Appalled, perplexed, baffled, mystified, angry. Any of these words captures how I feel upon reading story after story about the rise of anti-Semitism, especially in Europe. I am mindful of George Santayana’s adage, “Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
Apparently that condemnation includes us all. We continue to see the rise of unabashed, irrational hatred based on religion and ethnicity. Sadly the world’s leadership is doing now just as it did in the 1930s, ignoring reality and wistfully hoping the obvious disease of blind hatred will go away.
Allow your mind to drift back to November, 1938. You are a citizen of Germany and change is afoot. Officials of the governing Nazi Party are looking to accomplish a few items on their list. One is directed specifically at the Jewish communities. Party leaders are assembled to honor the anniversary of the Beer Hall Putsch, which ultimately contributed to their rise in power and eventual control of a vast swath of Europe. A young Jew living in Paris had reacted violently to the expulsion of his parents and other Polish Jews living in Germany. He shot a German embassy official, giving Nazis what they needed to instigate a “spontaneous” demonstration of the citizenry expressing outrage over this act. The targets of this orchestrated wrath were the Jewish communities throughout the country and occupied territories.
November 9 and 10 are remembered now as “Kristallnacht,” translated as “Night of Crystal,” but to be more accurate, it reflected all of the broken glass from homes, businesses and synagogues that now littered the streets after mobs looted, burned and destroyed properties owned by Jews. The Night of the Broken Glass lit the fires of hatred across Germany and allowed Nazi leaders to use the destroyed communities as scapegoats for any ills of their broken society. The aftermath of these two days saw 267 houses of worship destroyed, many burning for days as firefighters were ordered to just prevent the fires from spreading to adjacent properties. More than 7,500 businesses were destroyed in two days and close to 100 citizens were murdered.
As the violence spread it was ordered that young Jewish males be arrested, with close to 30,000 placed in jails, only to be transferred to Dachau, Buchenwald and other newly created concentration camps. The “final solution” now had wings and was not to be deterred. Many of those early 30,000 were released over the next few months under the stipulation that they immediately emigrate from Germany, which spurred a wholesale emigration of many from the areas Germany held at that time. But many who fled were to be captured and killed later as Germany seized new lands and territories. Adding insult to grievous injury, German officials blamed the Jews for all of this and began to seize property, payouts from insurance claims and other assets to pay for the damages caused by the “spontaneous rioters.”
We all know what happened after that – yet some somehow seem to forget. It has gotten so bad in Europe now that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has publicly stated that Europe is no longer safe for Jews and that they should come to Israel. The horrors discovered during the 1940s that occurred under Nazi control cannot be forgotten. These horrors started slow; first losing licenses, then access to public facilities, then loss of safety and security in public areas, culminating in being rounded up and killed.
Recently a young Jewish journalist decided to experiment in Paris, the eternal City of Lights and the birthplace of revolutionary freedom in Europe. He simply adorned himself with a yarmulke and a scarf called a tzitzit and quietly walked the streets of Paris, filming discreetly what he found. He wandered normal tourist areas, mixed neighborhoods and bravely entered areas dominated by Muslim residents. He was spat on, cursed, bullied, threatened and eventually had to leave quickly in fear. He was simply walking the public streets of a major European city.
His walk followed the horrible murders by terrorists in the streets of Paris and the assassination of Jewish citizens of Paris doing nothing but shopping for food in a market. His walk followed the desecration of hundreds of graves in a Jewish cemetery outside of Paris. Recall now that in the aftermath of Kristallnacht thousands of graves of Jewish citizens were desecrated. Now we see the same happening 75 years later in Greece, France, Denmark and other European Countries, and yes, even in Wisconsin.
ISIS is an international focus now, in part because of the disruptions they have caused to the equilibriums of power on all sides of the spectrum. In large measure, though, they strike fear in the hearts of people of good will because they also carry the same darkness we saw 75 years ago; a hatred in their hearts for all who are different from them and a disdain for anyone who does not share their world view. This darkness captures the souls of many who are susceptible to evil, and whether it be individual acts in an uncoordinated fashion or orchestrated acts designed to terrorize, the effect is still the same. In 1938 the rest of the world was complacent and unimaginable horrors resulted. Today it is the citizens of Paris forced to live in fear from irrationality. We are all citizens of Paris.
Ed H. Moore, President of the Independent Colleges and Universities of Florida, writes and lives in Tallahassee. Column courtesy of Context Florida.