Trump’s public statement commemorating International Holocaust Remembrance Day omitted any mention of Judaism, anti-Semitism or the Nazis’ systematic program exterminating European Jewry. The omission was not only hurtful to remaining Holocaust survivors, their families, and friends, but it was dismissive of its six million victims during World War II.
Ironically, Trump’s immigration ban on Muslims was issued the same day the White House released his Holocaust Remembrance Day statement, and like the many of Jews who perished in the Holocaust because the U.S. government wouldn’t grant them asylum, so will many Muslims.
While the president’s generic statement on suffering was intended to be an all-inclusive acknowledgment of other groups killed by the Nazis — Gypsies, political dissidents, non-Aryans, to name a few — Elie Wiesel, at the ceremony marking the 50th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz in 1995, stated it best, saying, “It is true that not all the victims were Jews. But all the Jews were victims.” In other words, eliminating Jews was the central organizing principal for the rise of the “Third Reich.”
In this Trump era of “post-truth” politics and “alternative facts,” that unabashedly challenges, exaggerates, lies and outright negates legitimate facts, orthodox interpretations, and overwhelming evidence, the president’s statement acknowledging the Holocaust and not mentioning Jews and anti-Semitism is like making a public statement acknowledging American slavery and not mentioning Blacks and racism.
We have normalized anti-Semitism in this country to the point it is not only pervasive, but sadly, it is also invisible to some. For example, during Trump’s campaign he was condemned by Jewish leaders for what appeared on his anti-Hillary poster: the Star of David layered over $100 bills. Trump barked back telling his critics the star was a sheriff’s badge.
At best, Trump’s statement re-frames the Holocaust, highlighting the event but deflecting from the magnitude of its human carnage. By not directly acknowledging the Jewish victims of the Holocaust, but rather reducing them to a simple statement, “in the name of the perished,” Trump glosses over the Holocaust’s distinct historical circumstances that explain how preexisting prejudices and fears were stoked and amplified against Jews.
He also conceals and denies German-Christian anti-Semitism, and erases the unique stories of survival, bravery, and resistance by Jews and their allies.
“Seventy-five years ago my mother’s family was being murdered in Poland because they could not escape,” said Leora Tec, founder and director of Bridge to Poland, which offers tours to Poland focusing on Jewish life before and after the Nazi’s occupation. Her mother, 85 year-old Nechama Tec, survived the Holocaust by posing as a Catholic girl sheltered by a Catholic family.
She wrote about her rescue in her book, When Light Pierced the Darkness: Christian Rescue of Jews in Nazi-Occupied Poland. Leora explains how the fate of her mother and her mother’s family may have been different had it not been for people taking them in as refugees, which is what they were considered at the time.
“In 1946, after the war, people wanted to murder my grandfather in Poland so my mother’s family left,” Leora Tec said. “They were refugees in Germany. Refugees are not a caricature, a uni-dimensional creation of a limited mind.
“What they really are are human beings,” she continued. “They could be you or me tomorrow, and very likely there were some in your family’s not so distant past… Knowing that people will stand up for others even under the threat of death gives me hope in these dark times.”
Her mother was fortunate to have survived, but so many others didn’t. However, it is very likely that more could have survived had the U.S. opened their borders to them, which is strikingly foreshadowing of what we are seeing today with Trump’s recent immigration policies.
History has a funny way of repeating itself. Failing to specifically acknowledge the Jews who suffered and perished in the Holocaust undermines the significance of the devaluation of their lives in Nazi Germany, and adds more fuel to the fire surrounding Trump’s immigration restrictions; a fire that suggests he doesn’t see the value of Muslim lives.
Rev. Irene Monroe is a Huffington Post blogger and freelance journalist.
Rev. Irene Monroe is an African American lesbian feminist public theologian, sought-after speaker, and preacher.