My heart stopped a beat as news poured into my busy day. A synagogue attacked in my home country Germany. The Holocaust memorial I know well desecrated by anti-Semitic hate symbols. Fear poured over me like waves of hurtful remembrance of times we thought were long gone. The nightmare of history repeating itself increasingly haunts my mind.
As I shared this anxiety with a friend, she politely wanted to diffuse my fears through words ascribed to Mark Twain: “History doesn’t repeat itself, but it rimes.” No matter, if it rhymes or repeats in a new version – the reality is a increase of anti-Semitic and racist hate crimes. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, the number of hate groups across the U.S. has climbed from 954 in the year 2017 to staggering 1,020 in the subsequent year. In Germany the rise of right-winged extremism and hate has significantly risen from 2017 to 2018: a sum of 25.250 citizens have been involved in hate groups, right-winged political institutions and structures. This sum has risen by 100 in the following year according to the governmental organization protecting the German constitution (Verfassungsschutz) .
When I received the invitation to a Interfaith vigil in White Plains, Westchester on short notice, there was no holding back. As a descendant of a Nazi perpetrator and a German citizen I am committed to not hide in fear, but to stand strong against anti-Semitism, racism and other hateful actions against minorities. Yes, my grandfather fought as a marine in Hitler´s army. Yes, my home town had welcomed Julius Streicher and send innocent Jews into the Holocaust. Those opposing these hateful actions, went into hiding or out of fear. Numerous in contrary became part of a cheering crowd welcoming Hitler.
It is this legacy of remembrance, which drives me as I will not be silenced, driven into hiding because of fear or even changed to join a criminal group, which does not see all humans as the images of God.
The German Lutheran Theologian Martin Niemöller once put it into fitting words:
“First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a socialist.
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out— because I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.” (1)
His question is vital and real for anyone of us. Systems of hate gradually and first silently build up. As they do not face backlash, they will spread their evil influence in a increasing manner. As the US is becoming a Nation, where minorities are becoming the majority (2), numerous Jews came up to thank me for my participation. This gratitude moved me to tears as I as a descendant of a Nazi grandfather shook hand after hand.
After the Interfaith Vigil, I stood at the Holocaust memorial with my colleague Jim O´Hanlon explaining the different mentioned places of horror, which are located in Germany. A lady interrupted our thoughtful exchange and shook our hands in gratitude while explaining that her grandfather had fled Germany due to the Nazi crimes. Her hand was warm and soft as she embraced mine for what felt like a long time. It felt as if she wanted to warm me through her friendly embrace.
I wish, our grandparents would have met in this warm fashion. I wish, my grandfather would have never been part of a Nazi regime that killed millions. As she spoke about her fears pondering if she should go into hiding, I looked firmly into her eyes.
We will not be silenced by hate.
We will not hide driven by fear.
We will stand in solidarity as one with her and any other person, who is targeted by hate.
When they come for you, dear Jewish friend, we will stand strong and will speak justice in the name of the one God, in whose image we are made.
(1) Gerlach, Wolfgang. And the Witnesses were Silent: The Confessing Church and the Jews . Lincoln, Nebraska: University of Nebraska Press, 2000, p. 47.
(2) Jim Wallis. Christ in Crisis. Why we need to reclaim Jesus. New York 2018, p. 57.