Friday, January 27, 2017

International Holocaust Remembrance Day Calls Us Anew

Today is International Holocaust Remembrance Day.  It will be observedcelebrated is certainly the wrong word here—in ways big and small, significant and trivial in many places across the world.  The commemoration comes on the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau death camps in Poland by the advancing Red Army on January 27, 1945.  American, British, Canadian, and other Allied Forces liberated other camps, but Auschwitz was the pinnacle of efficiency for the Nazi industrialization of mass murder.
On the sixtieth anniversary of the liberation the United Nations General Assembly held a special commemorative session.  The following November the General Assembly created the commemoration day, which was first observed in 2006.
In November of 1944 as the Red Army advanced from the East and the Allies pressed on the Western Front, SS Chief Heinrich Himmler ordered the beginning to the elimination of evidence of death camps in Poland.   Gassing operations were suspended and crematoria at Auschwitz were ordered destroyed or, in one case, converted into a bomb shelter.  As things got worse, Himmler ordered the evacuation of the camps in early January directing that “not a single prisoner from the concentration camps falls alive into the hands of the enemy.”
On January 17, 58,000 Auschwitz detainees were set on death march on west towards Wodzisław Śląski. Approximately 20,000 Auschwitz prisoners made it to Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in Germany, where they were liberated by the British in April 1945.
Auschwitz survivors with Red Army officers.
But that left over 8,000 of the weakest and sickest abandoned behind with scant supplies.  The Red Army 322nd Rifle Division arrived 10 days later to find 7,500 barely alive and 600 corpses lying where ever they finally collapsed.  They also found much evidence of the greater crimes Himmler had hoped to hide—370,000 men’s suits, 837,000 women’s garments, and 7.7 tons of human hair.
Coming in the midst of the Yalta Conference and other war news, the liberation received scant attention at the time.  And the Soviets, who were at best ambivalent at the highest levels about what to do with the liberated Jews, did little to publicly celebrate their role in the liberation, at least at first.
It was only after survivors reached the West and eventually Israel as refugees, that Auschwitz emerged as a special, horrific symbol of the whole Holocaust.
Seventy Seven years after those camp liberation things are getting worse—much worse—at an alarming rate.  Traditional anti-Semitism is on the rise across both Western Europe and in the old Soviet Empire, fed by resurgent right-wing nationalism on one hand and the Machiavellian dream of re-establishing Russian dominance of the East by Vladimir Putin on the other.  

Children and staff of a day care facility in an Albany, New York Jewish Community Center (JCC) after it was targeted in a wave of bomb threats.
Meanwhile Donald Trump has catapulted to power in the United States with a big boost from the so-called Alt-Right—the old Neo-Nazi/Skin Head/Klan/Patriot Militia wolves in sheep’s clothing.  Trump has brought one of their most prominent spokesmen, Former Breitbart chief Steve Bannon, an open and notorious anti-Semite into the White House as his top aide.  This cozy relationship has empowered a new wave of hate speech, threats, intimidation, and graffiti attacks on Jews and Jewish institutions.  A planned Neo-Nazi anti-Jewish march in Whitefish, Montana; a wave of bomb threats phoned into Jewish Community Centers; swastikas and other hate messages painted on synagogues, businesses, and home; organized social media harassment of Jewish celebrities, writers, ordinary citizens, and those who speak up for them; and escalating violence against protestors that led to the shooting of an unarmed anti-fascist, and IWW member by a Neo-Nazi on the University of Washington campus.  All of these incidents have gone down without a murmur from the new lords of the White House who seem reluctant to hurt the feelings of their pet bully boys.
Meanwhile Israel, the state established with so much hope as a refuge and haven for Holocaust survivors and Jews from anywhere who no longer felt safe, has fallen under the sway of their own brand of right wing xenophobes.  The election of Trump was greeted with jubilation by Bibi Netanyahu who believes he now has a carte blanch from the American administration to launch widespread construction of settlements on the West Bank and in Arab neighborhoods Jerusalem which will displace, make homeless, and pauperize thousands of Muslims and even Christian Arabs.  He will also have a free hand to crush demonstrations and opposition with virtually unlimited force and expand already wide-spread “preventative detention.” Despite the protests of many Israelis, growing opposition in the American Jewish community, and world-wide condemnation, Netanyahu maintains the Muslims have no rights that he is bound to respect if he blandly declares them to be enemies of Israel and terrorists.
In America the most ardent supporters of Israel right or wrong, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) and its politically influential and deep pocket members and allies, have been more than willing to turn a blind eye to the cancer of anti-Semitism at the heart of Trumpism in exchange for a blank check to Netanyahu and perhaps even a long dreamed of attack on Iran.  It is an extension of the deal with the devil they have long been party to with extreme right wing Evangelicals who support Israel only because it fulfills the necessary prophesy leading to Armageddon, the End of Time, and the Rapture.

