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We Are 1

A Family of the ...

 A Blog on the Parallels Between Refugees Now

and During World War II
 

AreWe1? Perpetrators, Victims, and Bystanders

On July 28, a Minnesota couple wore facemasks emblazoned with swastikas while shopping in a Walmart. Another shopper, Raphaela Mueller, whose great-grandmother had risked her life during World War II as a member of the German Resistance, was aghast. Ms. Mueller and her dismayed boyfriend, Benjamin Ruesch, confronted the other couple. While Mueller shot video, Ruesch entreated with the couple to remove the offending masks. Here are CNN's and The Washington Post's reports.
 
Recently, a very dear friend whom I've known since middle school at the United Nations International School and who lives in the United Kingdom, mentioned Raul Hilberg's 1993 book, Perpetrators Victims Bystanders: The Jewish Catastrophe, 1933-1945. So I sent her a link to the Minnesota swastika story. Here's her response:
 
"This is a chilling story on so many levels. For me the very scariest element of it was this line, 'She said that other shoppers mostly kept their head down and tried to ignore the situation.' That is how perpetrators get away with it. The impulse (for whatever reason) to 'keep your head down' when evil is perpetrated allows racism, hatred, and ultimately ethnic cleansing and genocide to occur.
 
"That is where education must begin. Universally. To recognize when wrong is occurring to somebody else, not just when one's own private interests are threatened. To recognize evil. To recognize that walking by is absolutely complicit in the evil, to effectively become a perpetrator. I believe this very deeply.
 
"People must be equipped to learn how to address situations during which evil is perpetrated. It is very much more complicated than just being recklessly willing to be brave and stand up to evil. Although I am very glad this woman did––for her own sake.
 
"One key, critical, fundamental element is learning how to convey to the victim that he (or so very often she) is seen, recognized, and supported. Safely. For both parties. And, based on the situation, to provide that support either at the moment of the evil being done or to make sure to reach out to the victim at a moment of safety after the crisis has passed and really, really support then.
 
"This might end up in a time-consuming commitment. But to truly help means making that commitment. The alternative is allowing hatred, racism, ethnic cleansing and genocide––as if it is too inconvenient to try to stop.
 
"The biggest problem is the tendency to feel defeated, hopeless and exhausted, which comes out as self-indulgent, hedonistic laziness instead of the enraged righteous campaigning that might turn tides.


"Instead of allowing the bastards to keep winning.


"I just hope that it isn't necessary to be a survivor of a genocide to understand all this."
 
I'm with her all the way.


In the swastika mask incident, the victim, Mueller, spoke out for herself and her companion told the offending couple that their behavior was un-American. "We literally had a war about this," he said. Another customer supported Mueller and Ruesch, telling the woman, "We don't want you in our neighborhood." Someone called the police and the couple was served with trespass notices. Walmart did not merely stand by either; instead the retailer banished the swastika mask-wearers for one year. But the question remains whether the store's solution is enforceable. What will happen if those perpetrators reappear?
 
The perpetrators' defiant and incoherent responses also prompt another broader concern. The pair's first response was lewd gestures. Attempting to clarify her position, the woman then said, "I'm trying to tell people what's going to happen in America." The man chimed in, "We're living under a socialist state." The woman continued, "If you vote for Biden, you're going to be living in Nazi Germany. That's what it's going to be like." She reiterated that "socialism is going to happen here in America." She also insisted she is not a Nazi.
 
Here we see the results of the chaos Trump unleashes. People absorb his rants at rallies, his weird, divisive tweets, and distortions. They think that those who care about others less fortunate than themselves are losers and sissies. Empathy and tolerance are anathema. People like that perpetrator couple in Walmart are ignorant of the history of WWII, don't understand the distinction between socialism and fascism, and parrot inconsistencies. Moreover, they are unreachable. Communicating with them through logic seems unfathomably daunting, if not impossible. Socialist Nazis will take over America? Right, because they favor the Affordable Care Act and they don't want secret police? Do people like the swastika-maskers think sending armed and armored secret police in full battle dress to our cities is not fascistic? Do they think it is fair to financially squeeze the Postal Service so that voting by mail becomes unreliable? Trying to force people to the polls in hopes that they will opt out because they're afraid they'll catch COVID? Disenfranchising fellow Americans or making them risk lives is just fine?
 
It is stunning that people who may have attended at least middle school cannot figure out who has their back and who does not, who is manipulating them for political ends, and who is not.
 
But Professor Jason Stanley of Yale University is very clear about the source of this confusion. In his book How Fascism Works: The Politics of Us and Them (Random House, 2018), Stanley explains that fascist politicians "rewrite the population's shared understanding of reality by twisting the language of ideals through propaganda and promoting anti-intellectualism, attacking universities and educational systems that might challenge their ideas. Eventually, with these techniques, fascist politics creates a state of unreality, in which conspiracy theories and fake news replace reasoned debate."
 
Stanley says fascist politics undermines public discourse by attacking and devaluing education, expertise, and language. Intelligent debate is impossible, he says, without an education, without different perspectives, a respect for expertise when your own knowledge is insufficient, and the vocabulary to precisely describe reality.
 
