The Rhetoric Before the Storm

Rabbi Shmuley Boteach penned an article in this paper chastising those that compare Trump to Hitler. He has joined a sliver of society that purports to hold the keys to the proper way to memorialize the Holocaust and who and what can be called genocidal.

I do not plan to dedicate this article to pointing out the hypocrisy of Rabbi Boteach; so thick, a Challah knife couldn’t cut through it. After all, it was Rabbi Boteach that called Susan Rice complicit in genocide in the New York Times for all of its readers to see.

Nevertheless, I do plan to put up the case of why I disagree with Shmuley, again.

When Hitler was appointed President of Germany, (he was never elected) in 1934, his platform was one of channeling the anger of the Germans and pointing their problems in a particular direction. When Hitler wrote Mein Kampf, his distaste for the Jews was evident but, his intent on mass murder was not.

I have learned from many people who lived in Germany during the years of 1935-1938 that there were basically two houses of thought; it cannot get any worse, so let’s stick it out. The other house of thought was, it cannot get any better, lets leave now.

Many German Jews sensed a deja-vu from the pogroms and expulsions of their ancestors that had become as much a part of their Jewish DNA as gefilte fish. While other Germans Jews had no inkling their fate could be so horrid until Krystallnacht, which occurred on November 9-11, 1938.

During those three days, 91 Jewish souls were murdered and thousands were put into work camps. During the years leading up to the Krystallnacht, Jews could not earn fair and equal jobs, were educated separately from Gentiles, were denied basic rights and were refused to be treated as equal citizens of Germany.

Hitler had his aims set higher than exterminating the Jewish race, at least at that juncture. His first goal was set on world dominance. Hence the invasion of Poland on September 1, 1939 launching Europe into a continental war.

One year after the war began, Hitler built a wall in Poland. It was around a small portion of Warsaw where he would then centralize all of the Jews living there inside a ghetto. A vibrant city with 3 Million Jews inhabiting it, roughly 25% of the city’s population, was to be cut down into an area less than 2 square miles for all Jews to live within. He replicated this in countless cities throughout Europe where there was heavy concentration of Jewish homes. The purpose of the ghetto and its wall was to separate the Jews from German society.

It was after 1942, in Wansee where the final solution was brought to light. Then, Hitler implemented his plan, some say that he had from the onset, to murder all the Jews of European countries he could. In addition to Jews, Hitler notoriously murdered the few blacks in Europe, Gypsies, homosexuals and political prisoners too. 11 Million in total. 6 Million Jews. Lucy Dawidowicz points out in her book, The War Against the Jews, in the year 1944, Hitler sent more trains to round up the Jews of Budapest and Prague instead of sending rearmaments to the troops fighting on the front lines. This proved he was a genocidal monster more focused on the annihilation of the Jewish people than winning the war.

Where I quibble with those like Rabbi Boteach is, when exactly is the moment of worry which officially allows us to sound the alarm bells? Must one first kill 6 Million Jewish souls to be categorized as “Hitler?”

Hitler never laid out his elaborate plans to mass exterminate non-Aryans before 1942. However, he did refuse to shake a black athletes hand, he did separate Jews and blamed them for the problems in Germany and world-wide and blamed the porous borders that allowed too many Jews inside of Germany. In fact, it was that very issue of entering Germany that was the catalyst for Krystallnacht. Indeed, Hitler was the worst person the human race might have ever known. Or at least he is found in the unenviable company of the world’s worst people.

If any of us could turn back time, we would have stopped Hitler before it was too late. We wish we could have read the tea leaves and known our collective fate. Today, we ask ourselves how were we so blind to miss it? How did many march to their deaths? Were they weak? Did they not love life? Of course not. They just never thought nor imagined that the unthinkable or the unimaginable would happen to them. History demands us to remember and learn.

Some claim that to compare anyone to the monster, dishonors the memory of 6 Million.

I disagree.

For those that call Trump and his antics Hitler-like, I assure you it is out of respect for the victims of the Holocaust.

I have stood on the black grass at Birkenau ten times. On each occasion I vowed to the souls I memorialized and to humanity world-wide, Never Again. If we take that oath seriously, we must call out those that act in a demagogic, elitist and separatist manner so it will not lead towards a path where the very morals this country was founded upon and the Judeo-Christian values all of the Presidential candidates cling on to like a safety harness, are turned upside down and stripped from the context of where and how and why they were integrated into our society in the first place.

When Donald Trump says immigrants are the cause of crime in our country and we will deport all of them. When he claims he will build wall to keep Mexicans out. When he suggests that women who are testy must be menstruating. When he infers that captured soldiers are not good war heroes. When he declares many, many Muslims hate America and says we should separate an entire stripe of a religion from entering and even moving freely within a country. When Mr. Trump advocates for the murder of innocent family members of terrorists, which is a blatant war crime. When he plays fast and loose with the KKK and regularly advocates violence at his rallies. And too much more…

When all of that happens, it does not mean that Trump killed 11 Million people or that he will. But it doesn’t pass the sniff test for me and countless others. It stinks like the history books of 1933-1938 Germany smelled like. And for those who naively and passively sit idly by without condemnation, perhaps they should be called into question too. Could you imagine if for a minute, in the place of Muslim he (or any other candidate) had used the religion Jew? If instead of Mexican he said, Israeli? And, the absurd notion that Trump’s daughter Ivanka being Jewish exonerates her father’s xenophobia is tantamount to claiming that vegetarianism makes people skinny.

Simply stated, Hitler was most notably a criminal against the Jewish people. But he was a criminal against humanity, first. Trump targeting Mexicans and Muslims and being coy on his affiliation with the KKK is a person chanting a familiar tune with different lyrics. To advocate for his asylum is to abet his lawless and amoral aspirations that could lead us down a path where humanity, again, is the greatest loser.

If and when historians will ask, where were you and your voice when this man with these dreadful intentions and despicable statements rose to power, I want to be noted on the record with other leaders who aggressively rang alarm bells of warning. We are still paying for the apathy of yesteryear.

 

About the Author
David-Seth Kirshner is the senior rabbi of Temple Emanu-El, a Conservative synagogue in Closter, New Jersey. He is the Immediate Past President of the NY Board of Rabbis, President of the NJ Board of Rabbis and a Senior Rabbinic Fellow at the Hartman Institute.
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