Eight days ago, Jews completed the annual reading of the Torah, and then promptly started over. One more time. Same book. Judaism’s big on repetition. So is antisemitism.
The U.S. and the Holocaust, by Ken Burns, Lynn Novick and Sarah Botstein, is an exceptional and timely PBS documentary. The filmmakers’ expert team of historians explain how American brains and military heroism saved the world, but only a small fraction of European Jewry.
Hitler was a bigot, and so were many American politicians. In that era, America refused the pleas of most Jewish refugees.
In the early 1930s, Hitler hoped for an American alliance. Nazi infiltrations and influence operations were launched throughout America. Our country’s entry into World War II was hotly debated around 1940. Deadly Nazi-American collusion is masterfully recounted in Rachel Maddow’s top-rated podcast, Ultra.
Hitler had acquired political power in a white Christian democracy. Nazis promised to end Germany’s problems with crime, inflation and communism. Hitler identified Jews as the ideal scapegoats. Soon after gaining power, on April 7, 1933, Germany forbade Jews from being lawyers. Whoa.
America’s own legal bar had its historic bigotries. So did America’s Congress. Southern conservatives have long embraced misogyny, racism and antisemitism. So have too many Northerners. FDR faced bigots in Congress and his own State Department.
The big talking point for America’s initial despicable movement calling itself America First was “replacement theory.” They popularized the “blood and soil” and “Jews will not replace us” mantras that antisemites love to repeat, even today. Hitler and his fascist pals adored Charles Lindbergh, the famed American aviator and right-wing bigot.
Allowing in too many Jews would change America, argued radio megastar, Father Charles Coughlin, who was backed by Henry Ford and other powerful Republicans. American filmmakers, many of them Jewish, pulled their early punches on Hitler for fear of alienating big parts of their worldwide audience.
In the Burns-Novick-Botstein documentary, we witness the nationalistic stridency of the German leader. Hitler demanded total fealty. Hitler’s speeches and books have been studied, including by German-American Donald Trump.
Eight days ago, the world witnessed Trump’s antisemitic Truth Social posting. America’s former, and possibly future president, informed American Jews we should be more Trump-loyal, like evangelicals, “Before it is too late!” Such language was sickening. Even more so was the lack of Republican reaction.
Earlier in October, where was any reaction from Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell when Trump racially demeaned McConnell’s wife, Elaine Chao? Where were Republican colleagues? Which Republicans, not named Cheney or Kinzinger, said boo when Alabama MAGA Sen. Tommy Tuberville defamed Black people?
This October, Trump-ally Kanye West has gone “death con 3 on Jewish people” which earned him a featured role on Fox News’ top-rated Tucker Carlson Show. Carlson’s team edited the segment to make West look less crazy and bigoted.
Eight days ago, as Trump admonished American Jews, U.S. Senate candidate Joe O’Dea, a Republican, told the CNN audience he’d “actively campaign against Donald Trump.”
The next day, Trump fired off a Truth Social posting labeling O’Dea a stupid RINO with a big mouth. O’Dea had offered insufficient fealty to Trump — the same offense committed by American Jews.
O’Dea returned on my podcast this weekend. I hoped he’d body-slam Trump for his bigotry. O’Dea explained his big tent campaign includes Trump supporters, and added, “I think I’m off his (Trump’s) Christmas list. We need to treat each other with respect. I don’t want anything to do with any kind of bigotry.”
Which conservative candidates or commentators will speak out forcefully against “Jew hatred?” World Jewish Conference president Ronald Lauder advocates this verbiage, stronger than the awkward word, antisemitism, which is derived from a German term describing this deadly repetitive hatred.
Adidas is a gigantic German sports apparel company, born in Bavaria to brothers who became Nazis. Kanye West is a huge part of Adidas’ worldwide brand. Adidas has thus far refused to rebuke West’s Jew-hating. The mega-rich rapper has an enormous following online, and on California overpasses.
We keep waiting. Who will speak up? Who will remain silent? Silence is sinful under the present circumstances. Political leaders and media figures have special obligations to call out bigotry.
When asked by Stephen Colbert what Americans can do to heed the lessons of his documentary, Ken Burns responded, “You tell stories about it. You bring out the facts. You bring it to light. You tell these stories, as difficult as they may be, as uncomfortable as they may be.”
There are good stories, too. A century ago, Colorado was dominated politically by the Ku Klux Klan. Brave lawyers Denver DA Philip Van Cise and Judge Ben Lindsay stood tall and prevailed.
Eighty years ago, conservative Republican Colorado Gov.Ralph Carr, himself a Denver lawyer, publicly opposed Japanese-Americans being bullied, persecuted and interned during World War II. It turned out Carr was correct.
What leaders will stand up to Trump and his white supremacist followers? Will voters? Will the media? Will it be prosecuting attorneys and judges? Expect Trump to racially target any non-Aryan males with the temerity to explain his culpability.
Let’s understand where ancient bigotries lead and not repeat nightmares.
NOTE: The original version of this column erroneously credited the making of “The U.S. and the Holocaust” to Ken Burns only. The filmmakers are Burns, Lynn Novick and Sarah Botstein. The correction was made Oct. 25 at 10:17 p.m.
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