Jolie Bain Pillsbury

Writing on the Wall

A nation is known not only for what it does but also for what it tolerates.”

Kurt Tucholsky, a German Jew, wrote those words after the passage of the Nuremberg Race Laws in September of 1935. They are emblazoned high on a wall in a room at Yad Vashem. In a corner of that room, there are children’s books from the same era. The books are filled with colorful cartoons depicting the Jew as an object of hatred. Seventy-five years ago, the Nazis disguised their murderous indoctrination of children as education.

I am an American Jew on a solidarity visit to Israel in the third month of the October 7th war. Though we had visited Yad Vashem before during our many visits over the years to Israel, it felt important to do so again now. To experience Yad Vashem after our visit to the Gaza envelope, site of the worst one-day killing of Jews since the Holocaust.

As I looked at Yad Vashem’s display of generations’ old Nazi propaganda for children, I was struck by an eerie sense of familiarity. These old books were so similar to the ones we had seen just the day before at an IDF briefing. Those from the IDF briefing were modern-day children’s books found in the school rooms and bedrooms of Gaza. They colorfully conveyed with cartoons, the core curriculum of Hamas. A curriculum tolerated by UNRWA, the UN, and the many, many nations that support and fund Hamas.  These children’s books printed seventy-five years a part, in different parts of the world, and different languages, carried the same message: kill all the Jews.

In the midst of war, Israel is told by a world that tolerates deadly Jew-hatred, to tolerate the intolerable. They are told to tolerate rocket attacks from the north and the south. They are told to tolerate terrorists in the north camping right up against the security fence and shooting over it. They are told to tolerate miles and miles of terror tunnels and hospitals used as holding cells for hostages and staging grounds for terrorist attacks. They are told to tolerate an Orwellian reality where the target of genocidal actions and ideology stands accused of genocide in the International Court of Justice.

And what of my nation? For the United States, October 7th starkly revealed a frightening tolerance for deadly intolerance. University professors more than tolerated Jew-hatred when they joined or supported the mobs marching in the streets and or occupying campus quads, chanting “kill all the Jews”.  This is reminiscent of the deadly Jew hatred that nurtured the seeds of the Holocaust, for it was the students and professors of the elite German universities who were among the first to march in mobs calling for the killing of Jews. The German universities were among the first places that became proudly “Judenfrei.”

Tucholsky committed suicide on December 21,1935. He was 45 years old. He had spent his career, writing among other things, biting, witty political satire, and commentary. With his poetry and his prose, he tried to awaken his countrymen to the dangers of tolerating Jew-hatred.  However, his message published in a journal with a comparatively small readership was read by only a few.  For those who did read it, some, accustomed as they were to thousands of years of pogroms, and the occasional survivable expulsion and loss of livelihood, thought this eruption of hatred would also be survivable. What they could not foresee was the sheer magnitude of the coming Holocaust.  Others, deluded by their seeming acceptance and success in society, identifying as Germans not Jews, thought that the hand of death would pass them by. Others, even knowing of the danger, were trapped, and had no way out and no place to run. At that time and in that place, Tucholsky’s pen was powerless. His years of support of political parties proved ineffectual. His efforts to combat the tolerance of deadly Jew-hatred were futile.

But it is not 1935. It is 2024. Israel has an army to defend its land and its people, and they will no longer tolerate the intolerable.  In the United States, Georgia passed a bill on January 25th, with overwhelming bi-partisan support, to combat antisemitism. Its passage, two days before Holocaust Remembrance Day, was greeted with loud cheers from a gallery filled with supporters.  My home state of Virginia passed a similar bill with bi-partisan support in February 2023.  In this time, and in this nation, perhaps, enough of us will heed the writing on the wall and act to end the deadly tolerance of Jew-hatred everywhere.

About the Author
Jolie Bain Pillsbury, Ph D. Retired, residing in Arlington, Virginia. Public and private sector career focused on producing measurable results through the development of cross-sector collaborative leadership skills. Author of “The Theory of Aligned Contributions” and “Results Based Facilitation: Books 1 & 2.
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