Donald Trump shows off his anti-immigrant and Muslim executive order handiwork.
Trump, for his part, has not made Jews the obvious objects of his wrath.  Instead, within days of his election, he moved rapidly against the demons of his imaginationimmigrants and Muslims—all Muslims, just as he had promised his core of nativist supporters on the campaign trail.  The speed and scope of his action stunned even those of us who expected the worst.  In a series of sweeping executive orders and administrative actions he has moved to:
  • Build the infamous border wall against Mexico at a cost of $15-25 billion Dollars and proposed to pay for it with a 20% tariff on Mexican imports that would pick the pocket of all Americans who consume fruits and vegetables, beer and tequila, the auto parts essential to all “American made” cars, many appliances and tools, house wares, apparel and hats, etc.
  • Step-up immigration arrests nationally and expedites deportations.
  • Order the building of large new detention facilities to hold huge number of expected detainees.  Many believe these will be virtual concentration camps.
  • Fill those camps by ending so called catch and release which allows many arrested on immigration offenses to be released pending hearings.
  • Punish Sanctuary Cities and Universities who are uncooperative with immigrations sweeps and won’t automatically turn over to Federal authorities every immigrant picked up for a minor crime or traffic infraction or who in some other way comes to the attention of local governments.  That would jeopardize billions of Federal dollars to public schools, health program, housing, and vital public services including police and fire.  It would also disrupt transportation and infrastructure improvement projects.  In short it would be a devastating monkey wrench in the American economy.
  • Create a weekly report of “all crimes committed by immigrants” to stir up public fear.
Of course even this is just the tip of the iceberg of outrages.  Refugees and Muslims come in for special attention.
  • Suspended the issuance of visas to citizens of seven Muslim counties—Syria, Iraq, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia, and Yemen—for at least 30 days with the likelihood that the ban would be extended indefinitely.  All are countries that have come under American military action, bombing, and drone attacks in recent years.  Not included is Saudi Arabia which had 15 citizens involved in the 9/11 attacks and was the original base of al Quida and its principle funding source.
  • Stop all refugee resettlement immediately and suspend all claims of political asylum.
  • Order the military to reviews restrictions on enhance interrogation—torture with the intent of reinstating its use and authorized the use of so-called Black Ops secret detention facilities.
  • Instructed Homeland Security and domestic law enforcement agencies to step up surveillance and monitoring of the Islamic community and its institutions.
Although this round of orders did not include a Muslim registry that Trump touted on the campaign trail, officials hinted that something along those lines may be in the pipeline. White House spokesman Sean Spicer hinted that there were more actions under consideration to “Keep Americans safe.”
Young American Jews like these from the Jewish Voice for Peace are helping to lead resistance to dangerous anti-Muslim Trump administration orders.

The sweeping nature of these actions drew a sharp response not just from the usual Civil Liberties suspects but from a broad range of people.  Led by New York Mayor Bill de Blasio municipal leaders from around the country defiantly pledged not to buckle under to threats to defund Sanctuary Cities.  A broad spectrum of religious leaders including the Catholic National Council of Bishops, mainstream Protestants, and even many moderate Evangelicals joined in public condemnation.  Many Jewish leaders spoke out, often arm and arm with Muslim leaders.  On Wednesday alone 2000 Conservative Rabbis issued a strong statement.  Several Holocaust survivors have spoken out.  Former Secretary of State Madelyn Albright who discovered a few years ago that she was a Jew whose family escaped from Czechoslovakia while she was a toddler and raised her as Christian, said that she would register as a Muslim if a registry was established.  She was joined by celebrities including Mayim Bialik of the Big Bang Theory.

Over 10,000 have signed a pledge to register and there are other pledges out there.  I signed.  So should you.  It is effective Resistance like the Danes who sewed yellow Stars of David on their own clothes to protect their Jewish neighbors from the Nazis.  You can sign here: .
At least it’s a start.  Don’t be a good German and stand by while we slide deeper into evil.
I am not saying that Trump is Hitler.  I am saying he is a fascist and must be stopped.

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