On my morning run, I pass a house proudly displaying a “Make America Great Again” sign, an anomaly in my liberal Boston suburb. My heart palpitates and it’s not because of my pace, which is snail-like. It’s because when I see those signs, I see swastikas and notices reading Juden werden hier nicht bedient (“Jews are not served here”). As a Jewish woman, I can’t help but be reminded of Germany 1933.
Far fetched? I don’t think so. The only difference is the signs of a Trump administration more likely will read “Muslims” or “immigrants not served here,” although given the anti-Semitic stance of so many of his followers, they may very well also keep their Juden stance.
My novel, Modern Girls, takes place in 1935 New York. Willie is a young man, a journalist, who is Jewish. Yet he’s not going to let that stop him from chasing a story, and he plans to travel to Europe to understand what is happening there. Book clubs find this alarming. “What is he thinking?” they ask. “Doesn’t he know how dangerous it is?”
The answer, of course, is no, he doesn’t. Because in the early 1930s Americans had no concept of the horrors of which Hitler was capable. The Holocaust, which casts a long shadow over world Jewry today, lay in the future, absolutely inconceivable to the modern Americans of the 1930s. The Cleveland Press wrote in 1933 that “the appointment of Hitler as German chancellor may not be such a threat to world peace as it appears at first blush.” That same year, an Australian social worker returned after two years in Germany to report to Melbourne’s The Age that “[w]hatever charge could be laid at the door of Hitler, he had certainly taken 100,000 unemployed youths off the street and trained them in patriotism and discipline…. his influence, dictorial though it might be, had saved Germany from one of the worst revolutions in history.”
I grew up in Miami Beach, Florida, where bluish numbers tattooed onto wrinkled forearms was a familiar site. Every year at my public high school, Holocaust survivors came to history classes to recount the horrors of concentration camps. They implored us: Never forget. My own family doesn’t have these stories, as few survived long enough to be deported to camps. My great-grandfather immigrated in 1907, but because of restrictive anti-immigration laws culminating with the Johnson-Reed Act of 1924, which allowed in fewer than 10,000 Jewish Europeans a year, his family was not permitted to follow him to the Goldene Medina, the Golden Country of America. On August 4, 1941, his four siblings, his father, and countless relatives—along with the other 540 Jewish residents of Varaklani, Latvia—were taken to the cemetery, forced to dig pits, and then shot to death.
How easy to think in retrospect, “How could we have missed what was happening?” But who could have imagined it? And it makes me fear: Will we look back on 2016 and wonder, “How did we not see it coming?” The clues are here: an anti-Muslim policy, a wall separating us from Mexico, inaction against supporters who spew anti-Semitic rhetoric, the Star of David as negative propaganda, the blatant misogyny, the fostering of rape culture, the mocking of those who are disabled, the fear mongering about an entire group of people solely on the basis of their religion. All of this is enthusiastically championed by Trump’s followers. How is this different from Nazi beliefs? What will happen to the Syrians we keep out of this Land of Opportunity? To the Muslims already within our borders. To women, to the LGBTQ community, to those who are differently abled? Are we going to allow history to repeat itself?
Usually I keep my mouth shut on political issues. I don’t want to alienate people. Everyone is entitled to his own opinion. My comments on Facebook are benign. I’m a writer; I don’t want to upset those who might want to read my novel.
Not any more.
The passing last July of Nobel Peace Prize–winner and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel is a sharp reminder of the ideals for which we should stand. Wiesel once said, “Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.” Keeping quiet is not going to keep Donald Trump from the White House. His rhetoric is frightening and the actions of some of his supporters at his rallies terrifying. It’s easy to let fear turn us into lurkers, hoping people will see Trump for who he really is. But Wiesel reminds me that that’s not good enough. So this is me not standing silent. This is me adding my voice. Never forget. Let that guide us as we go to the voting booths next Tuesday. Let that guide us as we select our next president.
As for me, let me say it loudly and clearly: Hillary Clinton is my choice for president. I’m with Her. I hope you are too.