Uncanny Parallels and Striking Contrasts-Antisemitism in 1930s and Now

As we mark Yom HaShoah, on Monday, May 6, 2024, I can’t help but reflect on the lessons my Father Z”L, a miraculous Auschwitz survivor, taught me about the Holocaust and what I learned over the years.

In 1933, in Germany, college students were in the vanguard of a movement to push Jewish students and professors out of universities. They and their storm trooper buddies are recorded in photos from the period brazenly barring access to university buildings. The images are eerily familiar as embodied in the so called Gaza encampments that were set up at many universities, which barred access to those who were visibly Jewish, identified by the Star of David necklaces or Yarmulkes they wore. Many universities condoned this misbehavior, some professors joined in the abuses and there was even one local government that reportedly did not permit its police forces to intervene. Fortunately, many universities did not allow this condition to fester and asked local police to help them remove the problem and they did. However, where this did not occur, it begs the question of why. It is also reminiscent of the events of Kristallnacht in 1938 Germany, where the police were given a stand-down order and the violence and abuses were just allowed to continue unabated.

The National Socialist German Workers Party (NSDAP or Nazi Party), under the evil leadership of Adolf Hitler, was elected to the Reichstag (German parliament). The Government was beset by severe discord and paralysis because of the malignant influences of the warring Nazi and Communist parties. The Nazi party never constituted a majority, but it was accorded influence and eventually power by the aging and weak President of Germany, Paul von Hindenburg.

The scene is all too familiar, as malign actors of the far left and right in Congress are sometimes accorded undeserved and outsized influence. This is because of the artificially divisive atmosphere in Congress, stoked by those seeking power. This has also become a feature, albeit undesirable, of the partisan world of presidential politics, where some give undue weight to the vagaries of polls among certain extreme constituencies in a few swing states, even if they espouse false and anti-American rhetoric that ought to be reviled. Indeed, how can any decent human being support genocidal Hamas rapists, kidnappers, murderers and perpetrators of sadistic atrocities? Slavishly pandering to Hamasniks, rather than exercising true leadership and doing what is right, as desired by the overwhelming majority of the American people, is not only inappropriate it is counterproductive.

Here’s is a summary of the results of a recent Harvard/Harris poll, released last week on Monday, April 29, 2024, which demonstrates the vitality and inherent goodness of the American people. 80% of Americans polled rightly support Israel in the war started by Hamas, 67% correctly believe Israel is seeking to minimize civilian casualties, 78% agree Hamas must be removed from running Gaza, 70% believe the replacement should not be the PA and 72% favor Israel proceeding with the Rafah operation and finishing Hamas. The poll also discloses the nuanced understanding of what a ceasefire means to the American people. Thus 70% of the Americans polled favor a permanent ceasefire but there’s a critical qualifier by almost all of them (68% of those polled), who oppose a ceasefire unless the hostages are released and Hamas is removed from governing Gaza.

The majority of the American people and their elected representatives in Congress often share a genuine consensus on so many important issues. Yet, Congress sometimes seems paralyzed by the machinations of the divisive forces of the extreme left and right. In contradistinction, consider the majesty of bi-partisan legislation that is one of the most important indicators of our vibrant republic. Pandering to the nefarious and repugnant agendas of the Jew-hating fringe groups is a dangerous practice. It puts our nation at risk.

There are also philosophical similarities between the 1930’s and now. Much like Benito Mussolini, another socialist, Hitler recognized that partnering with big business was a practical model for realizing his vision, a world where he and his band of more equal than others could triumph and achieve power. Mussolini called his brand of socialism ‘Fascism’, derived from the Italian term ‘Fasci’, meaning bundle of sticks, symbolizing this sordid partnership. Today, this concept is epitomized by the term ‘Crony-Capitalism’ and the ‘Woke’ movement that fosters it and enforces it through the dictates of so-called DEI, but more on this below.

The Nazis began a systematic program to exclude Jews from Germany leading to the so-called ‘Final Solution’, a euphemism meaning the genocide of the Jews and the Holocaust. The parallels to our times are uncanny. Even the term Democratic Socialism appears to be just a tawdry copy of its spiritual forbearer. Of course, as is common practice among propagandists, the meaning of common terms are distorted or subverted, employing Orwellian double speak techniques. Thus, DEI (Diversity, Equity and Inclusion) in practice means exclude Jews. Woke, an abstract term, means pretty much anything the speaker wants it to mean, so long as it excludes traditional Judeo-Christian ethics and substitutes a subjective set of new ethical considerations adopted by the speaker often referred to as ‘equity’, demeans the free-markets and favors only a protected class (often excluding Jews) selected by the speaker. Anti-Zionism is a euphemism for Jew hatred.

The euphemistic slogans, such as ‘From the River to the Sea, Palestine Will Be Free’ and ‘There’s Only One Solution, Intifada Revolution’, mean the genocide of the Jews. In this regard, I can’t help but note the obvious connection between ‘One Solution’ and ‘Final Solution’.

There are other similarities, but there are also striking contrasts. Most importantly, we now have Israel. My Father Z”L would painfully recount how in the Holocaust there was no choice. There was no country willing to intervene and save the Jews. There were some individual heroes who managed to save a very few Jews and we honor them for their selfless good deeds taken at great personal risk. However, that’s the point, Jews were saved and many more could have been rescued. But, a callous uninterested world was complicit, because not only did they not rescue Jews wholesale, they even frustrated attempts to save Jews by closing off escape routes and preventing the funding of rescue efforts.

As children who grew up in a world where Israel existed and miraculously rescued the Jews of Ethiopia and intervened to save Jews wherever they were threatened, including in the miraculous rescue at Entebbe, we couldn’t really appreciate the ugliness of the world, as it existed in the 1930’s. Our weltanshauung included the successful fight to save Soviet Jewry in the early 1970’s. We could not imagine a world that did little or nothing to save the Jews during the Holocaust. Nevertheless, we cannot be complacent. We must unite to defeat antisemitism and celebrate and support Israel.

My Father Z”L also told me that in the small town of Pilicia where he grew up, in Upper Sielsia, which was a part of Germany prior to World War I and then became a part of Poland, they just did not know much about what was going on in Germany at the time. There was no television, cable news and social media; even newspapers were rare. Today, we are not in the dark and we also have choices.

Unlike in Germany in the 1930’s, Jews have allies in mainstream America, who share our values and support Israel, as noted above. We can vote and lobby our elected officials to do what is right to combat the scourge of antisemitism. We can also protest.

We must join together with our allies and not shirk from the battle against antisemitism in all its varieties. May G-d grant us success in defeating this ancient evil and may Israel defeat the evil that is Hamas and its cohorts and return the hostages and the valiant soldiers of the IDF home safely.

About the Author
Leonard Grunstein, a retired attorney and banker, founded and served as Chairman of Metropolitan National Bank and then Israel Discount Bank of NY. He also founded Project Ezrah and serves on the Board of Revel at Yeshiva University and the AIPAC National Council. He has published articles in the Banking Law Journal, Real Estate Finance Journal and other fine publications.
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