It’s often hard to know who the enemies are. Having just returned home to Israel from Moscow, and having watched the Republican Convention in the middle of the night from our room at the Moscow Hilton, I’m not so sure about anything anymore.
For as long as I can remember the Russians have been bad guys. And I went to Moscow expecting people with horns. OK! Not literally. But I did think they’d be aggressive, unhelpful, even hostile. Not all of them of course. I’m not that unsophisticated. But you know how propaganda affects your thinking. Somehow you expect to feel like you’re in the enemy camp And I didn’t. Not at all.
I’ve been to other enemy camps of today and of modern history. Notably, Germany, Poland, Austria, Hungary, Romania, Czech Republic,Latvia, Estonia and others. Each time I intrinsically expected to see the evil, sense the evil, hear the evil. Each time I didn’t. People were polite and helpful. Often they saw us looking perplexed at a map and they offered assistance. A Pole got on his bicycle to lead us to the cemetery where my husband’s family was buried. Or what was left of the cemetery. A young woman in Moscow walked many blocks out of her way on a rainy day to help us find the Moscow Jewish Community Center.
Some of my friends have been judgmental. How could I go to places where atrocities had been committed against our people?
And yes I’ve also been to Argentina, known for harboring “retired” Nazis. Panama. Uruguay. And others.
Now I’m going to oversimplify history. This is only a blog not a thesis. The problem is this: people all over the world are moved and motivated by their leaders. There are leaders who promise that life will be better if only… if only… if only. So they join in the support of despots. They wave banners. They march and stomp feet and raise arms and they are impassioned by their adoration of their leader.
So perhaps if Hitler had not become chancellor of Germany, there would have been no Holocaust. The circumstances were there but it took someone at the helm, a lunatic of course, to make it a movement.
But, you say, what about pogroms, centuries of anti-Semitism throughout history? What about intifadas and inquisitions? Jew hatred is genetic?
I don’t know. No one really does. But, in Moscow, I walked with my magen david on a chain around my neck. It was always visible and yet when we needed directions or help no one brushed me off because they could see I was Jewish.
I learned at the new Polin Museum in Warsaw that Jews were welcomed in Poland for centuries. And I learned in the Moscow Museum of Russian Jewish History that the same was true in Russia.
I’m not minimizing hatred, against our people or our countries. It’s terrifying even if it’s only sometimes simmering below the surface. It can rise again.
What I am finding most frightening in today’s world is the possible election of Donald Trump as president of the United States. Because I’ve seen that governments can foment hatred. And what I haven’t seen I’ve learned. And I believe that the people who live in Moscow are no better or worse than the people who live around my home in New Jersey. I believe that with a Trump government the people of the United States will be capable of holocausts, torture, war mongering and all of the horrible characteristics that are now less visible in the places I’ve visited, but more and more visible in the United States. We can no longer stop Hitler. Or the other dead despots of world history. But we can and must stop Trump. We owe it to the land of the free and the home of the brave. And we owe it to the entire world as well.