A Real or an Inflated Threat?

Photo by Maria Sarakatsiano | CC BY 2.0

Heather Heyer is killed in Charlottesville, VA while marching against a rally of white supremacists and neoNazis; Holocaust memorial sites are vandalized; nooses are found on college campuses; Jews begin leaving France; police shoot unarmed black people with alarming regularity in the U.S.; in Poland; a center of Holocaust mass murder, 60,000 from the far right march; in Springfield, MA, a note with violent content is left at a Jewish community center where children play; in the Berkshires of western MA, a swastika is left on a lawn sign that reads: “Love Trumps Hate.” Is the far right a real or exaggerated threat to what’s left of democracy around the world? Is it an inconvenient irritant or a clear and present danger to Jews and other minority groups? Are these examples of far-tight attacks a kind of canary in the coal mine?

Are the infamous Einsatgruppen (Nazi death squads) ready to make a comeback in Germany, in France, in the Ukraine, in the U.S. and in other countries? Will there be the contemporary equivalent of killing fields, or is the growth of the far right, last seen in similar (geographically) magnitude in the 1930s, something of lesser concern?

From a Jewish perspective, any growth of the far right and any morphing of far-right groups is of grave concern. Collectively and individually it is almost second nature to react with visceral alarm to the 2,000 years of anti-Semitism and the Holocaust.

Growing up, the execution of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg sent shock waves through my home. That two Jews would be killed for stealing the “secret” of the atomic bomb and passing that information to our then Soviet ally had its effect (whether the Rosenbergs actually did steal the secret of the atomic bomb is the subject of much debate and serious scrutiny).

My mother, Sylvia Lisnoff, would write the short story “Hitler: His Victims and Heroes” (Tales of an American Shtetl) about how the Jewish community in the small town where I grew up in Rhode Island would coalesce around the issue of bringing in as many immigrants as could be saved from Naziism during World War II. This was a fictional account of the real world. Comparisons to the present-day sanctuary movement in the U.S. and that of the 1980s, when victims of war in Central America were provided with sanctuary, can be drawn.

A lesson that many Jews have learned is that “eternal vigilance” is more than a motto of the American Civil Liberties Union… it is something that we live with.

Here’s Lev Golinkin on the Real News Network (“Europe’s White Supremacists Have Powerful Ties,” November 25, 2017). Golinkin is an expert on the far right in Europe.

We saw Poland which was the poster child of post-Soviet success demonstrate some of the darker elements in its midst. We also saw not just Polish marchers be there but also neo-Nazis from all the different corners of Europe. So this is something that goes far, far beyond Poland.

Before discussing the rise of neoNazism in the Ukraine, an issue that needs to concern those of goodwill around the globe and those in positions of power, Golinkin observes that:

In the old days, white supremacy was limited to nations. In other words Deutschland Uber Alles or America First or what have you. But now because, a lot of it is almost like Islamic terrorism. It’s not limited to just a certain country, it’s limited to a worldwide movement …

Professor Larry Wilkerson makes a valid point on the Real News Network when he says that neoNazis can now communicate with one another around the world (“Will Eastern European Countries Be Drawn Into Russia-U.S. Conflict?” November 26, 2017).

The actions of the Trump administration on issues of racism and anti-Semitism has caused much concern in many quarters and among many people. Appointments of far-right advisors like his former ally Stephen Bannon, who served in the Trump administration as White House chief strategist, Trump’s encouragement of violence at campaign rallies, and his failure to appropriately mark Holocaust Remembrance Day despite the fact of having a Jewish son-in-law and daughter are of grave concern and demand careful watching. Some, especially some on the political left, see the concern about far-right groups as a diversion from the daily actions of the far-right Trump administration and the U.S. Congress, but others have frequently sounded the alarm against these forces since the presidential campaign of 2016.

Although the U.S. likes to view itself as a nation of immigrants (and it certainly is), immigrant groups have always suffered rejection in varying degrees and the lack of acceptance (also in varying degrees) in U.S. society. That tendency has gathered strength of late with economic uncertainty and the international scene being driven by forces of intolerance. “Never again!” is much more than a slogan to those who identify themselves as Jewish and to those who instinctively know that an attack against one or more minority groups is an attack against all!

Howard Lisnoff is a freelance writer. He is the author of Against the Wall: Memoir of a Vietnam-Era War Resister (2017).