Think about the lyrics to Where Have All The Flowers Gone. (When will they ever learn?) Think about the mountains that were climbed to make sure Yom Hashoah/Holocaust commemoration is observed in every state capitol in the USA. Think about why the survivors and the Second Generation (the 2Gs) and people like Rabbi Yitz Greenberg, an early Holocaust theologian; Stuart Eizenstat and Richard Holbrooke, who convinced President Jimmy Carter to create the US Holocaust Memorial Council; survivors Elie Weisel, Ernie Michel and Ben and Vladka Meed, all did what they did to put Holocaust Education, really Genocide Studies, on society’s front burner. "Zachor, Remember," they said.
Ask yourselves why they poured their passion and precious time into making sure they told the stories of what happened to them in Europe. The eyewitnesses and victims were our parents, and once they were convinced to tell their stories, it wasn't about being victims. It was about remembering what it was like to be victims for a reason. What was it they wanted us to remember and why? It turns out that it wasn't only about Six Million Souls—our families, our teachers, our poets, artists, rabbis. They chose to go with Holocaust Education and Commemoration, and started in the state houses because politicians caused the Holocaust.
Remembering the dead leaves us Jews to say Kaddish. Remembering HOW they got to be dead is what the point of all that passion for educating the public is about.
Remember how politicians manipulated people by words. WORDS! Over a period of 20 years. German politicians and their allies in the media convinced their constituents that people who had lived among them for 1000years as relatively good neighbors living mostly in peace and fully integrated into all parts of German society, became vermin to be exterminated and turned into products. Most of the Germans couldn't have cared less about who the Chancellor was and what he and the government were doing as long as they had what they wanted. So they enabled that government to take everything they could from the Jews—from their property and bank accounts—to their gold teeth and their very lives.
The Nazis bombarded people with lies from the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, an antisemitic tract written for the Czar in 1903 and reprinted in the Dearborn newspaper by Henry Ford, who in the 1920s, also funded printing of 500,000 copies distributed throughout the United States. German teachers taught condensed versions of it to German schoolchildren after the Nazis came to power.
There were roving Nazi gangs of Brownshirts who paraded down the streets, intimidating people and shouting slogans and singing songs that supported the hatred and othering. They were the Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers of the Nazi Party, and Julius Streicher was their Rush Limbaugh, who used his media empire to spread more myths and lies. Streicher created the classic images of antisemitism. America also has such talk show hosts and news networks that push out propaganda on myriad topics from all sides and have addicted their audiences to adrenaline rushes that they amp up on a regular basis, pumping up the hatred and the rage, leading to violence and death.
Democracy fails when people don't care and do not vote, because authoritarians and fascists use that apathy to destroy democracy. It was the process of that transition from democracy to fascism the survivors and 2Gs wanted people to understand. They wanted them to know it could happen to any group, and it has since the Holocaust—over and over again. They want school children to know that they have to befriend and work with all their classmates and their neighbors; to have respect, to be accountable for their actions, and to practice critical thinking... to use their intellect and do proper research. You can't make those points by bombarding kids with endlessly looped, horrific graphic images of dead Jews that desecrate the memories of our relatives.
We need civics in the classroom for the survivors’ mission to work. If you can't understand how government works, you can't demand it be fixed when it's broken. You can't fight for human rights if you don't know what they are, and all people need to know that the rule of law and democracy are fragile.
It is about teaching programs like Character Counts, about talking to kids about what goes on in a story like Dumbo. We need to teach kids how to not bully and what to do with the bully; to teach kids about the Constitution, about how government works; about talking to their congress people and asking them to do the right thing for their neediest constituents, because those elected representatives at every level are paid by everyone to work for everyone.
If you do not understand how things work and you don't care enough to examine what is really going on, you wake up one day and suddenly realize you are living in a state like The Third Reich. It took the Nazis twenty years. Less time elapsed from the Beer Hall Putsch and the publication of Mein Kampf than it took for the severe symptoms of fascism to appear in the American mainstream.It is 40 years since Reagan laid a wreath in Bitburg on the graves of the Waffen SS. Elie Weisel begged him not to go. Survivors, 2Gs and liberators got on planes and went to Germany to protest in Bergen Belsen, Reagan's last stop before Bitburg. Two thousand Jewish college students went to Bitburg from all over the world. They did this because the political system was failing democracy by saying, “These Nazis are good people.” The fascist creep into mainstream society officially began, despite all the candle lighting ceremonies, including the annual one in the Rotunda during the Days of Remembrance.
Forty years later, with no civics, no social studies, no characterbuilding, not even teaching kids to sign their names in cursive so they could vote, we watched what happens when a leader stirs up a rabid cult and fan club and encourages them to run amok. He set them up for insurrection and sedition months before the election. He planned this all because he wanted to win, no matter what, even if it destroyed our Democracy. And he almost succeeded. People died in an insurrection on Capitol Hill on 1/6/21 because of hate and stupidity.
1/6/21. Forget RED or BLUE. Think of what your eyes show you when you watch the tapes presented to the Senate. Think about the people who sat in the Senate chamber and wouldn't even look at the evidence of what they had wrought. Listen to what your ears are hearing from the people breaking into the building. Listen to what you were hearing on social media, on TV, on your car radio, not just for the last five years, but for the last 40 years. All the lies about the “other,” and how minorities and immigrants and LGBTQ are treated today.
Remember how, starting with Reagan, the "others" had Head Start cut, food programs cut, education cutbacks removed civics and social studies and even art and music from pubic-school curricula. Women and minorities had to fight for their rights, including the right to vote. Think who runs school boards... and what they allow and don't allow the students to study.
Ask yourselves about Charlottesville, Pittsburgh, the burning of ethnic houses of worship, the murders in sanctuaries around the country. Think about where Hitler got his ideas. He admired Henry Ford and Margaret Sanger, a recalcitrant racist, and he was particularly inspired by the Jim Crow Laws. And let us not forget Reagan in Bitburg 1985. The historians warned us of the slow but steady progression of fascism coming to a place in America where all one had to do was strike a match to start a conflagration. This is exactly what the survivors and their allies did not want to happen. It is exactly what DID happen.
1/6/21 is what the survivors wantedto prevent when they said “Zachor, Remember.” Remember how it happened so you can prevent it and nip it in the bud. We almost failed to stop it.
No one is listening to the survivors of the Holocaust or other genocides. They pay lip service. It may already be too late to stop the fascist juggernaut. Too many good people have already forgotten what it was they were supposed to remember. If they had, there would never have been a 1/6/21 on Capitol Hill.