With definitions blurred or bastardized for political purposes, can we ever again have a meaningful dialog? What kind of society are we becoming if we do not watch over those less fortunate than ourselves? If people of all faiths, and none, are unable to communicate and are intolerant of one another, I want to know how our species is superior to scorpions. Are we one with our brethren, or are we not? Are we doomed to repeat the mistakes of the past, and become perpetrators, victims and bystanders, or not?

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WeAre1: Threatened by Trump's Secret Police

My mother, first row center, sunbathing on the deck of the Liberty ship SS Marine Perch, July 1946.
My mother, first row center, sunbathing on the deck of the Liberty ship SS Marine Perch, July 1946.

On July 26 seventy-four years ago, my mother, Irena Goldberger, arrived in New York Harbor aboard the Liberty ship SS Marine Perch. She had been at sea for a week. It had been 2,519 days since she had fled Kraków as a fourteen-year-old on September 3, 1939, 1,676 nights since she had left her parents in Lwów, on their insistence, on December 24, 1941. She never saw them again. Her six-and-a-half-year journey was about to end, although her odyssey meant she could never return home, that she would have to make a new one. She had come of age as she conquered obstacles along her wartime path. Now the New York skyline beckoned.


The Marine Perch was one of the first ships to ferry Holocaust survivors to the United States. My mother was a passenger because even though she was raised in Kraków she had been born in Berlin. There were fewer displaced German-born Jews than Polish Jews trying to come here. Marine Perch was filled with displaced persons––mostly young, single Jewish survivors like my twenty-one-year-old mother. Of the 545 Jews aboard, almost half had received support from the Joint Distribution Committee. The agency had aided them by handling immigration papers, arranging transportation, and paying for or advancing travel costs from a United Jewish Appeal $100 million fund (about $1.4 billion today). Another 275 passengers were American citizens, mostly re-patriates.


The ship was sparsely outfitted––no piano, no movie projector and no library, so the passengers had little to do but hang about, gossip, and sunbathe. My mother heard that one of the re-patriates, a nineteen-year-old who had been visiting her aunt in Bremerhaven, had spent fourteen years in German concentration camps and was on her way home to reunite with her mother. There were sixty-five Jewish orphans, including six siblings, the children of a Polish couple. Their mother had died of starvation and their father had succumbed to tuberculosis in a slave labor camp. My mother had heard many stories while working for the U. S. Army after Liberation, but these were exceptionally sad. Little children. At least she had been a teenager.


When I was a teenager, my mother read to me Percy Bysshe Shelley's sonnet, Ozymandias, which depicts the ruins of a tyrannical pharaoh's statue:
 
I met a traveler from an antique land
Who said: "Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them on the sand,
Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown
And wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed.
And on the pedestal these words appear:
'My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings:
Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!'
Nothing beside remains.
Round the decay of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.
 
Such an arrogant boast, "Look on my works…and despair." My mother did not, and I am certain these words comforted her during the darkest moments of her slave laborer years pretending to be a Catholic Pole in Germany. She toiled to save her life. After she read, "Nothing beside remains," my mother turned to me and exclaimed, "Isn't Shelley marvelous?" She felt certain that just as Ozymandias' empire and his monuments had been demolished, so too would be the scourge of Nazism. She taught me that imposing murderous ideology on the world would lose the test of time.


That poem's message, and my mother's post-war certainty may be undeserved. Today, Trump's secret police threaten peaceful protestors against police brutality and racism. Tim Snyder, the Yale historian and author of On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century and The Road to Unfreedom, said on July 24 that the unidentified, unaccountable Federal enforcers in Portland, OR, are a test for the November presidential election. He expects them to menace voters at the polls.


Yesterday, photographs were published of a naked woman facing a line of armed and armored intruders. Pepper balls exploded at her feet and clouds of tear gas mushroomed around her. She never flinched while resisting. Instead, this voluntarily vulnerable, light-skinned woman of color dubbed "Naked Athena," faced down the aggressors. She got into "good trouble," in the words of the late John Lewis.


The poem, the statue in New York harbor called Liberty Enlightening the World, the Oregonian woman's nickname––all suggest nominally and through imagery that the fight against prejudice has persisted since ancient times.


Next week, the Trump administration is expected to deploy hundreds of federal agents to Chicago. Trump has also ordered these so-called federal officers to Milwaukee, which will host the scaled-back, mostly virtual Democratic National Convention. There, as in Portland, they are to "detain protestors," a polite way of saying they will be grabbed off the streets and held against their will, in violation of their civil rights.


Anything could happen. Portland detainees were charged with failing to comply with a lawful order and released, but what's next? Will protestors in other cities disappear?


My mother was not naïve and she knew Nazis were allowed to enter the United States. She even encountered a Ukrainian collaborator during her voyage here. While in Poland and Germany, she, too, resisted authoritarians who could have shot her. I hope you will be able to read more about that in HOW FAR, my account of my parents' wartime experiences.


