All Too Familiar: Weimar Germany and 2016 USA

In Canton, MA, at the Galvin Middle School, they have an annual ritual, a day of learning and reflection about the Holocaust.  I have been a presenter for over 15 years at this event, telling a story about a young Hungarian woman, Gieselle Hirsch.  Her family endured anti-Semitic insults, avoidance/isolation, discrimination, violence and deportation to  a death camp.  Hirsch’s story has always rung various chords in my world, but never more than now.  At one point in her story, she and all the representatives of the Jewish families in her town were asked to write down the name of each member of their family and their age.They were told that these lists would to be used to expand their quota of ration stamps.  The lists were used 2 days later to round up every Jew in the town.  After the story I asked the students if this was any different from a forced registry of all Muslims living in America.  They decided that it was not.

As a follow-up to the story we looked at a ladder of prejudice.  Its first rung is gossip and hate speech.  When enough of this is planted and repeated, we can begin to fear and objectify a people.  This leads to the next rungs of avoidance and discrimination.  Once you have legally marginalized a people, doing violence to them is just one more rung up the ladder.  We have a President-elect who called Mexican immigrants rapists and drug dealers. He generalizes, in degrading ways, again and again about populations from urban blacks to chunky women. He is the king of hate speech, and he is our President elect.

Telling Gieselle Hirsch’s story in fall 2016, I was reminded that totalitarian control comes in small increments.  For the Jews of 1930s Europe it began with gossip and moved to isolation from institutions of higher learning and eventually the streets where they were allowed to live.  The Star Decree, where my people were forced to wear a 3 inch star of David on their coats, was just another incremental step towards objectification.  We know where these behaviors culminated.

Let us be vigilant, loud, and deeply protective of our democracy during these years to come.  Let us speak and act in ways that conserve and protect what is left of our natural world.  Let us step up to make sure that our children and their children have a free, healthy world to grow in.



22 Responses to All Too Familiar: Weimar Germany and 2016 USA

  1. Judith,

    Thank you for this vivid reminder of the danger lurking in our communities. I am printing out a copy as a reminder to be vigilant, to speak up, to listen and be a more conscious member of society.


  2. YES!!!!!!!!!!
    We feel very, very, very concerned what is happening in our country.
    Went to a Harvard Alumni Conference yesterday and found comfort in about 300 Harvard alumni sharing our deep concern and asking what ca. We do to stop this trajectory of our country.
    Much Love, Judith.
    Jane and Dick

  3. Hi Judith,

    So well said. This isn’t a time to “wait and see what happens.” It is a time to speak out again and again, and take whatever action we can to counter the dehumanizing propaganda that is being promoted throughout our country. Storytelling is a powerful way to do that.

    Speaking of which, I just watched your TED talk on climate change. I tried to comment on the post, but couldn’t get through all the password stuff, so I will tell you here–it was an excellent example of storytelling–both personal and traditional–to advocate a cause and facilitate understanding. As Ruth Sawyer said, “We touch the heart that the mind may understand.” Thanks so much for the important work you do on all our behalf.

    • Naomi My Sweet, We do have our work cut out for us. You know the curse: MAY YOU LIVE IN INTERESTING TIMES
      Also, thank-you for the kind comment about the TED talk. It has taken a lifetime to get myself out of the way and just look for the stories that are needed.
      Am still working on that!
      Can’t wait to see where you will go next!

  4. They decided it was not the same…. wow. What has to happen for the light to get turned on? We all have to keep informing and educating, asking the right questions, allowing discussion. Thanks Judith!

    • Nancy, They decided it was the same! We know you are holding down that side of the continent

  5. Hi Judith,
    Is it OK to share this blog post? We are all scared for our friends and neighbors…..the new “cruel” America is not anything that I thought I would see. Even here in the Boston area and on Long Island, where I grew up…there is pro-He Who Shall Not Be Named grafitti with swastikas, letters threatening mosques, there is a woman on Rt 128 that has driven in rush hour and has a sign in her car- GO BACK TO MEXICO and she puts it up in her drivers window when she is stuck in traffic next to another car that perceives there are “Mexicans” in. It is overwhelming, discouraging and shocking. We cannot let the shock of these instances stop us from action. Your conclusion that now is the time to resist and speak up when something is wrong is my conclusion too. The hate genie is out of the bottle and we need to speak out when we see it.

    • Please do share. When this kind of thing happened in other nations, I know that I smugly thought we were too much of mixed stew for this level of hate to have been repressed then expressed…wrong again. We have our work cut out for us!

  6. Hi Judith:
    If we don’t learn from our past, we are doomed to repeat it. Thank You for being a vigilant teacher of history! We cannot live in fear, but we also cannot ignore what is happening around us. Thank You for being a fearless speaker of truth!

  7. Incredible Judith! I just returned from a trip that included Budapest. I was so saddened by the historical atrocities that are documented from both persecution of the Jews and the Russian Communist persecution of the Hungarians. Nothing was more moving than the memorial of shoes along the Danube where Jews were shot so they fell into the waters of the Danube. Keep on telling these very historically important stories!