In case you think a Holocaust could never happen in America — think again.
The touchy-feely phrase “What you believe becomes your reality” is making the rounds of pop psychology. People who claim uncommon wisdom promote this insight as the road to everything — from financial well-being to a fulfilling and pleasurable sex life.
Here’s an ominous thought: What if you believe, as many folks now do, that with anti-Semitism on the rise, something akin to the Holocaust could happen in the United States?
Simply reading the newspaper can compel us to think the unthinkable. A recent survey by the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany showed that 58 percent of Americans believe the Holocaust could happen again. The recent massacre of 11 Jewish worshippers in Pittsburgh is the worst anti-Semitic attack in American history. Play that back: the worst anti-Semitic attack in American history.
In 2018, the Anti-Defamation League reports the increase in anti-Semitic incidents from 2016 to 2017 was the largest in a single year since the ADL began tracking in 1979.
The FBI recently reported a 17 percent increase in attacks against Jews in the past year. Most frightening is that in the FBI’s Uniform Crime Statistics report for 2017, the largest group of hate crimes motivated by religion bias — some 58 percent of all such hate crimes — “were victims of crimes motivated by their offenders’ anti-Jewish bias.”
The next largest group of anti-religious hate crimes were Muslims, at 19 percent of the total. Despite all the prejudicial stereotypes against Muslims, there are still three times as many hate crimes against Jews as against Muslims.
Something is happening. Could organized anti-Semitism become a new American reality?
How Did We Get Here?
First, some history. Jews have been hated by one nation or another almost as long as there have been Jews. Not just by biblical Egyptians and Romans but throughout European history. A brief overview:
France expelled its Jews in 1182.
Jews were expelled from Switzerland, Russia, Ukraine, portions of Italy, Bavaria, Portugal.
Jews were expelled from Spain, of course, in 1492.
Even in the United States, Gen. Ulysses S. Grant ordered all Jews expelled from Tennessee, Mississippi, and Kentucky in 1862. Grant. The guy on the fifty dollar bill. We don’t see protesters demanding that Grant’s Tomb be demolished as a memorial to an anti-Semite. Maybe because Lincoln, in response to Jewish pressure, revoked Grant’s order.
In almost all of these nations, Jews were as fully integrated into their societies as American Jews are today. Before Jews were expelled from Paris, they owned half of the city’s property. Spanish Jews were politically powerful, synagogues were as large and ornate as cathedrals. And within a year, Jews who refused to flee the country or convert to Catholicism were killed.
German Jews filled World War I trenches fighting for their homeland, even fighting against English Jews and French Jews. Yet by 1933 Jews were expelled from the German military, and the concentration camps at Dachau and Buchenwald were opened.
These German Jews, and probably the English, French, Spanish, and even Egyptian Jews, felt as safe, as assimilated, as much a part of their country’s fabric as American Jews do today. The lesson of history is that what happened in the past can happen again in the future. And the present.
Consider the Trigger Events
How could it happen here? History does not flow smoothly like a river. Dramatic changes come quickly, set into motion by sudden, unanticipated events. Historians refer to these as trigger events. The World Trade Center destruction of September 11, 2001, was a trigger event. Since those two airplanes brought the towers down, America, and much of the world, has dreaded the next terrorist shoe dropping. And the next.
The Unite the Right Rally in Charlottesville, VA, on August 11, 2017, was a trigger event, amplified by President Donald Trump’s declaring that there were “very fine people on both sides” — fine people including neo-Nazis chanting “Jews will not replace us.” White supremacists, once classified as part of the lunatic fringe, were ushered to a dangerous place of legitimacy on the political spectrum.
Trump’s declaration on October 22, 2018 that “You know what I am? I’m a nationalist. OK? I’m a nationalist” was a trigger event. Nationalism is a word packed with historic meaning. The “na” in Nazi stands for “national” in Hitler’s party’s name. American anti-Semites know what “nationalist” means. I once represented a Mississippi-based white supremacist organization in a free-speech case. The organization’s name? The Nationalist Movement. The list of people my client wanted to deport was long, and included me. They never touched the bagels and lox I offered when they came to my office.