To ensure that their daughters grew up in a diverse educational environment, my parents sent my sisters and me to the United Nations International School. There, our classmates were the sons and daughters of diplomats, employees of the U. N. Secretariat, and American-born students. We were taught history by a Yoruba from Nigeria, physics by a Polish aristocrat, chemistry by a Hungarian and a Yorkshireman, Latin by an Irishman, biology by an Indian, calculus by an Englishman, French by an Algerian, and on and on. Anyone who made a racial slur was expelled.


Sun-bathing on the deck of the Marine Perch, or gazing at our patinaed colossus as her liberty ship sailed by, my mother could never have imagined an American president unleashing secret police to attack fellow citizens the way they did this past week, the anniversary of her voyage to freedom.

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WeAre1: Immigration Card Number 105-3183 and Americans' Attitudes Toward Refugees

My father's 1939 Polish passport. Left: Stamp of French commisariat in St. Nazairre, 16 Mai. Note "Flandre" written in blue ink to the right side and "Turista" on the left. Stamp below documents my father's arrival in Veracruz. Right: Embossed and dated Immigration Visa form filled out at American Consul in Mexico City with my father's Immigant Identification Card Number. 

Eighty years ago today, my father received his Immigration Visa. Six months earlier he had left Poland, sailed from France to Havana, and was denied asylum. Later, as his ship Le Flandre docked in Veracruz, Mexico, a medical emergency occurred. My father saved a stranger's life thereby saving his own. Officials allowed my dad to stay in Mexico while his American wife arranged for a U.S. visa. Le Flandre was forced to return to France with its remaining 96 Jewish passengers.
 
I imagine my father full of hope standing before a clerk at the American Consul in Mexico City as he filled out a stamped form on Page 21 of my dad's 1939 Polish passport. On the upper left, the clerk crossed out the phrase "Non-Quota." Sandwiched between that and "Quota" he scrawled "Polish 1st pref." I believe my father was given that privilege because of his wife, Rose. After their hasty wedding in Poland, Rose had returned to New York and filed the necessary paperwork for my father's visa.
 
The next day, November 17, 1939, my father sailed from Veracruz back to Cuba. Unlike half a year before, however, Rose did not travel to meet him. From there he sailed alone to New York City.
 
Armed with his immigrant Identification Card Number 105-3183, my father thus became one of 7,315 Poles legally allowed to enter the United States. He was not one of 43,450 Jewish refugees who escaped Nazi-occupied territory because when he left, Germany had not yet invaded Poland. The number of Jews admitted was a little over half the total of 82,998 immigrants in 1939, according to the American Jewish Yearbook's Statistics of Jews.

 
To give you a sense of perspective regarding legal refugees today, 53,691 people were admitted here in 2017, according to that year's Homeland Security Report. An additional 26,568 were granted asylum. Of those, 7,506 were married to a spouse already here.
 
My father arrived at Pier 13 at the foot of Wall Street near the East River on the afternoon of November 26. Perhaps Rose met him there. Or perhaps he took a taxi to the Lower East Side to Rose's apartment at Second Avenue and 7th street, on the same block as Ratner's, her family's famous dairy restaurant. (Yes, there was another Ratner's on Delancey, owned by the same family.) That seems more likely, given that shortly after he arrived, my father learned that Rose had reunited with her lover, a gangster who was partners with the notorious Jewish mobsters Meyer Lansky and Bugsy Siegal. Rose expected my greenhorn father to cover because her parents disapproved of her romance. Their marriage was a sham. My father and Rose never co-habitated and, if you consider that, both sidestepped the law.

 

My father arrived here three days after Thanksgiving. He waited another year to first experience that holiday. I'm sure he was deeply grateful to be here.
 
Jewish refugees back then were unwelcome. The 1938 Gallup Poll, taken two weeks after Kristallnacht in November 1938, asked Americans, "Do you approve or disapprove of the Nazi treatment of Jews in Germany?" Ninety-four percent indicated that they disapproved. Yet when asked, "Should we allow a larger number of Jewish exiles from Germany to come to the United States to live?" seventy-two percent responded "no."
 
Despite his desperate and questionable entry, my father proved himself a worthy, law-abiding citizen. After completing a medical residency in 1943, he enlisted in the Army Medical Corp and treated wounded soldiers throughout the campaign in Northern France, including the horrendous Battle of the Bulge. Before he departed, he hired a detective to prove Rose's adultery. When he returned, he extricated himself from his marriage, married my mother, and completed another residency in obstetrics and gynecology. He delivered countless babies. Later, he further specialized in infertility and devised a surgical technique so that a woman previously unable to conceive could become a mother.
 
Are you under the impression that today Americans look askance on legal and illegal immigrants? They do not, according to a June Pew Research Center study; 38% say legal immigration into the United States should be kept at its present level, while 32% say it should be increased, and 24% say it should be decreased. Here's the breakout along party lines: 40% of Democrats and Democratic leaners say that legal immigration into the U.S. should be increased, 39% say it should be kept at its present level and 16% say it should be decreased. A larger share of Republicans currently supports decreasing (33%) rather than increasing (22%) legal immigration into the U.S. Thirty-nine percent say it should be kept at its present level. 
 
