. Perhaps that greatest generation hoped to eradicate anti-Semitism as they had with polio.

midcentury girl lighting Menoraha

For my own childhood in suburban 1960’s Long Island, anti-Semitism seemed to be a relic of the past. Because I would grow up living in an unprecedented time of acceptance for Jews it would be easy for me to be lulled into a sense of security.

How glad I was to be a Jew in America safe and immune from that kind of hate. The unthinkable atrocities in Europe could never happen in our democracy we were told.

I wanted to think “never again” was a statement of fact. In my America, that kind of hate can’t exist. Except it can.

The specter of anti-Semitism has always hovered around us, the shadowy world of hate like a sinister ghost I chose not to want to see.

But even as an assimilated American Jew I learned through osmosis the coded language and dog whistles of hate and bigotry. To Jewish eyes and Jewish ears, the tropes of today are familiar, as familiar as the ancient prayers of Kaddish said in temple.

Of course through the years, a reviled swastika scrawled on a wall or an ugly anti-Semitic rant might rear its ugly head causing a queasy uneasy feeling to wash over me, but I could be confident that the perpetrators of this hateful act were swiftly and firmly denounced.

The European Jewish story was history, an unthinkable tragedy important to remember, but unimaginable here.

But now the unthinkable is entering American Jews’ thoughts. Including mine.

Top, White supremacy vandalism Wellsville, NY (B) Vintage Captain America 1941 punching out Hitler

I no longer feel protected in my own country least of all by our president with his appalling lack of leadership and empathy. The hatred, bigotry, and violence in Charlottesville came from “many sides” our President insisted, but the fact is only one side was carrying swastika flags, the flag of Nazi Germany.

It is unthinkable that the President of the United States,  the leader of a country that over 70 years ago sacrificed hundreds and thousands of the greatest generation to ensure the demise of that same evil,  not vigorously condemn Americans who marched and spout the hate of the Third Reich.

Now as I observe my husband as he watches the horror of what has been unleashed in our country, I see the little boy confronted by that noxious symbol of hate once again, and the trauma that has long been buried gets stirred up. The look is of pain but so deep in the recesses, he is unable to speak of it.

Today my 75-year-old husband struggles with cognitive decline. But this hate that has been unleashed and encouraged by our President is something he understands even if he can’t find the words to express them.

I will be his voice. And it is loud, it is outraged, and it is frightened.

 

© Sally Edelstein and Envisioning The American Dream, 2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Sally Edelstein and Envisioning The American Dream with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

 

 

 

 

 

 

6 comments

  1. A long time ago, I compared Trump to Hitler and I was told I was too melodramatic. This sort of thing sadly validates what I knew all along. trump owned apartment buildings right outside Coney Island, not far from where I lived in Sheepshead Bay. I grew up in a NYCHA complex and it was a known fact that when your income rose to a level where you needed to exit the “Projects” especially in 1965 when kids from Crown Heights were starting to be bused in, a “safe” place to move was to a Trump building because “negroes” and “PR’s” were not allowed.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Fred Trump notoriously ran a very segregated complex of buildings and was sued by the Federal gov. The rotten apple did not fall far from the gnarled tree. Right after he was elected, discussion were had among my Jewish friends that perhaps we need to consider a move elsewhere. Trump was going to morph into a fascist with undertones of Hitler. We were dead serious.

      Like

  2. Was there any doubt Trump was this way? Not to anyone who paid attention. You New Yorkers doubtlessly knew the man’s foibles before he even thought to run for president. We outlanders could have picked up on his character when he and Ivanka walked down the stairs to announce his run. The scariest thing, though, is a fair percentage of his supporters not only have no problem with his racism, anti-Semitism, and incredible dangerous ignorance about everything, they wallow in it!

    I’m reposting this. As always, Sally, you’ve articulated what many of us wish we could. Your message is important.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Doug for the repost and your supportive words. Sadly yes in NY Trump was a businessman loser, buffoon, a laugh, a punchline that guaranteed guffaws. Blame Mark Burnett for promoting a lie and an illusion to the rest of the country. Trump is as wildly popular among his base because he has tapped into the hate and racism etc that has always been part of our country. I fear there may be more among the so-called undecided who I think of as being closeted Trumpers who are too ashamed to acknowledge it. These are very frightening times which I fear are only going to snowball in the next several months.

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  3. Sally, you words are on target, sadly. There have long been more white supremacist hate groups in the US than any Islamic group. Yet, this president has made it OK for them to come out into the light. This is not a gaffe, it is his nature. Here is a recent post on this subject. Keith

    https://musingsofanoldfart.wordpress.com/2020/09/30/the-racist-incumbent-in-the-white-house/

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    • PS – If we told US soldiers marching into Berlin in 1945 that
      75 years later, the German chancelor would be the most respected leader of the free world, they would not believe us. If we added the US president encouraged White supremacists and had said and done more than a few racists things, they would likely be puzzled. We cannot let a president who acts this way be re-elected. It is that simple. Keith

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