Yogi Berra was famous for his double-entendre Yogi-isms. One of the best known was “It’s déjà vu all over again.” The recent episode of neo-Nazi, Klan and other alt-right groups in Charlottesville, Va., spewing their hatred of Jews, blacks and anyone else perceived to be “other” has breathed new life into this Yogi-ism.
More than 50 years ago Eternal Life-Hemshech’s founders, who survived unspeakable Nazi horrors, designed and built Atlanta’s Memorial to the Six Million. They needed a place to grieve and say Kaddish for their loved ones who had no gravesites.
Today, the memorial at Greenwood Cemetery serves as a legacy from the survivors encouraging us to learn from their losses.
Hemshech is the Hebrew word for continuation. As this new year begins, we hope to continue sharing the memories and celebrating the love our Holocaust survivors and those who did not survive bequeathed to us.
But now we face “déjà vu all over again.” The neo-Nazi chants in Charlottesville that vilified Jews mimicked those heard in 1930s and 1940s Germany. And just as Hitler tried to blame the Jews he was killing, today’s perpetrators are trying to blame their victims. The alt-right bullies are claiming their vicious actions were merely self-defense.
What seems new is old. The Turks in 1915 blamed the Armenians for the genocide that tortured and killed more than 1.5 million innocent people. Hitler copied many of the Turkish techniques for annihilating a population.
As we know, suspicion and fear of the other are as ancient as humanity. After the American Civil War, the Ku Klux Klan was followed by Jim Crow laws with lynchings, church burnings and denial to black people of access to education and elections.
Jews were not exempt from the hatred. In 1941, Charles Lindbergh said that the Jews’ “greatest danger to this country lies in their large ownership and influence in … our press, our radio and our government.”
Hardly true, but repeat a lie seven times and people will believe it.
The anti-Semitic syndicated radio priest, Charles Coughlin, in the pre-war years told millions of listeners, “When we get through with the Jews in America, they’ll think the treatment they received in Germany was nothing.”
American pro-Nazi groups held huge rallies. In February 1939, one sponsored by the German-American Bund drew 20,000 people to Madison Square Garden in New York, where they chanted, “Heil, Hitler.”
But through it all, our people resist, persist and continue with resilience and resourcefulness.
This time, thankfully, virtuous people of all faiths are speaking out against such evil — even while its perpetrators are reported by experts to be growing in numbers. As the haters crawl out from under their rocks to spin venom against Jews and other minorities, good people are standing up to refute them.
During Breman Museum Holocaust gallery tours for schoolchildren, survivors who tell their stories sometimes are asked two questions: “Can it happen again?” and “Where was G-d?”
The answers: Yes, it can happen again if we are not vigilant in protecting our freedoms; and people made the decisions to hate and kill, not G-d.
So where were the people? Actually, there were rescuers and resistors who, at great risk to themselves and their families, saved many Jewish lives. Students learn those heroic stories, too.
Today we continue Hemshech’s mission of education to teach what we’ve learned from the past, treasure the survivors who are still among us to tell their stories, and use everything in our power to protect our collective future as the freedom-loving people we are.
Everyone at Eternal Life-Hemshech wishes you and your family l’shana tova tikatevu v’techatemu — may we all be written down and inscribed for a good year — as we continue our work toward a peaceful, civil and kinder tomorrow in which we all join the efforts to smother hatred through education so déjà vu will not happen all over again.
Karen Lansky Edlin is the president of Eternal Life-Hemshech (eternallifehemshech.org), and Jane Horowitz Bick is a board member.