As for illegal immigrants, most Americans feel sympathy. Nearly seven-in-ten (69%) are very or somewhat sympathetic toward immigrants who are here illegally. Eighty-six percent of Democrats say they are sympathetic toward illegal immigrants, compared with about half of Republicans (48%).
 
Yet now the Trump administration is cracking down not only on illegal migrants, but on refugees and asylum-seekers who wish to legally immigrate. The United States will accept at most 18,000 refugees, down from 30,000 this year and 110,000 two years ago.
 
And that's not all. Trump recently issued a proclamation that would have denied Green Cards to immigrants if they could not afford health insurance within 30 days of arrival. The alternative: demonstrate that you could pay your medical expenses. The rule would have favored wealthy immigrants. The day before the proclamation was to have gone into effect, November 2, a judge issued a temporary restraining order. We will see in a few weeks how this will be resolved.

 

Not to mention awaiting the outcome of the Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals (DACA) case currently being heard by the Supreme Court.
 
If I were to present to members of Trump's base my father's story and these statistics, it wouldn't matter. I don't get why. What made Trump, his lieutenants, and his supporters disconnect from their ancestors' arrivals on these shores? Perhaps they just have the same cognitive dissonance as Americans polled 81 years ago. In a weird way, I find myself longing for that explanation. It would be preferable to the pure hatefulness of the Trump administration with its unimaginably cruel policies, "shadow diplomacy" probed at the opening impeachment hearings, and other underworld high crimes and misdemeanors yet to be unveiled.

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WeAre1: On the Wisdom of Sixteen-year-olds  

The activist sixteen-year-old Greta Thunberg is doing everything she can to stop the climate crisis. Her passion has inspired children and teens worldwide, who she says have been asking themselves, 'Why study for a future that's being taken away from us?' Thunberg, who has been calling out politicians who belittle climate change, also knows how to appreciate the positive. Having been diagnosed with Asberger's, she says she is "neurodiverse" and credits the syndrome with enabling her to think outside the box and not care about social codes; she says what she thinks. She also has faith that people can be reached by rational argument: "The most important thing to do right now is to understand the crisis, to grasp the problem," she recently told hosts of CBS This Morning. "Once you fully understand ecological emergencies then you know what you can do as well."


Of course, Thunberg is now being demonized by the Right. One extremist suggested on Twitter that Thunberg is a pawn of the Left: "Children—notably Nordic white girls with braids and red cheeks—were often used in Nazi propaganda. An old Goebbels technique! Looks like today's progressive Left is still learning its game from an earlier Left in the 1930s."


The Left? The Nazis were the Far Right. How dare you distort history?


Now for the reality a Jewish teenager faced during World War II. In the fall of 1941, my sixteen-year-old mother was living with her parents in German-occupied Lwów. They had zigzagged across Galicia since fleeing Kraków in September 1939. Now they faced the formation of the Lwów ghetto. My mother ran into a former classmate from Kraków, who said his parents had just paid $500 ($8,300 in today's dollars) for passports to the Dominican Republic. They were planning to leave in a day or two.


My mother told her parents her friend's plan and begged them to do the same. Her father said they did not have the money and refused to ask wealthy relatives in New York to loan it. My mother argued desperately for him to change his mind. This was the second confrontation in a series of arguments, which in her testimony for the Fortunoff Video Archive for Holocaust Testimonies she explained this way:


"I couldn't convince him. It was irrational. He said, 'What's the matter with you? Your uncle just came to America. You think that money grows on trees? $500 is a lot of money.' But in the back of my mind, however, I knew that we had very wealthy relatives there."


Later, when my mother and grandfather argued about buying false papers so that they could pose as Catholic Poles, she prevailed, but commented:

 

"I told my father. I told him that we must have false papers and he was convinced he raised a snake. He really thought that there was something terribly wrong with me. My parents did not have the sense of danger I had….I believe that Hannah Arendt mentioned that children not burdened by experience and education had sort of an open slate and saw the reality easier, some of us did, than our elders. Because I already then in Lwów told my father there is not a chance [that they would survive the war as Jews]."


Thus, my teenage mother recognized and reacted to the catastrophe of her day in much the same desperate and outraged manner Greta Thunberg has to ours.


Remember these words of wisdom from another bygone era? "Teach your parents well. Teach your parents well, their children's hell will slowly go by. And feed them on your dreams, the one they picks, the one you'll know by." –Graham Nash, 1969.


Happy Rosh Hashanah.
 
 

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WeAre1: Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité et Rosh Hashanah 1944

In late August 1944, Company C of the Medical Gas Treatment Batallion and the 8th Field Hospital of the United States Army were in Northern France. The fighting had diminished in Brittany and the frontline began to move east. While awaiting their orders, some Company C medical officers took a few days off and visited newly-liberated Mont Saint Michel. My father was among them.


The strange, sometimes inaccessible little island, which had been a strategic fortification for hundreds of years, owed its safety to extreme tides. At low tide, pilgrims had walked 600 meters out from the coast amid the constant danger of quicksand. High tide could drown or strand assailants. For 1,200 years, the island successfully resisted threats of occupation. Until the Nazis besieged it.


