James C. Rotenberg
Past President, National Committee of Hadassah Associates

Is Kristallnacht Still Relevant: QAnon, the Brownshirts of Today

Photo courtesy of Hadassah.
Photo courtesy of Hadassah.
Photo courtesy of Hadassah.
Photo courtesy of Hadassah.
Photo courtesy of Hadassah.

The QAnon conspiracy cult enjoyed a major victory when far-right extremist Marjorie Taylor Greene won a congressional seat in Georgia and was sworn into the U.S. House of Representatives in January 2021. QAnon, known for its members’ outrageous conspiracy theories, believes that the U.S. government has been infiltrated by an international ring of pedophiles and satanists and that former President Donald Trump was put in power to battle them.

Gregory Stanton, president of Genocide Watch and an expert on the history of antisemitism, believes there are parallels between those beliefs and the views that Nazis promoted in Germany during the 1930s.

Let me succinctly describe QAnon’s published views. QAnon purveys the fantasy that a secret, Satan-worshipping cabal is taking over the world. Its members kidnap, slaughter and eat children to gain power from their blood. They control the government, banks, international finance, the news media and the Church. They want to disarm the police.

Does this conspiracy theory sound eerily familiar? It certainly would to the Jews residing in Germany in the 1930s. The Nazi narrative has been repackaged by QAnon in the 21st century.

There are countless other parallels between QAnon’s conspiracy theories and the antisemitism that Adolf Hitler and the Nazis promoted in Germany before and during World War II.

The Nazis worshiped Adolf Hitler as the leader who would rescue the Aryan race from a secret Jewish plot. Nazi Sturmabteilung (stormtroopers), also known as Brownshirts, helped bring Hitler to power. Nazi Germany went on to conquer Europe and murder six million Jews and millions of Roma, Slavs, LGBTQ individuals and other people.

Central to Nazi ideology was the antisemitic 1902 fabrication “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.” QAnon’s belief in a Satanic cabal that lurks in a ‘deep state’ financed by Jews is a rebranded version of that publication. QAnon true believers think Donald Trump will rescue America from this cabal and that at the time of ‘The Storm,’ its supporters will be rounded up and executed.

Through social media, the QAnon conspiracy theory has infected the world – in particular, neo-Nazis in Germany, where over 200,000 German QAnon accounts have infested the internet. It has also spread to much of the rest of Europe, fusing with far-right and totalitarian nationalist movements and once again bringing antisemitism to the center of far-right philosophy.

Conspiracy theories can be easily encapsulated in other conspiracy theories, where they take on a life of their own. Between October 2017 to June 2020, the most recent period measured, the Institute for Strategic Dialogue, a think tank focused on extremism, recorded almost 70 million tweets and more than 400,000 Facebook posts and 280,000 Instagram posts mentioning QAnon-related hashtags and phrases. The Institute found that the pandemic sped things up, with lockdowns leading to a notable increase in conversation volumes.

QAnon’s critics are perplexed that any rational person could fall for something so irrational. But when people are suffering, they respond to fear and terror and blame their misfortunes on scapegoats — which is what happened in Germany during the 1930s.

In the 1930s, millions of Europeans were unemployed. Violent battles between Nazis and communists raged in city streets. Democratic governments were powerless. Fascist dictators ruled Spain and Italy. Hitler took power in Germany and conquered Western Europe. Stalin’s communists conquered the East. The Hitler-Stalin Pact sealed totalitarian rule over most of Europe. It took World War II and the deaths of millions to defeat the Nazis’ genocidal tyranny, and another 50 years to free the gulags of the Soviet Union.

It is obvious that QAnon’s influence is growing when a QAnon supporter like Marjorie Taylor Greene has become an influential member of Congress and our former President praises her as a “future Republican star.”

The world has seen QAnon before. It was called Nazism. In QAnon, Nazism gets a comeback. My parents and many of Germany’s other Jews saw Kristallnacht for what it was – the beginning of the “Final Solution” – and left Germany. Others saw it as an anomaly, remained and were murdered in the camps. Many of those who left Germany had nowhere to go, had to remain in Europe and were murdered there.

Today, we are blessed to have Israel, which, at the end of days, may be our last place of refuge.

Can history repeat itself in Europe and even in America? Are America’s democratic institutions strong enough to withstand the onslaught of QAnon conspiracy theories made possible by social media? Are we American Jews, like the German Jews of the 1930s, telling ourselves and our loved ones, “It can’t happen here”? Is “Never Again” now?

Stay tuned, but thousands of years of Jewish history whisper to us in the quiet of the night, “Be afraid, be very afraid.” Fortunately, we live in a country that allows us to stand up to our fear and to take action by speaking out against hate. Jews in America have done so with resounding force. You can see it in the passage into federal law of the Never Again Education Act. This legislation, of which Hadassah, The Women’s Zionist Organization of America, and the Hadassah Associates, Hadassah’s 33,000 male partners, were sponsors, will help ensure that Americans never forget the tragedy and horror of the Holocaust, that students learn the universal lessons of tolerance and that educators are better prepared to teach this absolutely critical subject matter accurately and confidently.

Our children and future generations deserve nothing less.

None of this could have transpired without the advocacy and tireless efforts of our local and national Jewish organizations, such as Hadassah. Please support these organizations with your active participation and financial support so we can truly say, “Not here, not now and NEVER AGAIN!”

About the Author
James C. Rotenberg (Jim) is a Past National President and a member of the Executive Board of the National Committee of Hadassah Associates, an organization of over 33,000 men, whose mission is to advance Hadassah’s medical research, healing, and education in the US, Israel and around the World. Under Jim's leadership, the Hadassah Associates' Men's Health Initiative raised funds for Alzheimer’s disease research at the Hadassah Medical Organization (HMO) in Jerusalem. Jim was a member of "Renovating HWZOA Philanthropy Subcommittee" of the Strategic Planning Committee of Hadassah. Jim was honored in 2022 by Hadassah Nassau as the Grand Marshal of its 16th Annual Walk-a-Thon for Stem Cell Research. Jim is a past President of Temple Israel of Lawrence and currently an active member of Temple Sinai of Roslyn on Long Island, NY. In recognition of Jim's endeavors on their behalf, the Marion & Aaron Gural JCC of the Five Towns honored Jim at its Fifteenth Annual Dinner as one of its "People of the Year." Jim, whose parents escaped to Cuba and ultimately to the US from Berlin shortly after Kristallnacht, grew up in the Inwood Section of Upper Manhattan. He is a graduate of the Bronx High School of Science, the University of Wisconsin (Madison), and the New York University School of Law. Jim retired as a Special Advisor to Buck Consultants, a Xerox Company, and as a Principal and Director of Global M&A from Mellon Bank's Human Resources & Investor Services, after having associated with the law firms of Shearman & Sterling, and Simpson Thacher & Bartlett. Jim is the founder and principal in JCR Consulting, a business consultancy specializing in transformational consulting. Jim lives with his wife, Carol, in the Five Towns on Long Island, NY. They have two sons and five grandchildren, all of whom are members or Associates of Hadassah. Jim and Carol are Guardian Donors.
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