High Desert Sketches: Let’s not let history repeat itself

Art by Valerie “CrowCrumbs” Howard

Philosopher George Santayana (1863-1952), once stated, “Those who forget the past are condemned to repeat it.” He was referring to the longview of history, but we can see the wisdom in his words if we look at the beginning of the 21st century.

The Nazis rose to power on a number of unsubstantiated claims. First, they blamed their economic depression on foreign workers taking German jobs. Then they blamed the communist for worker unrest and then they blamed the Jews for their national economic decisions that brought on their depression.

In their early days, the Nazi Party created a “militia,” the Sturmabteilung, literally “Storm Detachment,” colloquially called the Brownshirts, who played a significant role in Adolf Hitler’s rise to power in the 1920s and 1930s. They brutalized civilians and anyone who dared criticized Hitler. On November 9-10, 1938, they gained international attention by rampaging through German cities smashing the windows of Jewish businesses.

Father Charles Coughlin (1891-1979), a syndicated columnist on radio and newspapers, wrote in the Detroit Press in 1939, “Must the entire world go to war, for 600,000 Jews in Germany who are neither American, nor French, nor English citizens, but citizens of Germany?” Six years later, six million Jews, and millions more innocent victims were dead.

If you need parallels to our part of the 21st century, here are a few.

While America has a long history of white supremacy, it has never been so well organized or so prolific. The Ku Klux Klan rose to power after the Civil War by combining a hatred of both Blacks and Jews. Our version of the Brownshirts have a variety of names ranging from proud boys to boogaloo boys in their Hawaiian-style shirts. Many of the groups prefer camouflage dressing, but they all sport an AR-15 assault rifle, and like the Klan, they’re both racist and antisemitic.

The Nazis developed the world’s greatest propaganda machine by destroying all of Germany’s media outlets and recreating them as Nazi outlets. They created the concept of the bigger the lie and the more often it is repeated the more the people will believe the lie. Today, our white supremacist have a loosely knit source of misinformation and totally false information called QAnon. The QAnon followers believe there is an international conspiracy of pedophiles consisting of Satan-worshiping Democrats and certain Hollywood stars. They believe only President Tweet can save us all.

After the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp multiple incidents of antisemitic vandalism, harassment and assaults were reported in the United States. As survivors, heads of states and members of Jewish organizations gathered at the site where the Nazis systematically murdered more than 1.1 million people. A letter declaring that Jews are fake and part of the “Synagogue of Satan” was sent to synagogues in Seattle, Washington, Springfield, Virginia, and Washington, DC. The last three years have seen a rise in antisemitic actions across the United States.

In 2017, Charlottesville, Virginia, white supremacists and neo-Nazis chanted racist and antisemitic slogans and wore uniforms with swastikas.

In October 2018, a man stormed the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh armed with a semi-automatic rifle and three semi-automatic pistols. He fired all four weapons, killing 11 Jews at worship.

Six months later, in April 2019, a man armed with a rifle fired shots inside the Chabad synagogue in Poway, near San Diego, killing one woman and injuring three others, including the synagogue’s rabbi.

In December 2019, attackers killed three people at a kosher supermarket in Jersey City, New Jersey.

A few weeks later, on the seventh night of Hanukkah, a man entered the home of an Orthodox Jewish family in Monsey, New York, and stabbed five worshippers. According to the New York City Police Department, more than half of the 423 reported hate crimes in the city last year were directed at Jews.

According to the Anti-Defamation League, there were 1,879 attacks against Jews and Jewish institutions in the United States in 2018, the third-highest year on record since it began tracking such data in the 1970s.

In addition to violent attacks, the last few years have also witnessed the vandalizing of hundreds of Jewish gravestones in Pennsylvania and Missouri, and antisemitic graffiti painted on the walls of synagogues and other Jewish institutions throughout the country.

Hopefully, in the coming years we can put aside our bigotry and petty grievances to avoid history repeating itself.


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