The American president declaring himself a nationalist was a dog whistle to white supremacists throughout the country. The man who interrupted Fiddler on the Roof in Baltimore last week to shout “Heil Hitler. Heil Trump” got the message. Nationalism led to the first and second world wars, to the Holocaust. Charles de Gaulle put it best when he said, “Patriotism is when love of your own people comes first; nationalism, when hate for people other than your own comes first.”
Most recently, the shooting of 11 Jewish worshippers in Pittsburgh was a trigger event. These murders were as blatant and direct as anti-Semitism gets, people killed for no other reason than because they were Jews, killed where Jews would be known to gather. In their synagogue. On the Sabbath.
And Trump’s initial reaction to the Pittsburgh massacre echoed criticism of Jews slaughtered in the Holocaust, that they died because they were too cowardly to fight back. The Jews killed in Pittsburgh would not have died if they had shot back, Trump said.
Besides the “Jews should have fought back” meme, the worldwide Jewish financier cabal meme is back, and again, it is back at the highest level. The Nazis had the Rothschilds to blame as the head of this evil international conspiracy. Their propaganda film “Die Rothschilds,” described the Jewish conspiracy responsible for pretty much every bad event since the Battle of Waterloo. It piggybacked on the infamous Protocols of the Elders of Zion, the early 20th century version of fake news.
Today’s permutation of this conspiracy stars the Hungarian financier George Soros as the evil mastermind. Should we be surprised that an October 5 tweet from Donald Trump blamed opposition to Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court nomination on professional protesters “[p]aid for by Soros…” Just as the Rothschild’s evil schemes were behind most everything that was anti-German, Soros’s machinations are alleged to be widespread. In an October 31, 2018 interview with Fox News, President Trump said he “wouldn’t be surprised” if Soros was “funding the caravan” of asylum seekers poised to invade the United States. “A lot of people say yes,” Trump said about Soros’s secret involvement. Trump hasn’t yet gone as far in vilifying Soros as Rudolph Giuliani did in an October 6 retweet saying, “I think Soros is the anti-Christ. He must go.”
Mention of Soros’s name is a thinly-veiled reference to his being Jewish. And wealthy. Even most well-meaning articles about Soros make early, prominent reference to his being Jewish or a Holocaust survivor. If that doesn’t seem significant, search for articles about Warren Buffett or Bill Gates, equally wealthy, equally philanthropic. You will have difficulty finding out what are their religions (Both claim, at times, to be agnostic).
Consider the implications of this. When my Mississippi Nationalist clients lectured me about the worldwide conspiracy of wealthy Jews — I readily confessed that I was a member and offered to reveal the secret handshake — I could treat it as laughable. It is not a joke when the most powerful man on the planet is sitting up in bed in the White House, wearing his Presidential pajamas and sending out messages to his 86.7 million social media followers that one of the world’s wealthiest Jews — a Hungarian Jew nonetheless — is paying people to lurk in Capitol elevators to harass senators and is paying Honduran mothers and children to “invade” the United States.
That is not a joke. It is one more trigger event.
These trigger events are rungs on the ladder of increasing anti-Semitism in the United States, with acceptance, if not outright support coming from the White House itself. But what sort of trigger event could turn anti-Semitism into public policy, into an American Holocaust?
I asked myself this question eight years ago after visiting two Saudi clients detained at Guantanamo Bay, men imprisoned with no charges pending, no trials scheduled, no release date. On the way home from Guantanamo I visited my father, who had been captured two weeks after landing at Omaha Beach. He’d spent the rest of the war as a German POW. I told my father how my clients had their ankles chained, with hoods on their heads when they were led into the room to meet with me. How they’d been interrogated for years.
He was quiet for a minute, then murmured in his 1940s manner, “How can we treat their boys worse than the Germans treated me, knowing I was Jewish?”
My father’s question led me to wonder what it would take for good Americans to act toward Jews the way good Germans had acted 80 years ago. The result is my forthcoming novel, Never Again. I focused on two trigger events, one real, one imagined.
Are We Pulling Our Own Trigger?
America closing her doors to immigrants and refugees may soon build into the first fateful trigger event. One of Trump’s first official acts was to ban asylum seekers coming from some predominantly Muslim nations. In recent days, he extended that ban to asylum seekers on the southern border, effectively banning Hispanics.
