When Kitsch Gets Dangerous

Elie Wiesel speaking at the ceremony in his honour at the White House. April 19, 1985. Credit: White House Television Studio Archive. The Reagan Library.
Elie Wiesel at the White House ( 1985): "Jewish tradition commands us to tell the truth to the power". Credit: The White House Television Studio. The Reagan Library. Open Archive.

 Modern History Perspectives series

“Jewish tradition commands us to tell the truth to the power” – Elie Wiesel to President Reagan at the public ceremony in the White House, April 19, 1985. 

A Nazi for the Office. Or rather not

Just over a decade ago, which is not that long a time by the standards of political development, I was very busy. In my capacity of a senior foreign affairs adviser for the members of the European Parliament, including the EU-the UK- the US- and Israel public diplomacy, I did initiate the process examining the possibility of expelling from the EP the one of its new members, British open Nazi who, among his other public racist activities, was bragging openly of having two Rottweiler dogs, ‘one named Anne and the other Frank’. During the several months’ process, I was often wondering: why on earth nobody else bothered to try to block that bastard’s membership at the European Parliament? Why on earth it was considered as acceptable to have an open and active Nazi as the member of the highest political pan-European body? Democracy had nothing to do with it. Ineptness had. 

We did everything possible under the legal realities of the European Parliament at the time, including issuing a special inner-EP memorandum protesting the situation and signed by a number of MEPs. That document which although had no decisive legislative power to expel the Nazi from the European Parliament in the XXI century, did raise the question of moral unacceptability of the openly pro-Nazi personalities as the members of the European Parliament as such, with all legally possible points following our claim, including appeal against the owner of two  Rottweilers’ membership in any EP committee. 

As we found out, at the time, during the seventh term of the European Parliament (2009-2014), the EP lacked necessary legal instruments to unseat a member selected by a member-country although everyone at all the levels of the giant pan-European institution had completely agreed with us and with the justification of our demand. As a result, the humanoid in question was not made a member of any important committee, and contrary to all his steroid-energetic efforts, was listed as a member of just one the EU delegation to the non-EU member country of the least importance. 

Because of our articulated stand, the open Nazi was effectively muted since the day one of his term at the EP for all five years there. After his hanging around in Brussels, he was expelled even from his own racist party back home in the dispute of financial matters. 

During my involvement in that important process, I was threatened seriously and multiple times. Those people breeding the Rottweilers with such names, are real bandits and are connected with professionals in the field. My husband was also contacted, repeatedly, with strong recommendations to convince his wife ‘to retreat from her annoying activities, or else’. ‘What is she gaining personally in this campaign?’ – was one of the arguments of the people who pressured us persistently. I gather that their question might be even genuine. How could they understand, really? 

At a certain stage, a close friend, one of the Queen barristers, got so worried for my safety, based on his own information, that he demanded that the corresponding security authorities would be briefed on the escalating situation. The situation was taken under scrutiny and tight control. And I was wondering again: how on earth it was I who needed protection from the Nazi and his trained dogs, metaphorically too, almost 65 years after the ultimate defeat of Nazi Germany worldwide? I still wonder. 

Praising Hitler next to the Capitol

I remembered that decade-back episode vividly now, watching the painful unfolding of that unbelievable-but-true last turn of events preceding the change of the US Administration in Washington D.C.

Just next to the Capitol where I am visiting regularly and so very often during last three decades, a newly elected Congresswoman from Illinois with no trace of intelligence on her face whatsoever was screaming in that typical abrasive provinciality manner addressing the huge crowd that we saw a bit later in their incredibly stupid and clearly criminal action, indoctrinating them that ‘Hitler was right…’. As  it is known and recorded, her full phrase was ‘Hitler was right on one thing: who has the youth, has the future’.   But I am not interested in anything that this moronic creature pronounced after the beginning of her phrase in her capacity of an elected Member of the US Congress, “Hitler was right…”  in front of the US Capitol. Neither do I interested in her apology, as stupid and as provincial as her speech at the rally on December 6th, 2021 was. I am convinced that a creature like that shall be dismissed from the Congress, and that there is existing legislation that allows it. Plus there has to be bipartisan demand of her to resign. Now. 

