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  • Writer's pictureDoug Weiss

Déjà vu

Walking through the National Holocaust Museum a few weeks ago was a somber and disturbing experience, not just for the reasons one would expect.  A recent survey of Americans from the age of 19 to 65 revealed a frightening trend that one cannot help but suggest echoes George Santayana’s admonition regarding the lessons of history. 

 

As might be anticipated, older Americans—those 65 and beyond who came of age during or shortly after the end of WW II remember the Holocaust all too well.  But younger people, even those in their 50’s are not so sure it ever happened, while nearly half of those aged 19-29 believe the Holocaust is a myth.  Compounding this dismal statistic, even those who have some recall of it happening believe it was largely exaggerated. 

 

On balance, I was encouraged to see quite a number of younger adults at the museum—some even with children in tow on a chilly, wet, February morning. They were not the dominant crowd, but still I was grateful to see any at all.  Now, I know that it is not unusual for young people to struggle with the reality of history.  I did so as well, bored by the endless wars and dynasties from the middle-ages onward, even the events of WWI were somewhat unreal, against the backdrop of a war that my father had fought in.  I can easily imagine that high schoolers today might regard Vietnam, the Moon landing or Kennedy’s Assassination as remote, perhaps unreal events, though I doubt they would consider them a hoax unless they were raised by conspiracy believers.

 

It is not all together clear why the Holocaust merits this particular level of disbelief, but I can say that among many other pivotal moments in our not so distant past the Holocaust has disappeared entirely or been diminished to footnote status in textbooks and history lessons in many of our schools. Along with other not so noble events in America’s checkered history, there is an apparent attempt by legislators across the country to sweep the unseemly, and the politically dangerous under the rug and tuck it away out of sight. After all, January 6th is already being treated by some as a tea party that got a little rowdy.

 

I am not just bemoaning the dismal state of affairs in our increasingly jerrymandered and politicized education system but far more concerned that the parallels to what occurred in Germany and elsewhere in the world beginning in the late 1920s remains unobserved by current generations and the portents they convey are lost to the public psyche. The systematic denigration and demonization of people based on race, religion and sexual orientation in the run up to WWII is precisely what we are witnessing today.The victims may be slightly different but the intent is identical—to marginalize, and eventually eliminate any sense of humanity, empathy or decency toward those who may differ from some idealized American citizen. 

 

So too is the level of frenzied panic and xenophobia stirred up by members of Congress, legislators and governors in many states regarding the “ Immigration Crisis”. Of course there are real issues—and immigration around the world, a product of war and poverty, has reached such a level that there is every reason to be concerned.  But that concern should not be about how we build an iron fence around America—as was the disposition in the 1930’s but about how we, along with the rest of the world address the underlying causes.

 

Lies, inventions and exaggeration about who wishes to enter our country and for what purpose are beyond the pale. An Uber driver told me in strictest confidence that the Chinese are sending military age men in the thousands into our country as part of a planned takeover.  They are joined by Venezuelan criminals, Mexican drug lords and every criminal element in the world pouring through our borders ready to rape and kill with abandon. They’ll have to compete with all our homegrown white men and youth responsible for the daily barrage of mass shootings that have become so routine as to merit only a day or two in news cycles.

 

No one reminds us that immigrants to our country, legal and otherwise, pay taxes, and are credited by many economists as key players in our country’s on-going recovery from Inflation.  Immigrants, who pick our crops, construct our homes and buildings, cook our food in most restaurants these days, clean our homes and hotel rooms, and perform dozens of other jobs that no one else wanted to do for the wages offered, those immigrants who number in the millions but are a tiny minority in a country of 330 million—are not our enemy. But you would never know it to listen to the vile offal that spills from the mouths of politicians and Presidential wannabes.

 

Sadly, like the German people who stood by as their country was propagandized, legislated and bullied into a set of beliefs that defy understanding, we risk the same slow descent into something far more sinister than NIMBY inspired policy.  We risk becoming the kind of people we fought against to preserve freedom and the sanctity of human life.

 

There are a lot of lessons to be gained by a visit to the museum or others like it around our country and the world.  Even more to be gained by restoring to our schoolrooms and textbooks the truth about our past and the history of our world.  On a plaque near the end of the museum walkway there is a quote from a poem by Martin Niemoller written just after the Holocaust.  It reads as follows:

 

“First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out— Because I was not a Socialist. Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out— Because I was not a Trade Unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out— Because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me”.

 

Who will speak for us?

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