What would happen, I thought, if the next invasion of the unwanted America faced was from white refugees, white Jewish refugees. The scenario in the novel is that an atomic bomb has destroyed Tel Aviv and Arab armies have overrun Israel. A million Israelis are in Palestinian detention camps. Hundreds of thousands more flee. Europe, already inundated with unwanted Middle Eastern and African refugees, shuts its doors.
Then two freighters stuffed with desperate Israelis seeking asylum appear in Boston Harbor. How’s that for a trigger event?
What would America do? Make an exception for refugees who are white, who are Jewish? That might not be politically possible, not after years of stoking fears about murderous refugees. Maybe America would turn the ships away, back to the new nation of Palestine. Impossible, you say? Google the story of the MS St. Louis, a ship stuffed with a thousand German Jews fleeing Hitler in 1939. President Roosevelt sent the Coast Guard out from Miami to turn the St. Louis away. Half the Jewish asylum-seekers on board ended up dying in the Holocaust. If President Roosevelt would do this, might Trump follow suit? Would we see troops patrolling Boston Harbor?
And what then would American Jews do if their government treated desperate Jews with as little compassion as it has treated desperate Syrians and Hondurans, Jews raised on the fundamental vow of “Never Again?” If political pressure failed them, if the courts failed them, would “never again” justify violence? And how would America respond to violence from within, from Jewish enemy combatants? A Jewish Guantanamo perhaps?
I acknowledge that all of this sounds looney tunes, something from Hollywood, from Grade B Hollywood. But that is what trigger events are, something unexpected. Climate change isn’t a trigger event; it is something 10,000 scientists are predicting, something happening incrementally. But airliners demolishing the World Trade Center was a trigger event precisely because it was not anticipated, except in Hollywood B movies. But it happened. Terrorist atom bombs could be a trigger event for the same reason. Who can doubt that there are people who would not hesitate to detonate a nuclear bomb in Israel, if they only could.
Sure, my Chicken Little warnings that “the Cossacks are coming, the Cossacks are coming” — my Nana Ida’s primal fear — are over the top and could be easily dismissed. But the president’s warnings about a globalist Jewish financier sabotaging his Supreme Court nominee and funding an “invasion” of the country are just as far over the top. The difference is that I can’t order 5,000 soldiers to string concertina wire along the border. He can. And did.
Still, you say, nothing like the Holocaust could happen in America. There are too many good Americans. Jews are too much an accepted part of American society. It can’t happen here. German Jews felt the same way, assimilated. Germans. In 1927, 54 percent of all marriages of German Jews were with non-Jews, according to a paper published by the International School for Holocaust Studies, almost the same percentage as among American Jews today.
Walther Rathenau, one of Germany’s most prominent Jews, Germany’s Kissinger or Madeleine Albright, served as foreign minister in 1922, when he negotiated the important Treaty of Rapallo with Russia. Rathenau’s allegiance to Germany could be echoed by many American Jews today:
“I am a German of Jewish origin. My people are the German people, my home is Germany, my faith is German faith, which stands above all denominations,” he said just before he was assassinated by a right wing nationalist group, eleven years before Adolf Hitler was appointed chancellor of Germany.
I’m not saying an American Holocaust is just around the bend, that it is something likely to happen, just that that it is time to imagine what five years ago would have been unimaginable. Recognizing that we might be one or two trigger events from America turning on its Jewish citizens, as countries have been doing for a thousand years and more, is the first stop in preventing it from happening.
Harvey A. Schwartz is a retired civil rights lawyer and former assistant attorney general for the state of Massachusetts. He has argued twice before the US Supreme Court. He has had a wide variety of clients, including two Saudi detainees at Guantanamo Bay, Catholic women fired for refusing to work on Christmas, teenagers challenging mandatory draft registration, and even a neo-Nazi group, The Nationalist Movement, led by Richard Barrett who, according to Schwartz, “was clearly displeased that I was a Jew. But no one else would defend them.” His novel, Never Again (Koehler Books, Nov. 24, 2018) brings the unthinkable to life.