This was an unpardonable precedent which has to be addressed further than it has been done by now, with all the just storm risen in the media and by many Jewish organisations, both Americans and international ones. That Congresswoman’s escapade has nothing to do with the First Amendment, or democracy , or anything else from the category of applied American domestic policies. It has everything to do with sheer racism and unwarranted Nazi glorification and thus has to be cut off instantly. That message, its phrasing, and more importantly what is behind it, is a menace. There are  consequences of such statements, always.  

And – in the first place, really – the outgoing US President, or anyone else, for that matter, from any side of the US political spectrum – should not have this kind of humanoids as their supporters, not to speak as the representative of their party at the highest US legislation body. It is always screamingly counter-productive, to say the very least. 

Many of us know from history about both awful and shameful pro-Nazi rally in February 1939 in New York when 20 000 people gathered at the Madison Square in support of the Nazis – this is after the Kristallnacht, mind you. It is also sobering to remember how The New York Times covered the Holocaust, with its unimaginable 6 mentioning of Jews as the primary victims of the Shoah in just 24 front-page articles dedicated to the theme during all six years of the Second World War, from September 1, 1939 until September 2, 1945. It stands in history as the one of the most shameful phenomenon of the public response to the ultimate global tragedy and the crime of unheard scale by the leading American media. 

One could expect that with having all terrible Holocaust-related data available in so many ways and forms nowadays, those who are seeking to become a statesman or stateswoman, would know what is permissible to state publicly and what is not. But as we are seeing it, they do not care.  What is also important and worrisome, they are not dismissed or rebuked by the leaders at whose rallies they are rallying. Rallying for what? – we all have the right to ask. For applying some of Hitler lessons? Seriously? 

I firmly disagree with followed regular laments that the Hitler-praising Congresswoman ‘needs more and better Holocaust education’, and alike. Give me a break. This kind of creatures are immune to any education on Holocaust, and the other topics of humanity. It is simply naive to lull oneself with this kind of suggestion. This kind of person should never be accepted to run a party ticket to any office. And the core of the problem is in the fact that she and alike were accepted and then promoted at the huge rallies.  There are highly problematic representatives of the Democratic party as well, as we all know and fighting against it for years by now. But this ‘Hitler was right…’ bomb-shell was dropped by the fresh Republican representative.

That Hitler admirer farmer-turned-Congresswoman was not rebuked by none of the top bosses of the Republican party. More, the Republican Jewish Coalition leadership ‘ thanked her for her ( apologising) statement’, with not an inch of anything beyond it. Great. And telling. 

Out of my long personal active experience in international public diplomacy, I have to say that such a muted reaction would be absolutely impossible under any previous US Administration from the end of WWII onward. And this fact alone is disturbing, to say the least. 

Leaders and their Legacies 

The breeder of the Rottweiler dogs that he called Anne and Frank, was from the country which was the earliest, selflessly brave and decisively anti-Nazi fighter during the six devastating years of the Second World War. Prior to the war, from the end of the 1920s and until mid-1930s, in that country, the United Kingdom, there were also quite strong pro-German sentiments among the certain part of the British establishment, and enough pro-fascists movements and small parties, none of which came to power, however. 

That country – and the entire world, as it happened – was extremely lucky with having a leader at the most daring hour of the XX century history whose brilliant mind was combined with ultimately and unwavering strong will, and who did bring the honour to that country and relief to mankind, becoming the first and the principal opposer, global-wise, to the evil of Nazism.  If not for  Sir Winston Churchill, the entire course and the ultimate result of the Second World War could be tragically different. One should always remember that.  

Sir Churchill hated Nazism unequivocally. He did it being not only an extremely well-educated person with genuine strategic thinking and broad vision, but also because he had a highly developed sense of decency as a prerequisite for anything else in the vast array of his activities. Decency is not only one of life-saving vitamins. It is a vital component of the  preserving legacy,  especially if it is a legacy of a politician or public figure. 