As the American officers explored the island's ramparts, the French Second Armored Division was battling the Nazis for Paris. On August 25, the French liberated the City of Light.


Company C was ordered to join the Headquarters Detachment of the Batallion at Le Bourget Airport just north of Paris, 322 kilometers away. Cheering Frenchmen welcomed Company C when it arrived. Despite enemy robot bombs and fields thick with mud, Company C set up a tent hospital. It was ready to receive patients on September 5. The 8thField Hospital staff arrived on September 7.


Soon the casualties became too numerous for Company C to handle, so the Batallion's four other companies joined it. Furthermore, the wounds soldiers endured were more severe than in Normandy and required a great deal of surgery, so more surgical teams were called in. Doctors in two tented operating rooms performed surgeries around the clock. The units evacuated 2,424 wounded to the United Kingdom, 1,303 wounded to General Hospitals in the immediate zone, and 550 patients to General Hospitals in and around Paris.


By mid-September, the Companies needed rest and everyone got passes to Paris even though the city was still off-limits to most G.I.s. My father was twice blessed; the Army offered every Jewish officer and G.I. a three-day furlough so that they could attend Rosh Hashanah services on Sunday, September 17. It was the first Rosh Hashanah to be openly celebrated after four years of the German occupation.


My father probably attended services at the Grand Synagogue, also known as the Rothschild Synagogue and the largest Jewish house of worship in France. About 100 Jews of all ages gathered outside as trucks of Jewish soldiers arrived from all over France. The congregants cheered wildly and greeted the men with tears, hugs, and kisses. An elderly woman grabbed the hand of a G.I. while reaching with her other hand into her jacket pocket. She withdrew a yellow star, ripped it up, and said in Yiddish, "Das iz vos ir hot getan far aundz! (This is what you have done for us!)" Tears ran down the G.I.'s face. No doubt my father's eyes would have welled up, too, and he would have thought of his parents and brother, who he had last seen five years ago when he left Lwów.


Fatigued from living in tents and tending the wounded for months, my father spent the next two days in Paris relaxing in cafés, meeting women, and going to the opera. What jubilation to be in this city again, not as the fugitive he had been in March, 1939, but as an American.
 

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WeAre1: A Family of the Overrun on the Run

The attic window of my grandfather's house in Lwów, where he and 11 other men hid. It was so crowded that they alternated standing and sleeping, like today's detained children in facilties near our southern border.
My mother at age 13 in 1938. She is standing in front of a fountain in Kraków's Planty, a park that rings the Old Town.

Eighty years ago today the Germans invaded Poland. My mother, Irena Goldberger, was a teenager in Kraków. Here is her recollection of that moment, recorded in 1987 when she was 63, by the Fortunoff Video Archive for Holocaust Testimonies at Yale University:
 
"I was in my bed in Kraków and suddenly there were the sounds of bombs. That was at dawn.
 
"My father was a military man during the WW I and a hero and while the radio said those were maneuvers, he said, 'Oh no, those are German planes and the war is––it's outbreak of war.' We had mobilization few days before. And around the 20th of August, my mother came back from the mountains and did not allow me to go visit my friend to her estate in Silesia, which is further west from Kraków, because she said, 'On the boundary there are German soldiers with swastikas all over. The war is impending.'
 
"I remember out of the corner of my eye to see a plane diving in and I heard the shots. At the time, the biggest fear was that of the poisonous gas, which in retrospect seems absolutely ludicrous.
 
"We left Kraków three days later, with my parents, my father's two sisters and my uncles. My mother's sister and another aunt left few days before that to the center of Poland, which they thought would be safer.
 
"We had knapsacks. We closed the doors. My father said, 'We will take the silver.' So we took the silver. I had a sense of adventure. I was 14-and-a-half years old…"


 
I do not know how my father remembered that day. He was in Mexico, unable to communicate with his parents and younger brother, who were in Lwów, Poland.

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WeAre1: Using the Jewish Vote

Earlier this month, Trump asked Netanyahu to block visits to Israel of two Muslim congresswomen. The following week, he said, "Any Jewish people that vote for a Democrat, I think it shows either a total lack of knowledge or great disloyalty." Then he quoted on Twitter a conservative radio host who claimed that Trump is the greatest president in the history of the world for Jews and for Israel.

 

A few days later, Trump doubled down with this clarification about exactly to whom Jewish Democrats are disloyal: "You vote for a Democrat, you're being very disloyal to Jewish people, and you're being very disloyal to Israel," he told reporters, "and only weak people would say anything other than that." Regarding his rabid trade war with China, Trump claimed he is "the chosen one" because no one else has had the courage to raise tariffs. I suppose he wanted to send a subliminal message that he identifies with "the chosen people." 


Trump's comments and actions are attempts to use not only Jews, but also right-wing Evangelicals who support Israel, for political gain. (These evangelicals believe that Israeli Jews will war with their neighbors and that the ensuing Armageddon will trigger Christ's Second Coming.) It's about votes, not peace in the Middle East.


