Guest Column by Norbert Friedman
Ever since the race for the presidency of the United States became a race between Donald Trump and the other contenders and Trump hit the campaign trail promoting his views, I have had this uneasy feeling that I have heard this rhetoric before.
As sentiments with tones expressed in the ’30s filled the pages and airwaves of the media, forerunners of the world tragedy echoed in my head.
Images of young people in nondescript uniforms with armbands reading “Trump Troops,” marching down the streets of Atlanta and chanting the “Horst Wessel Lied,” plagued my sleepless nights. Remembrance of cowering with fear in the cellar to hide from the rummaging mob during the pogrom in my town in Poland in 1937 and all the atrocities of the long-suffering days of the Holocaust trumped all my arguments with myself: “It can’t happen here; this is America.”
But the words of the memorable song by Mordechai Gebirtig from Yom HaShoah observances — es brent, briderlekh, es brent (it’s burning, brothers, it’s burning) — kept ringing in my ears.
And then on a Sunday morning in May as I turned the pages of The New York Times, a colorful display with the heading “The Nazi Tweets of ‘Trump God Emperor’ ” caught my attention. It was an article by Jonathan Weisman.
Weisman, a native of Atlanta, had tweeted out an opinion piece from The Washington Post by Robert Kagan: “This is how fascism comes to America.”
David Schechter in his inimitable style in his column “You Can’t Escape Your Judaism” (June 24) covered most but not all of what I would like to point out about what happened next.
I would like to mention instances of anti-Semitic messages targeted at Jewish journalists Jake Tapper of CNN, freelancer Julia Joffe, Jeffrey Goldberg of The Atlantic and others.
The torrent of anti-Semitic messages aimed at Joffe included an image of her wearing a Holocaust-era Jewish star and threats that she would be sent “back to the oven.”
The Jewish Week reports that Bethany Mandel, a political columnist, received such a barrage of anti-Semitic tweets after criticizing Donald Trump, from being called a “slimy Jewess” to being told she “deserves the oven,” that she bought a gun for protection.
Stosh Cotler, the CEO of Bend the Arc: A Jewish Partnership for Justice, said: “This campaign of Donald Trump is terrifying. He is tapping into some legitimate fears and concerns that many Americans hold about their future and the state of the country. But the root causes and solutions he is presenting are absolutely dangerous. He is appealing to the worst aspects of our country’s history-intense xenophobia, racism and anti-Muslim Islamophobia that is running rampart in this country.”
The Anti-Defamation League responded to the social media attacks on Jewish journalists by creating a Task Force on Hate Speech and Journalism to assess the scope of the attacks, their impact and how to prevent them in the future.
Among the representatives of journalism, law enforcement, academia and nongovernmental groups on the task force is Todd Gitlin, a professor of journalism and sociology at Colombia University.
“I have never heard anything like this,” he said of the attacks on journalists. “There is a lunatic fringe that has always existed in America that hates Jews and usually other groups as well. Every once in a while, they pop up in public. … What has happened now is that Trump has given these people cover to creep out from under their rocks.”
Asked by CNN what message he had for his fans who had sent such “anti-Semitic death threats,” Trump replied: “I know nothing about it.”
Trump adviser Jason Greenblatt has been quoted as saying, “I do not think Mr. Trump can be responsible for people who are anti-Semitic who support him.”
But Deborah Lipstadt, a Holocaust scholar at Emory University who is writing a book about contemporary anti-Semitism, laid the blame for much of the anti-Semitic vitriol at Trump’s feet.
Wealthy leaders of the Jewish community advocate Trump’s candidacy. They see no problem with casting their ballots with those of Neo-Nazi Jew-haters because “they do not mean us.”
The words of Pastor Martin Niemoller (“First they came for the socialists …”) resonate 70 years later.
Should I be concerned? Yes, I am.
Holocaust survivor Norbert Friedman has lived in metro Atlanta since 2010.