In the wake of  the recent outrage at the US Capitol conducted by a delirious rabble of jerks, there are some important aspects, out of many,  that I think is necessary to emphasise. It is astonishing to unparalleled degree that a statesman, not to say the president of a country, can allow himself to exercise such utter irresponsibility as to call people ‘to walk down to the Capitol’, not to mention him saying to the multi-thousand rally that “I will be going with you’ having a zero intention to do so. For the record: political affiliation has nothing to do with this. Personal qualities and choice of behaviour do.

It is pathetic – although expected – that the president of the leading country in the world does not bother to get the basic legal proceedings of his country, to allow to himself to pressurise and bully, all publicly, his own Vice President and senior figures of his party whom he repeatedly and publicly calls ‘weak ones’, instigating the chain of escalating public bullying them, already after the amok at the Capitol Hill,  by the same rabble of the same delirious jerks, with ‘Hang Mike Pence’ hashtags that Twitter allows, incomprehensibly, and with  mass threatening senior  politicians in public places days on after the assault of the Capitol.

As if directly from a third-rate movie, the  Vice-President of the USA with his family had had to hide in a protected bunker while hearing the mad crowd screaming ‘Hang Mike Pence!’, in that idiotic inciting hateful ‘lock-em’up’ motion, with Number One not bothering to check on how safe is his Vice-President. To revoke personally the access to the White House to the Vice-President Chief of the Cabinet? What scheme is this? Where this came from? From  a fourth-rate movie? The world being totally dumbfounded is watching how that wilder-than-wild scenario unfolds. And there is seemingly no limit to this show of disgraceful incompetence. 

In a sharp contrast, it was Vice-President Pence who did demonstrate to his country and the world that there are leaders in the USA today who know what decency is and who live by that. I have a honour to know Mike Pence for over 20 years, and can attest to his honourable and very able conduct, on any of many of his governing positions and in various situations  always. To attack this man and to instigate the marginalised mob to do it in their wild way is indecent. 

But most disturbingly, to me, is the utterly disappointing fact of harbouring all those lowlives whom we all saw on our TV and other screens on December 6th, 2021 at the Capitol vulgar, stupid, and cheap assault, and incorporating them verbally, in a repeated motion,  into the range of ‘great American patriots’. 

Is that scumbag in Camp Auschwitz hoodie ‘a great American patriot’? So many people are indignant about that hoodie, but for some reason, not many have mentioned that the black hoodie has its back, and that there is one more sign on that back, namely ‘Staff’. 

Nazi supporter during the assault of the US Capitol, Washington D.C., January 6, 2021. Open Internet Library.

Does it differ from an owner of Anne and Frank  Rottweiler dogs? Not, it does not. Does it differ from ‘Hitler was right..’ screams earlier the same day at the nearby place? No, it does not. Is it acceptable? Absolutely not. Should it be overseen, let it go, written it off for ‘wing-off’ ones? Those who are accepting such positions in their understanding of loyalty are self-deluding themselves badly. They are shielding themselves from common sense and from both intellectual honesty and human integrity.  

The same as it is absolutely unacceptable to incorporate into the rank of supporters all those whom the world had a shock to see in that show of imbeciles ramming the Capitol: the Nazis, the QAnon, Proud Boys, all those wacky ultras of various breeds. How on earth these kinds of creatures have become acceptable by the president of the United States and those of his advisers who gave their go-ahead of usage of these kinds of organisations and creatures who are its members?  

Telling the Truth to the Power

When watching that third-rate real-life movie from the US Capitol during its assault on January 6th, 2021, I was thinking about our dear friend and teacher Elie Wiesel. I know that his son Elisha and his entire family which is very small, because of the Shoah, were in-tuned, as well, in an emotional way. I was thinking that thanks to Heaven that Elie does not see Camp Auschwitz moron and other alike roaming the US Capitol. I simply cannot imagine what Elie Wiesel would feel at such a moment.

And I also remembered how in the spring 1985, Elie, without thinking on political surviving code and maneuvering, has decided to come to to see and to speak directly with President Reagan to discuss with him face to face the very troubling decision of Reagan who gave into the pressure of German Chancellor Kohl to visit the military Bitsburg cemetery of German soldiers, including some Waffen-SS members,  during his official visit to Germany to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the end of the Second World War in May 1985. The truth is that the Reagan Administration was not told by the German side initially that there were members of Waffen-SS buried at the Bitsburg cemetery. Reagan agreed to visit. Then the truth unfolded, to the horror of many. But there was the only one who did confront the president of the USA directly and openly about it, Elie Wiesel. 