Obviously, Trump is trying to turn the Jewish vote Republican. The Jewish vote has been overwhelmingly Democratic for decades and he does not understand why. According to Demenico Montanaro and Tamara Keith of National Public Radio's Morning Edition, Israel is not the determinative factor for most Jews and many do not agree with Republicans' approach to Israel. "Jewish people who vote Democratic care about what Democrats care about—social justice, health care, climate change, the welfare of immigrants and more," say Domenico and Keith. Moreover, Since 1968, Jewish voters have voted on average 71% for Democrats.


Trump is also using Representatives Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib. In his clumsy attempt to attack them, he also went after Jewish voters. He could have condemned the boycott of Israel that the congresswomen support, and questioned, why, given all the countries worthy of boycotting, these congresswomen and others focus on Israel?


Why do they not boycott Syria for its Civil War, which is responsible for displacing 11 million of its citizens, 5 million of whom have fled the country? And the 371,222 to 570,000 dead members of opposition activist groups? Or how about Myanmar, for murdering 43,000 Rohingya, detaining 135,000 in camps, and for causing 730,000 to flee to Pakistan in 2018? What about China's Uighur Muslims, 1 million of whom have been held for 10 years in detention centers in the province of Xingiang?


Besides the treatment of Palestinians, the congresswomen say they object to generous aid the United States gives Israel––the largest to any nation, at $3.8 billion annually. In mid-August, Omar said, "Denying a visit to duly elected members of Congress is not consistent with being an ally," and hinted that Congress should consider that when allotting aid to Israel every year.


I would accept Omar and Tlaib's objections, had they not also questioned Jewish loyalty. Tlaib said supporters of an anti-boycott of Israel bill "forgot what country they represent."

 

We're getting that age-old anti-Semitic trope from both sides.


Of course, Hitler spread the myth in 1933 that Germany lost World War I because it had been stabbed in the back by Jews, even though more than 100,000 of them served in the German army. He did so to unify the German-speaking people. Feeling deprived and abused by the restrictions imposed upon them after World War I, they needed scapegoats, just like White Supremacists here do today.


But I say no one is all that pure, and what's so terrible about several loyalties anyway? Human beings are multifaceted creatures and one would hope that we can handle multiple ideas and allegiances simultaneously. But if people really believe we are that limited and must run on one-track fealty, why does no one accuse Tlaib, whose parents are Palestinian immigrants, of dual loyalty? Or all Catholics, because they follow the decree of the pope. (When JFK ran in 1960, people worried that the pope would call the shots.)


Another question that should be addressed is, why the boycott now? Israel has received large sums of aid from the U.S. for years and the Palestinian-Israel conflict is as old as Israel. Quoting Stratfor and the Pew Research Center, a recent Congressional Research Service report, "U.S. Foreign Aid to Israel," makes the reason quite clear. U.S. voters who are young, religiously-unaffiliated, American Muslims, and liberal appear to hold more critical views of the Israeli government's treatment of Palestinians. "As a result, American public attitudes toward Israel's government are growing more polarized," the report said, "In April 2019, the Pew Research Center released survey results indicating that 'by nearly two-to-one (61% to 32%), Republicans have a favorable view of Israel's government. By contrast, two-thirds of Democrats view Israel's government unfavorably, while just 26% have a favorable opinion.'" Although, that could really be a referendum specifically on Netanyahu's leadership.


So the fight is partially about grabbing those younger, more malleable voters. But the cost is that both Trump and the so-called "progressives" are undermining heretofore bipartisan support for Israel.


Again, that does not go deep enough. Follow the money. What does Israel use all those donated dollars for? For its military. The rationale for the aid is that Israel must rely on better equipment and training to compensate for being much smaller in population size and geographically (there is no room for an army to retreat) than its adversaries. According to the Congressional Research Report, U.S. aid has helped transform Israel's armed forces into one of the most technologically sophisticated in the world. Today it is a top supplier in arms, exporting missile defense systems, unmanned aerial vehicles, cyber security products, radar, and electronic communication systems. It is dependent on us for fighter jets, but we have purchased protection systems for tanks, helmets for F 35 fighter pilots, and an electronic fence along our border with Mexico. The U.S. benefits, using Israel as a research laboratory.


It's complicated. And there are double standards. What if everyone recognized each other as fellow human beings? Right now, though, we are all at the mercy of the military industrial complex. It shouts louder than human rights.
 

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WeAre1: Gun Control in Weimar Germany and its Influence Today

Like many Americans last weekend, I was horrified and overwhelmed by the simultaneous massacres in Dayton, OH and El Paso, TX. After a few days, though, in keeping with the purpose of this blog, I began to consider parallels with World War II. I googled gun control during the Third Reich. Up popped a book on just that. Written by attorney Stephan P. Halbrook, Guns in the Third Reich: Disarming Jews and 'Enemies of the State,' traces the history of gun registration beginning with Weimar Germany.


Fearing civil war, the Weimar government tried to control violence between the Communists and Nazis. In 1919, after repressing a Communist uprising, the government banned firearms and ordered citizens to surrender them and ammunition, as Halbrook writes. The penalty for not complying: five years in prison and a fine. The next year, the Law on the Disarmament of the People was implemented by house-to-house firearms searches and confiscations.


