Holocaust Informs Election Decision
Volumes have been written about the personalities and flaws of the two leading contenders for U.S. president, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. However, this focus on personalities has obscured the stark philosophical differences between the Republican and Democratic parties.
To explain these differences, I am going to go back to ancient history, to paraphrase former President Jimmy Carter.
Sometime between Tisha B’Av and Rosh Hashanah in 1942, my father’s parents, younger brother and sister were loaded into boxcars at Warsaw’s umschlagplatz (deportation center) and sent to the Treblinka extermination camp, where they were gassed upon arrival.
The destruction of the world’s largest Jewish community at the time was not a secret in the United States.
While theologically I cannot explain why the Holocaust occurred, I can explain how it occurred. The Holocaust was a perfect storm that required four elements, and without any one of the four, it could not have been as devastating as it was. The four elements were the Nazi ideology, the collaboration of local anti-Semites in countries occupied by the Germans, the genteel anti-Semitism of Allied leaders, including President Franklin D. Roosevelt, and the indifference of the Jewish communities in the United States.
Of these four elements, I would like to focus on two of them, because as an American Jew, I am closest to the last two elements.
A Jewish activist, Peter Bergson, spent the war years in America and made his priority rescuing the Jews of Europe. His primary opposition to rescuing the Jews of Europe were Jews, not anti-Semites. These included New York Democrat Sol Bloom, Rabbi Stephen Wise and Nahum Goldmann. The efforts of these men were focused on having Bergson deported rather than saving European Jews.
Bergson put together a bipartisan group of supporters to pressure FDR into accepting refugees from Europe. These included politicians from areas with few Jewish constituents, such as Democratic Sen. Guy Gillette from Iowa and Democratic Rep. Will Rogers from Oklahoma.
Unfortunately, these efforts came late in the war. There is a legal term that describes the behavior of the collective American Jewish community during the war: depraved indifference.
After the war, Holocaust survivors came to the United States. While some were aided by relatives, as mine were, in general Holocaust survivors were shunned by American Jews.
Labeled “greeners,” they were excluded from synagogues and Jewish community centers, and American Jews cautioned their children not to play with second-generation children for fear that they might acquire foreign accents.
The greeners revitalized U.S. Jewry, creating synagogues and schools and absorbing the insults of the host communities. They played a key role in cementing the U.S.-Israel relationship.
Fast-forward to today. Under Democratic President Barack Obama, we have signed an agreement with Iran, a country open about its desire to inflict a second Holocaust while denying the existence of the original Holocaust. We still don’t know the terms of the agreement, but what we do know is that it places a kashrut symbol on Iran’s desire to produce nuclear weapons.
It has not moderated Iran’s behavior toward the United States; on the contrary, it has emboldened it. For the first time in U.S. history, we have given cash to a regime that is actively killing U.S. servicemen in Iraq and Afghanistan with Iranian-made improvised explosive devices and explosively formed penetrators.
This agreement had the support of the majority of Jewish Democrats in the United States. This is another example of depraved indifference.
On other issues, funding of medical research through the National Institutes of Health is at all-time lows, and one of Obama’s major medical advisers, Ezekiel Emanuel, has stated that NIH-funded medical research raises health care costs. As someone who spends most of my time in medical research, I don’t believe that dying cheaply and quickly is a Jewish value.
I know that many readers will find this trivial, but it is very hard for me to vote for a party that I feel was complicit in the Holocaust and that seems to think the gassing of my grandparents is less significant than the sale of Colin Kaepernick jerseys.
— Jack L. Arbiser, Toco Hills
Trans Population Deserves Protection
This is in response to Jeffrey Kunkes’ Blinded by the Right column (“Collective Punishment Wrong for Trans Issues,” Oct. 21).
Dr. Kunkes, from your words it appears you have suffered because of the economic impact of your state’s laws. You also state that you’re very worried about the immigrants in this country and how they affect your life, as well as our Muslim neighbors and the fear in which many people live because of the radical acts of fanatics.
As people with passion and strong emotions, our own difficult experiences can sometimes cloud our judgment. As a doctor, you must be a thoughtful and caring person, but your thoughts came across bigoted, which you likely didn’t intend. In order to understand the experience of another, we suggest that you step into the shoes of someone who is transgender and recognize the impact of your words.
As a doctor, you took an oath to do no harm, and as committed members of our Jewish community and our global community, we have also promised to do no harm. That means we stand up as allies to transgender individuals, immigrants and people of all faiths.
The aftermath of the Holocaust is a prime example of these values. With anti-Semitism and discrimination, how could we let this happen again to anyone?
You mentioned that because the transgender community is small, perhaps its members shouldn’t be protected from discrimination. Needless to say, as Jews we have an obligation to ensure the safety of all of our neighbors. Just because a group is small doesn’t mean it is insignificant.
Remember: “Saving a human life is as if saving the entire world.”
To be accurate, the population of people who are transgender, gender nonconforming or intersex is approximately 3 percent, whereas the United States has a Jewish population of only 2 percent. We trust that you wouldn’t stand idly by if anyone — your elected officials or your state — sanctioned discrimination against us Jews, who are a smaller number of people.
At this time of polarization and economic difficulties, it is paramount that we renew our commitment to our Jewish values, not just because it could be us the next time there is an oppressor, but also because it has been us and we should know better not to sell out another human being to avoid losing money.
It is a false sense of security if we think we are safe when another group of people is threatened.
Please re-examine your “problem with transgender people” and the number of others you are concerned about. Ultimately, they are people, and they deserve equal protections under the law.
— Leanne Rubenstein, chair; Rabbi Joshua Lesser, founder; and Rebecca Stapel-Wax, executive director, SOJOURN
Author Wrong to Praise Clinton
I disagree with Peter Bergen’s characterization of Hillary Clinton as a “smart hawk on foreign policy” who is “comfortable with the U.S. military and the use of force” (“Bitter Harvest Produces Homegrown Jihadists,” Oct. 21).
Clinton’s “What difference does it make?” at the Benghazi hearings revealed that she attributed the attack on our mission in Libya to one of two random acts: a demonstration that got out of hand or a bunch of pedestrians who decided, on the spur of the moment, to kill Americans.
Neither scenario is correct.
Clinton, like President Barack Obama, refuses to accept the existence of Islamist jihadism, a movement that seeks to destroy Western civilization and bring the entire world under its interpretation of sharia law.
If Clinton had the characteristics with which Bergen credits her, her State Department would have provided Ambassador Chris Stevens with the protection he repeatedly requested. And she would realize the need to remain proactive in guarding against the attacks that are sure to come.
— Toby F. Block, Atlanta
Write to Us
The Atlanta Jewish Times welcomes letters and guest columns from our readers. Letters should be 400 or fewer words; guest columns are 600 to 700 words. Send your submissions to email@example.com. Include your name, the town you live in, and a phone number for verification. We reserve the right to edit submissions.