As I got on the treadmill at the gym this past Saturday, I watched in disbelief the pictures that met my eyes. For a moment I was hoping I clicked on the wrong TV channel and was watching a movie, rather than the breaking news. The sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach informed me, even before the fully conscious realization hit, that this was reality on this Saturday morning in Charlottville, USA.
As a child of Holocaust survivors, I feel dread about the current state of affairs in the country that been the beacon of democracy, equality and multiculturalism in the modern world. In my twenties, I lived for several years as an employee of the Israeli Government in what was then West Germany. I had a beautiful apartment in a charming little cottage that belonged to an old woman, who perceived herself as a liberal, an open-minded person, and who rented out several of her properties to foreigners. I remember my landlady trying to explain (and excuse) what her compatriots, the people of her generation, felt as they were watching Hitler’s thugs wield their power in the streets. She described the scorn with which main-stream Germans like her viewed these right wing “hooligans”, thinking this was just a fringe of society, a small disgruntled group of trouble makes. No one in their right mind thought they’d come to anything, or get anywhere, she said. Another man of her generation, a plumber who came to fix the heating in my apartment, expressed to me his opinions about what he perceived as Germany’s inflation and unemployment problems at the time. His solution to the problem was clear. “What Germany needs now”, he stated without hesitation, “is a Dictator!” Coming from a man who lived through the ravages of WWII and its catastrophic consequences for the world and for Germans, this was one of the most disheartening experiences I had in meetings with the older generation in Europe. It seemed some people never learn. However, I could console myself then with the platitude that “old dogs can’t learn new tricks” and that, on the whole, the world has learned a terribly painful lesson and my generation and the generations to follow will make it a more peaceful place for all.
It is so much more painful, frightening and discouraging to see young generations of Americans embracing such hateful Neo-Nazi, White Supremacist views, as has been expressed in Charlottesville this past weekend. If there are any lessons to be learned from the Holocaust, they are about the importance of tolerance, respect for others, and for working together to solve problems. There are still Holocaust survivors who valiantly spend their time speaking to school children and teachers, telling their personal stories to visitors at the Museum of Jewish Heritage, in the hope that the encounter with a real witness of history will make the new generation witnesses to such history, who will carry on the lessons to be learned from it.
Hate has never solved any injustice, any problem. It has only created even bigger ones.