Over the past year, every time Donald Trump said something terrifying, I would start googling “Japanese internment camps,” or the “Night of Broken Glass” — the 1938 pogrom of Jewish businesses and homes. Nazis and bloodthirsty Germans tried stirring up their neighbors to participate in those November attacks, but few came out to join them. Many Germans thought that night of murder was so sad.
Except Hitler was elected five years earlier on a platform of Jewish hatred. He preached it all along. I’m guessing that most of his voters believed he had the right idea, but never envisioned it would end in mass murder. A bit of murder, maybe, so Jews would understand their place, but not mass murder of children, parents and grandparents. When they could have stopped him in 1933, they didn’t. When it was too late, they were too scared to intervene.
I think of all the laid-off factory workers hopeful that Trump will bring industry jobs back. Those jobs are never coming back. But when they don’t, and if the economy tanks, it won’t be Trump’s incompetence, or the way he uses the presidency to enrich himself further, to blame; he’ll be perfectly poised from his megaphone in the Oval Office to aim all blame at Mexicans, Blacks and Muslims.
I think of poor children, black and white, already shamefully neglected and whose schools will be even more underfunded, safeguards for clean drinking water abandoned, American Indians fighting to protect their burial grounds — likely now to be bulldozed.
The “Night of Broken Glass” was unleashed after a single young Jewish man — a Polish refugee made stateless and desperate by his religion — assassinated a German diplomat in France. And we today are faced with an endless stream of terror attacks. No matter how horrified the rest of us Muslims are, no matter how many Muslim doctors volunteer in free health clinics or “support the youth with their projects,” no one is going to care. If truly awful retaliation started happening, no one will intervene — we don’t count as human anymore — none of us dehumanized by Trump count as actual warm, live bodies by the great swathes who didn’t let that stop them from voting for him.
Yesterday, someone scrawled “Trump!” in black letters on the Muslim prayer room entrance at New York University.
They will laugh at us for overreacting (“the Nazi comparison is so overwrought”), and they won’t be around to protect us when we need it. Afterwards, they’ll say (as the Germans said): “Well! We didn’t know.”
By 1938 — five years after Hitler’s election — it was too late for Jews to leave Germany: borders were closed, bank accounts frozen and citizenship stripped. Thousands of Jews committed suicide.
In school they said “don’t forget, Hitler was elected.” I never bothered to internalize that detail; I just couldn’t make sense of it.
And here we are.