One of the sure signs of a deeply divided society is the sudden rise of anti-Semitism.
It has happened with horrific frequency throughout history, most infamously in the persecution and mass butchery of Jews throughout Europe during Adolf Hitler’s insane dictatorship.
Pogroms (murderous riots against Jews) have punctuated history like blood-drenched exclamation points.
In times of trouble, scapegoats are in hot demand.
Such violence always began with scapegoating in the form of verbal slurs, grotesque stereotyping, a depiction of Jews (or other scapegoats) as sub-human.
In the 1920s and 1930s, Germany was in financial, social ruin after World War I ended in 1918. There was unemployment, constant hunger and rampant inflation that made the German Deutschmark virtually worthless. Defeated Germans looked around them. Who was to blame for this vast misery? Surely, it was other countries that leveled hugely punitive reparations against Germany after its defeat in the war.
Propaganda churned out stories that it was the greed of rich international bankers who were accused of causing the suffering, and state-controlled media whipped out stories that the richest bankers are Jewish. Soon, the vicious stereotypes began in leaflets, cartoon drawings, movies, radio and propaganda “news” stories. Jews were often portrayed as dirty, leering, lurking bogeymen with huge noses and long ears, very often depicted in deranged cartoons as resembling voracious sewer rats. The word “parasite” was most often used to describe anybody Jewish.
Germans, drawing upon “Aryan” myths, began to be obsessed with “racial” (white) “purity.” Anybody not descended from “Aryan blood” was genetically “polluted,” unclean, shunted aside, despised.
Soon, Jews were forced to live in parts of cities that became ghettos – virtual neighborhood prisons where, one by one, rights were stripped from them. They were forced to wear a cloth applique of the Jewish Star of David on their clothing.
Once the vicious stereotyping and mindless propaganda had done its dirty work, once the Jews had been demonized and de-humanized, it was time to round them up and put them in forced-work camps. Trains transported thousands upon thousands of Jews (men, women and children) to the camps where they were gassed or shot at once, and the physically stronger put to work. Many quickly weakened to mere skin and bones, and died of diseases like typhus. As the butchery kept happening, almost nobody spoke up. Germans squirmed, wrapped in their complicit silence.
Those who survived the Holocaust and those who became aware of its horrors vowed, “Never again!”
But, sadly, we know genocidal horrors have happened, again and again – and are still happening. Just as sadly, there exists a number of cruel self-proclaimed “scholars” who claim the Holocaust never happened.
Anti-Semitism is rearing its ugly head right here in the United States. In recent weeks, vandals toppled many gravestones in Jewish cemeteries in at least three cities: St. Louis, Rochester, N.Y. and Philadelphia. So far this year, four waves of bomb threats have been aimed at Jewish community centers, schools and institutions in the United States.
In his recent speech to Congress, President Trump condemned anti-Semitism. He should have condemned it sooner, loudly and in public, right after the first vandalized cemetery. One of President George W. Bush’s first acts after the 9/11 terrorist attacks was to visit a mosque where he delivered an impassioned plea for Americans not to blame Muslim citizens for the attacks by madmen. Bush’s words were simple, direct – a moving mortal imperative.
Lest we think pogroms cannot happen here, we should remember one that occurred in 1921 in Tulsa, Okla. White mobs started a race riot that destroyed 35 blocks of Greenwood, then known as the wealthiest black area in the nation. Race tensions were ignited when a black man was accused of raping a white woman. Violence exploded in the form of guns, turpentine bombs, beatings and lootings. As many as 300 people died, overwhelmingly black men and women, though the actual numbers have long been debated. In any case, the mob rampage was apocalyptic in its furious destruction.
Let’s be on guard; let’s be aware; let’s learn everything we can to counter prejudice and hatred whether against Muslims, Afro-Americans, Jews or any other group. Let’s promise never to fall for scapegoating and stereotyping. And most of all, let’s speak up and demand loudly: Never again!
Dalman was born and raised in South St. Cloud, graduated from St. Cloud Tech High School, then graduated from St. Cloud State University with a degree in English (emphasis on American and British literature) and mass communications (emphasis on print journalism). He studied in London, England for a year (1980-81) where he concentrated on British literature, political science, the history of Great Britain and wrote a book-length study of the British writer V.S. Naipaul. Dalman has been a reporter and weekly columnist for more than 30 years and worked for 16 of those years for the Alexandria Echo Press.