“Blood and soil!”
“Jews will not replace us!”
You know where people chanted these slogans, don’t you?
Berlin, circa 1938, right?
But we don’t need to take a trip in the way-back machine to hear this chilling rhetoric. White supremacists are puffing out their chests, brandishing torches (albeit the tiki kind), and taking their blatant bigotry once again to America’s streets.
The events that unfolded in Charlottesville, Virginia last month at a nationalist rally protesting the dismantling of a Robert E. Lee statue set off alarm bells. It seems, some argue, we have become that country. Again.
A perfect example of a prosperous, powerful nation clutched in nationalism and dragged through history’s ignominious depths is, of course, Germany. We all know what happened in that home of Beethoven, Bach, and Goethe between the years of 1914 and 1945.
Richard E. Frankel, Associate Professor of Modern German History at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, has been tracing antisemitism in nineteenth and early twentieth centuries Germany and the United States. The connections he makes should put us all on high alert.
Let’s start with President Donald Trump’s statement after the August 12 Charlottesville protest.
He famously said:
“We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides, on many sides. It has been going on for a long time in our country — not Donald Trump, not Barack Obama. It has been going on for a long, long time. It has no place in America.”
His supporters point to his last sentence: “It has no place in America.” But, as professor Frankel writes in a piece for Raw Story:
“He did not mention the fact that one side was carrying swastika flags, the flag of Adolf Hitler’s National Socialist Party, the flag of Nazi Germany. He did not specifically condemn those who carried that flag. They were, according to the president, all equally responsible: those who marched under the Nazi banner, and those who opposed them. All equal. Nazis and anti-Nazis. But how is that possible? How can it be that in 2017, the President of the United States, a country that fought Hitler’s Germany and sacrificed hundreds of thousands of its young men in order to ensure its ultimate defeat, could not or would not bring himself to condemn Americans who marched under the flag of the Third Reich?”
He goes on to draw direct parallels to what he witnessed in Charlottesville and what transpired in Germany:
“Those who inspired the marchers in Charlottesville marched through the streets of Germany, provoking violence, and singing ‘when Jewish blood spurts from the knife.’
“Those who inspired the marchers destroyed democracy and eliminated all civil liberties in Germany.
“Those who inspired the marchers demonized Jewish citizens, physically assaulted them, removed them from all aspects of public life, stripped them of their rights, their property, their very ability to survive in the only country they had ever called home.
“Those who inspired the marchers carried out the biggest pogrom in modern German history, destroying 267 synagogues, vandalizing Jewish businesses, attacking Jews in their homes, and killing hundreds, all in a single night in November 1938.”
He goes on to enumerate some of the atrocities to unfold in Europe as a result.
We know how it turned out.
Frankel poses this question:
“If the President of the United States cannot condemn individuals who march under the flag of Adolf Hitler and Nazi Germany, how can he possibly claim to represent America, its values, and all of its citizens?”
He concludes with the following:
“How safe are we today? How extensive are the boundaries of our own moral universe—each and every one of us? Those who marched in Charlottesville under Hitler’s flag and the President who chose not to condemn them revealed the boundaries of their moral universe to be sadly and frighteningly small. The flag that flew on that horrible day—with that symbol of ultimate evil at its heart—should remind us all just where such a limited sense of fellow feeling can lead.”
Although it occurred last month, Charlottesville’s specter still looms large.
And it isn’t just a harbinger of possible things to come in America, either. Charlottesville happened at a time when far-right sentiments are manifesting all over the world.
According to a piece in The Guardian:
“After the Brexit vote in Britain and Donald Trump’s rise to power in the US, pundits predicted that a wind of populist, anxious, resentful, anti-politics-as-usual change would sweep across Europe.
In yesterday’s German elections, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s win for another term did not come without a populist price. The radical-right Holocaust-denying Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) party won nearly 13% of the vote and 94 seats in the federal parliament.
It seems the whole world might be suffering from some collective amnesia.
Image credit: michaeloart.com