The government enacted a new firearms law in 1928 that relaxed the previous one, allowing citizens to own guns and carry ammunition if they obtained licenses. Authorities had the power to grant these permits or not. The law also regulated the manufacture and sale of firearms.


Three years later, the government authorized the states within Germany to require gun registration and to confiscate weapons. By 1932, the gun industry was facing collapse, so the government lifted some regulations.


When in 1933 the Nazis came to power, Hitler used the gun registration records to identify and disarm political opponents. That meant mainly Jews. In late 1935, a Gestapo directive stated that "as a rule, we have to assume that firearms in the hands of the Jews represent a considerable danger for the German people." Three years later, Hitler signed a new gun control act that further loosened restrictions, especially for Nazi Party members. Jews, however, were ordered to surrender their weapons to "render them defenseless so that their ill-gotten property could be redistributed as an entitlement to the German people," writes Halbrook. Weeks before Kristallnacht, to foil any opposition the Nazis revoked Jews' gun licenses and searched their homes for weapons.


Halbrook is a pro-gun, Second Amendment attorney who has won three cases he argued before the Supreme Court. He also serves as outside counsel to the National Rifle Association. The Independent Institute, a libertarian think-tank where Halbrook is a research fellow, published his book a year after the Sandy Hook tragedy. Shortly after that attack, Senate Republicans refused to pass a modest, bipartisan bill to expand background checks. In response, President Obama signed 23 executive actions intended to reduce gun violence. Several were designed to buttress the federal background check system by requiring federal agencies to share relevant data.


Halbrook has said that only law-abiding people obeyed Weimar's gun control laws and that the government warned that lists of gun owners could fall into the hands of radicals. Exactly that occurred when the Nazis came to power, he notes. The NRA has been at the forefront of this historical argument since the late 1960s, according to Professor of Law Bernard E. Harcourt. NRA past president Charlton Heston and current president Wayne LaPierre have emphasized a connection between gun registration and the Holocaust. Heston: "Any of the monsters of history—such as Hitler and Stalin––confiscated privately held firearms as their first act." LaPierre: "A people disarmed is a people in danger."


In 1938, Jewish Berliners relinquished 1,700 firearms. Is the NRA trying to tell me that if my great-grandfather Heinrich Finkelstein had owned a gun and refused to obey that new law, he would not have been in danger? That armed, he could have resisted the coming onslaught? That he would not have been on some list? That he would not have had to flee Germany in 1940? I mean, despite having weapons the French Army was unable to defend France.


These statements and other arguments for the right to bear arms and against registration have lost sight of the type of arms the Founding Fathers had in mind when they wrote the Second Amendment. They stated that "A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed." Muskets were the weapons of the day. In Weimar Germany, the concern was bolt-action rifles and revolvers. The Founders could not have fathomed citizens using on one another assault weapons with easily reloadable magazines. Furthermore, they linked the right to bear arms to a military unit. They said nothing about individual ownership of arms for personal defense, as historian Saul Cornell has noted.


It is a distortion of history to suggest that the Nazis' use of gun control and abuse of gun registries to destroy the Jews are reasons to prevent gun control here. Yet many White Supremacists here today believe that extremist groups want to infringe their Second Amendment rights to disarm and destroy them. One Amazon reviewer of Halbrook's book warned that the Marxist/Socialists "will not rest, and when they finally get a majority in favor of stripping up [sic] of our arms, the time for revolution will be upon us. The Marxist Democrats lust for a disarmed public, and they will not rest until it happens."


But White Supremacists are the very radicals of which most law-abiding Americans are wary. They, themselves, are associated with fascism. At gun shows, you are far more likely to see a swastika and other Nazi paraphernalia, says Harcourt, than at the anti-gun Million Mom March on the Washington Mall.


On the second anniversary of Charlottesville, has anyone rioted shouting "White Supremacists will not replace us?" The parents of the dead children of Sandy Hook do not seek to suppress all gun owners. Congregants of the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh are unlikely to burst into gun owners' homes in search of arms and, upon finding them, jail the owners. Nor are worshippers of Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, where nine black parishioners were shot and killed in 2015. And the relatives of murdered people of color in El Paso and Dayton…need I go on?


It's obvious that White Supremacists are not the victims here.
 

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WeAre1: On Obsolete Liberal Ideas

"Perhaps he loved the people. Perhaps he loved them, but didn't trust them to think for themselves. Or perhaps he was insatiable and wanted even more power to add to his glory. I don't know. But he envied the dictators and thought that all governments of the people and by the people were soon to perish from the earth."
 
Katherine Hepburn spoke these words to Spencer Tracy in the 1943 film noir, Keeper of the Flame. Does her description of an authoritarian leader sound familiar?
 
The last sentence contradicts the concluding phrase of Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address. Dedicating a soldiers cemetery during the Civil War, the 16th president declaired that our nation "shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth."
 