Only Wiesel’s family and close friends know quite turbulent events around that his meeting  with President Reagan. We know that Elie was seriously thinking about ignoring, rejecting  the ceremony at the White House honouring him with the Golden Medal of the US Congress in the protest against a planned Reagan visit to Germany with that outrageous symbolic visit to the German military cemetery ahead. I also remember how Elie did recall in our conversations that in the end, he decided to go to the ceremony at the White House  – primarily for the opportunity for him to speak with President Reagan face to face before accepting the medal.  It was not an easy decision for him, I know that first-hand. 

I also heard the insights on that episode from inside the Reagan team, among whom I have many good friends and colleagues.  The Reagan Administration, as any US Presidential Administration, was divided on many things, including the inflammatory episode with the visit to Germany in May 1985 and with regard to Elie Wiesel’s lonely, I emphasise, and brave stand on that. Some of the Reagan White House team petty apparatchiks  were trying to cut planned Elie’s speech to an insulting mini-version of it. They were overcome with normal people in a higher positions within the Administration. Then the ceremony was moved from the planned big hall with capacity of accommodating 300 people to the smallest possible room in the White House with capacity of accommodating 40 people maximum, in a pitiful understanding of  ‘a possible damage-control’ preventive measures. 

Elie did not care how many people would attend the ceremony honouring him at the White House. As I know it from him personally, all he cared about was an opportunity to speak with President Reagan one to one, to see him in the eye, as Elie has put it. 

Their meeting lasted about a half an hour which is a lot by the White House protocol and which was three times longer than planned. 

Elie Wiesel was unable to change the very wrong visit of President Reagan’s visit to the German military cemetery in Bitsburg. But he succeeded in amending the President’s agenda for his commemorative visit to Germany with Reagan visiting the site of Bergen-Belsen first, prior to his visit to the cemetery that Chancellor Kohl was so extraordinary pushy about visiting it along with the US President. That Reagan’s unplanned – for some reason, let me put it this way – visit to Bergen-Belsen prior to the German military cemetery has put a proper balance in place, at least. 

I know that Elie wanted very much and tried very hard to convince President Reagan to visit the Bergen-Belsen site only. Reagan excused himself for his inability to do so after he gave his personal word to Chancellor Kohl. 

Elie Wiesel speaking at the White House ceremony in presence of President Ronald Reagan and Vice-President George Bush Sr. April 19, 1985. Credits: White House Television Office. The Reagan Library. The Rogatchi Archive.

Importantly, Elie Wiesel did see President Reagan in the eye. And yet more importantly, President Ronald Reagan saw in the eye of Elie Wiesel too – which I do think, and always was thinking this way since the time I heard about it from Elie just five years after the event – was a very healthy thing to do. 

During that eye to eye conversation, Elie Wiesel was simple in his phraseology, as he always was. I remember some of it: “ Mr President, the issue here is not politics, but good and evil. And we must never confuse them. For I have seen the SS at work. And I have seen their victims. They were my friends. They were my family.”  

And during his short speech during the public ceremony in overcrowded very small room, Elie Wiesel did remind to President Reagan, Vice-President Bush Sr and everybody else present that ‘Jewish tradition commands us to tell truth to the power’. Exactly so.

It was an unforgettable lesson of humanity to politics. I know that Ronald Reagan did remember it until the end of his life. And so shall anyone else who would like to leave the legacy of decency. 

This is another important point, the legacy. While watching that impotent cheap show at the Capitol, I was thinking that with these vulgar scenes of trashed chaos, the legacy of the 45th President of the USA will be sealed for good. And there is nothing that can be done about it. Surely enough, the following issue of The Economist appeared in a day or two exactly with this verdict on its cover. 

The cover of The Economist magazine. January 9-15, 2021

As far as I can see it, the President and those who had assisted him in such an ill way, has caused irreparable damage by overseeing the inclusion of these surreal elements into the rank of his supporters.   Irreparable damage that has crossed, to the large extent, some of his serious achievements both domestically and internationally. 

