Antisemitism is on the rise again in our nation and made a recent appearance in Grand Rapids. Following the election, the Kent County Democratic Headquarters was vandalized with painted swastikas and other white supremacist symbols.
Party Chair Bill Saxton told MLive that it was “not only shocking and disappointing, but is a direct assault on what should be the core values of all citizens, regardless of political party preference. … We cannot and will not allow hate like this to flow through our community. I am asking all of you to stand with us and send a resounding message that this form of hate is not welcome here and we will continue to fight against it every day of every year."
Cary Fleischer, active in Kaufman Interfaith Institute programs and with the Michigan Democratic Jewish Caucus, added: “Hatred is a danger to both parties and to all Americans. Nazi messages are especially anathema to Jewish people, but everyone should join in the condemnation.”
This attitude is not new to America as recently documented in the Ken Burns PBS series “The U.S. and the Holocaust.” In three parts, each two hours long, Burns and his team review the isolationist attitudes in America prior to the Second World War as well as the rampant fear of immigrants, including Jews, as the country was still trying to recover from the economic pressures of the Depression. While President Franklin D. Roosevelt had appointed more Jews to high government positions than any previous president, the mood of the population as well as his own State Department was not supportive of additional Jewish persons being admitted to the country.
The Atlantic magazine responded to the Burns PBS series in an article titled, “Why Democracies Are So Slow to Respond to Evil.” Even Otto Frank, the father of Anne Frank, who had taken his family to Amsterdam, was blocked from entry to the U.S. despite personal connections to the co-owner of Macy’s Department Store. The “Assistant Secretary of State Samuel Breckinridge Long,” The Atlantic article reports, “a notorious anti-Semite who fought hard against Jewish immigration, tightened immigration restrictions, buried reports on the killings, shelved approvals for rescue plans, and blocked funding to relief groups, all while publicly denying those actions.”
As Hitler’s armies moved into democracies throughout Europe, The Atlantic article continues, “Democracies, for all their strengths, are ill-equipped for identifying and responding to evil.” Referring to the “tyranny of the majority” the article points out, “Immigration restrictions, for instance, were not a democratic failure; on the contrary, they were what voters wanted. It was an elected government respecting majority sentiment.”
We cannot reverse our country’s inability to admit more Jews during this horrific period of genocide. We must, however, be aware of this failure and work to prevent current instances of antisemitism and other prejudices against those who may have religious or ethnic differences. We can also keep informed and be vigilant against current instances of hate.
In our community on Wednesday, Nov. 30, is one such opportunity when the Jewish Federation of Grand Rapids, in partnership with WGVU Public Media, will present an introductory screening of “The U.S and the Holocaust.” Also featured will be a panel discussion and audience interaction with Rob Franciosi, professor and Holocaust expert at GVSU, and with Linda and Steve Pestka, children of Holocaust survivor Henry Pestka. The event will be at 7 p.m. at Celebration Cinema North. Registration is required by clicking on this link: The U.S and the Holocaust
Another opportunity in the next couple of months will be two exhibits at the Kaufman Interfaith Institute in the Center for Health Sciences at 301 Michigan St. NE. The first, entitled, “From Darkness To Light: Mosaics Inspired by Tragedy,” features works that respond to the pain and horror of the 2018 shooting at Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, PA. The second, “The Holocaust Unfolds,” depicts the history of what we now call the Holocaust as it unfolded in the pages of the Jewish News and its predecessor, the Detroit Jewish Chronicle. More information to come!
Let us join together to work against hate of all forms and keep promoting the call to “Never Forget.”