In the film, Hepburn plays newly widowed Christine Forrest, who has been entangled in a love-hate relationship with her late husband, Robert Forrest. Tracy plays a ruthless reporter who wants to write a biography about Forrest. When it comes out that Forrest ran a vast, secret organization that planned to turn the country over to fascism, Tracy urges Christine to tell the world. This is the only film directed by George Cukor with an explicit political message. He peppered it with attacks on fascism, criticizing hero worship, the effects of leaders on youth, and official speeches about patriotism. 
 
Hepburn championed the project and felt it was a way to contribute to the war effort. Despite mixed reviews, the film was a commercial hit, especially in big cities. One historian of film later writing about Hollywood propaganda during the war noted the film's "strong warning to the American people about demagoguery, domestic fascism, and mind control, while praising the virtues of freedom of the press."
 
How would Keeper of the Flame be received today? What would Fox News pundits say to the film's warning about authoritarian leaders and their fake promises?
 
Surely Trump would identify with Forrest. And Trump would probably ignore the film's warning or misconstrue it, as he did Putin's statement at the G20 summit that liberal democracies are over. The Russian president essentially stated that liberalism is obsolete, that the "liberal idea" has "outlived its purpose." Trump explained that Putin may feel this way "because he sees what's going on in cities, such as Los Angeles and San Francisco, that are governed by liberal administrations." Thus Trump revealed his towering ignorance. Or perhaps he just made up something to remain on Putin's good side. You know, my country for a tower. He certainly confused the liberal idea, which is associated with representative, constitutional democracies, with liberals. Oh, West Coast flakes. Those cosmopolitans believe they are their brothers' keepers.
 
Thankfully, others are quite clear about Putin's meaning. As President of the European Council Donald Tusk remarked to the BBC, "Whoever claims that liberal democracy is obsolete also claims that freedoms are obsolete, that rule of law is obsolete, and human rights are obsolete." 

 

WeAre1: Our Brothers' Keepers

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WeAre1: On Medical Care at For-profit Detention Centers

The attic window of my grandfather's house in Lwów, where he and 11 other men hid. It was so crowded that they alternated standing and sleeping, like today's detained children in facilties near our southern border.
Between the gabled windows you can see the grid-covered attic window of my grandfather's house. He hid in the attic during part of WWII. Lviv, Ukraine. 

The health consequences to detainees held in facilities near the southern border are horrific, with the most helpless innocents suffering terribly. Confined refugee children in Texas are in such unsanitary conditions that they have developed scabies, shingles, and chickenpox. The overcrowding is so great that they take turns standing for hours so that others can sleep.
 
My grandfather, Ojzer Fränkel, hid in his tiny attic with 11 other Jewish men during World War II. For almost a year, they slept in shifts, half standing while the others slumbered, but they were grown men with stamina who had learned patience. They chose confinement, having decided that it was the best way to wait out and perhaps survive persecution.
 
In response to reports of appalling conditions in detention centers, Trump had the gall to tweet that detainees are living better in Border Patrol facilities than they would in their home countries. How would Trump feel if his son Barron got chickenpox while being held in an overcrowded, filthy pen unable to lie down?
 
If this administration really wanted to deter desperate people from massing at our borders, it would have invested our tax dollars in aid to the countries those people are fleeing. Instead, Trump and his cronies are using the plights of asylum-seekers to line their pockets. These corporatists implement policies to create markets for the companies in which they have, or plan to take, an interest. Then they see to it that those companies get lucrative government contracts. When these officials leave government, they cash in. Look at John Kelly. When he was Head of the Department of Homeland Security, he oversaw the implementation of Trump's vicious immigration policies. Now the former White House Chief of Staff is a board member of the largest U.S. shelter for unaccompanied migrant children. He has to take his cut––on the backs of babes.
 
Why are there outbreaks of disease? Why are these camps overcrowded? Why are there no beds and not enough soap and toothbrushes? For-profit companies are not motivated to spend money to properly care for detainees. Bottom-line oriented, they skimp to please their investors. You know, it's just business. They don't care that medical neglect or mistreatment can have lifelong, ruinous consequences for detainees.
 
Here's another personal example. My mother, Irene Goldberger, fell ill when she was working as a slave laborer for the Siemens Corporation in Germany during World War II. She developed a sore throat and saw a village doctor who prescribed medication and rest. But the Siemens factory doctor disagreed with the diagnosis; during his cursory "examination" he found her temperature normal. Well, of course. The medication had by then lowered her temperature. But Siemens had to get the most out of its slaves, so the doctor confiscated my mother's medication and ordered her back to work. She toiled with a fever in that factory for nine months.
 
After Liberation, a U.S. Army doctor treated her with the then-new drug penicillin. He said she had had strep throat that had turned into rheumatic fever. He was concerned that left untreated for so long, the fever had damaged her heart valves. In fact, that's precisely what happened. Years later, when my mother was treated for breast cancer, chemotherapy had to be cut short because of her weakened heart.
 
This administration, while enriching itself, is using our tax dollars to trample human rights. Furthermore, it is creating a large population with good reason to retaliate for being mistreated. In their avarice and quest for instant gratification, those in power ignore the long-term consequences to our country. Perhaps those responsible will face trials for crimes against humanity, as did the Nazis in Nuremberg.

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