One does not deal with Nazis. One does not rely on the support of a Staffer at Camp Auschwitz. One does not support scums praising Hitler. How grotesque it is to be  in necessity to state the obvious.  At this level, in this context. How terrible it all is for all decent conservatives who are terrified on what unfolds in front of our eyes. 

In the Talmud, there are two leaders of the Jewish nations regarded as the most important and the best ones, Moses and David. Why? Because both of them, according to the great Baal Haturim, ‘were faithful shepherds who put the fate of the people before their own, and therefore the people had faith in them” (Baal Haturim Chumash, Shemot, The ArtScroll Series, 2000 ).  

Leadership is not about personal success. It is about one’s country, one’s people. It is the social mutual pact with society conducted with mutual respect. Leadership is not about slogans. It is about the ability to convince – not to push, to convince the majority or necessary qualified number of people in the society to follow your agenda wilfully and consciously. To be able to convince a qualifying amount of society, one has to be able to respect.  It is about sharing, not imposing.  It is not an intuition for a deal. It is very difficult, and often quite ungratifying work. It is not about ‘I’, it is about ‘you’. Some people might be surprised, and some maybe even laughing, but it is also about modesty. And decency. And dignity. What a fantasy list.

The only glimpse of some hope in the outcome of the disgrace at the Capitol lays in a prospect that after that shocking show, some leaders world-wide would think more carefully on what their legacy would become like. 

Escalating Damage

The damage that has been done by the real-life drama on the top of the US power at the moment of the transition of power in the beginning of 2021 will be the long-lasting one, sadly. This damage is multilateral, dangerously. The Republican party is damaged very seriously, with the prospect of debilitating schism inside the party being quite real. The conservatism movement in general in the world that traditionally relied on the might of the US Republican party is damaged powerfully, as well. Conservatism as a world-view is undermined, even if briefly so, having a blow of stupidity and irresponsibility into its face, with  people with conservative views being marred by association, so to say, both consciously and gaining on purpose by the opposers, or even subconsciously, or automatically, as a way of associative thinking. 

The status of the American state, the leading country in the world, is changed now, being diminished seriously, with years in need for recovering it. 

The ugly demonstration of jerks storming the seat of power has become a precedent instantly – thus, the damage has a potency to become an international one. 

Incomprehensible, but true. Depressing, but real. Unacceptable, but done. This is what happens when kitsch gets dangerous. 

About the Author
Inna Rogatchi is internationally acclaimed writer, scholar, artist, art curator and film-maker, the author of widely prized film on Simon Wiesenthal The Lessons of Survival. She is also an expert on public diplomacy and was a long-term international affairs adviser for the Members of the European Parliament. She lectures on the topics of international politics and public diplomacy widely. Her professional trade-mark is inter-weave of history, arts, culture and mentality. She is the author of the concept of the Outreach to Humanity cultural and educational projects conducted internationally by The Rogatchi Foundation of which Inna is the co-founder and President. She is also the author of Culture for Humanity concept of The Rogatchi Foundation global initiative that aims to provide psychological comfort to wide audiences by the means of high-class arts and culture in challenging times. Inna is the wife of the world renowned artist Michael Rogatchi. Her family is related to the famous Rose-Mahler musical dynasty. Together with her husband, Inna is a founding member of Leonardo Knowledge Network, a special cultural body of leading European scientists and artists. Her professional interests are focused on Jewish heritage, arts and culture, history, Holocaust and post-Holocaust. She is running several projects on artistic and intellectual studies on various aspect of the Torah and Jewish spirituality. She is twice laureate of the Italian Il Volo di Pegaso Italian National Art, Literature and Music Award, the Patmos Solidarity Award, and the New York Jewish Children's Museum Award for Outstanding Contribution into the Arts and Culture (together with her husband). Inna Rogatchi was the member of the Board of the Finnish National Holocaust Remembrance Association and is member of the International Advisory Board of The Rumbula Memorial Project ( USA). Her art can be seen at Silver Strings: Inna Rogatchi Art site - www.innarogatchiart.com
Related Topics
Related Posts
Comments