Trump’s No Hitler, but Some See Danger

Trump’s No Hitler, but Some See Danger

Michael Jacobs

Atlanta Jewish Times Editor Michael Jacobs is on his second stint leading the AJT's editorial operations. He previously served as managing editor from 2005 to 2008.

Two works of graffiti depicting Donald Trump as Adolf Hitler in front of a swastika elevated a comparison that had been made at times throughout the billionaire’s Republican presidential campaign.

The two street paintings were found Wednesday, Dec. 9, two days after Trump announced his proposal for a temporary ban on Muslims entering the United States, leading to comparisons to Jews being denied entry to the United States while fleeing Hitler in the 1930s and 1940s.

“For us, it’s a double whammy of despair,” Mark Moskowitz, the Anti-Defamation League’s Southeast director, said of the swastika graffiti.

Trump’s proposal is “deplorable and against everything America stands for” as a refuge against religious persecution, Moskowitz said, but “we believe the swastikas belong where they belong, and that’s in historic displays in museums. It shouldn’t be used as part of political discourse.”

Even after the Philadelphia Daily News made the Trump-Hitler comparison on its front page with the headline “The New Furor,” Dov Wilker said the swastika graffiti surprised him.

“It’s a problem. I believe that it minimizes what the Holocaust is or was and what Hitler did,” said Wilker, the regional director of the American Jewish Committee’s Atlanta Chapter. “That in no way supports what Trump is saying. I find it despicable. But is he equal to Hitler? No, he is not equal Hitler.”

A couple of Atlanta’s Holocaust survivors had different opinions about the comparison.

Eugen Schoenfeld, an AJT columnist whose thoughts on fearmongering politicians are on Page 12, said he sees some of the mannerisms and body language of Hitler and Benito Mussolini in Trump, as well as the commitment to using the big lie to persuade people.

Also like Europe’s past Fascist leaders, Schoenfeld said, Trump seems to believe that no one is as strong as he is and that no one else can solve the nation’s problems.

He said the great danger with Trump is that he doesn’t stand for anything except gaining personal power, so it’s hard to predict what he would do with the power of the presidency.

“Hitler came with a specific notion of how he saw the world,” said Schoenfeld, a survivor of Auschwitz. “Trump doesn’t have that. He merely responds to things in a way that appeals to some part of the population of the United States,” then uses his poll percentages to justify any ideas for using power.

Schoenfeld worries that Americans are fearful enough to give up their freedoms to someone like Trump who promises to act forcefully to secure the nation. “We are in a situation where it could lead to a totalitarian United States.”

Benjamin Hirsch, who came to the United States as a child after escaping Germany on the Kindertransport, thinks Trump is just manipulating the media for attention when he makes bombshell announcements and proposals. “He comes off as a buffoon,” Hirsch said, “but I think he’s a pretty brilliant guy.”

He said Trump doesn’t scare him as much as Jesse Jackson used to when he spoke, nor does the recent use of swastika imagery upset him as much as neo-Nazis marching in Skokie, Ill., did in 1977.

What does bother Hirsch is when Jewish organizations purport to speak for Holocaust survivors on such issues without talking to survivors.

“I don’t think people should be speaking for us. That includes (former ADL National Director) Abe Foxman; he doesn’t speak for us,” Hirsch said. Fellow survivor “Elie Wiesel doesn’t speak for me. Want to know what we’re thinking? Ask us.”

Wilker agreed. “We should hear from survivors about this,” he said. “Unfortunately, we will soon be in a world with no survivors, and we have to be equipped to respond.”

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