by Samantha Harris
Every year, from my entrance into the 6th grade through my graduation from high school, my history lessons included the story of the Holocaust and Anne Frank. We read and discussed her diary in class numerous times, and I remember being shown the videos of emaciated Jewish survivors after the war. I’ve walked through the National Holocaust Museum in DC, and there are no words to describe what it feels like to look at those piles of shoes, thousands of shoes, that were once filled with happy souls. I had the privilege to live abroad in Germany for two years, and to be honest, the view I’d been given of my host country was nothing like what I actually experienced.
I’d been indoctrinated to see Germans as secret Nazis. School told the story of the Holocaust, but not of the millions who chose to keep silent out of fear rather than attract fatal attention. Not of those within the nation who lost their lives for speaking and acting out against their own government. During my 13 years of indoctrination about what America is supposed to be, we never touched on those who rebelled against their own country outside of us breaking from Britain.
When I lived in Germany I became close to many who remember those days. Believe me when I tell you that Germany learned their lesson. That nation is not full of Nazis, go there and give that hateful salute, and you will be beaten in the street. Those who still want to hold onto such sick beliefs must take campers and porta-potties up into the mountains, the Germans are so loath to deal with them. If you voice any sentiment that denies the Holocaust, you can be criminally charged. Y’all, Germany is not playing on this issue. In many cities, there are places that were not rebuilt after the Second World War, craters into which you descend, and the noise of the city falls away…there is nothing down there but you, silence, and your thoughts. It’s weird, walking back up those makeshift stairs, back to life again. Those ruins were left there as a constant reminder. Jewish cemeteries are under lock and key, behind ten-foot walls. It’s a crime to break those locks. And those rules were largely respected by the Germans, when I lived there. Ironically, a lot of my fellow American students refused to interact with their hosts, because they believed the lie that all Germans were Nazis. Even back then we were showing our tails abroad. The Ugly American sentiment is nothing new.
Germany put their dark past under glass, in museums, where it belongs. They foster active discussion about their national role in the Second World War, and children are taught from the very beginning that genocide and nationalism are wrong. As a woman who was black and who was raised within the Jewish tradition, I felt much safer there than I ever have here.
Y’all...I thought we were past this. I thought that it was clear what a Nazi was, but we have been so eager to keep our noses clean, so willing to preserve everyone’s right to speak, even if they were flat-out wrong…and Nazis marched down the middle of our streets. What’s really sad is that the symbols these people, for lack of a better word, use…they belonged to indigenous people first. White supremacy often takes what is good from the cultures they hate and claim it for their own…as they preach genocide. Let’s stop avoiding the fact that we know what they really want.
The word swastika is derived from Sanskrit. Svastika means “good fortune” or “well-being.” If you traveled to East Asia, you’d see this symbol often. It had been in use for around 12,000 years, all over the world before Hitler decided to use it to promote German nationalism and murder. For a very unsettling look into what life under a Nazi regime on our soil could look like, watch The Man in the High Castle. It’s an alternative history drama. I am not a conspiracy theorist, but history shows what happens when we don’t learn our lessons. Stop tolerating the spittle-flecked rants of the Nazi and calling it free speech. Hate speech should never be free speech.
Why is it that a country I was taught to disdain has learned to understand the dangers of extremist thought, but this supposed bastion of freedom I live in is so free that Nazis are perfectly comfortable going to public places and displaying a swastika in any form? At a local event this weekend, a good neighbor was kind enough to point out a vendor that was selling a flag with a swastika on it. In the form that they intended, it is swill. It should be burned. Imagine seeing that symbol everywhere as you are taken from everything you own and brought into sub-human living conditions, and later carted off to your death. That symbol is a slap in the face of every Jewish person alive. And in the meaning symbol takes here in the United States…not only anti-Semitism, but anti-black sentiment, anti-immigrant…anti- anyone that isn’t like them. Thank goodness the company sponsoring the event where this tripe was found took quick action. On behalf of BLM and all in this valley who won’t stand for this mess: thank you.
What many people who find themselves falling for extremist nationalism fail to understand, is that here…no one is going to take your way of life from you, so long as your way of life is not antagonistic to other people (translation: advocating for the harm/murder of someone else). Alas, this difficult discussion about race, culture, and all the ways in which we differ is hindered by dog-whistling that tells this group of people that they are being targeted. When you decide to turn your face away from fact, it’s very easy to become a malignant force that is propelled by your own foolishness.
White supremacy thrives because there are groups of people not willing to face the uncomfortable fact that they were partners in their own communal demise. Self-antagonistic voting trends, refusing to stop depending on fossil fuels, a refusal to learn about the environment and how to take care of it, anti-intellectualism. Now, you can’t eat the fish you caught. You are trained to work, but only in the mine that is now dead. You distrust the other so much that the man behind the curtain could tell you anything, and you’d listen. Anything to drown out the steady but quiet song in your mind that tells you the world is progressing without you. It’s the government’s fault, it’s that person of color. It’s amazing, a group of people who hate immigrants so much, who have zero compassion for the plight of the refugee, but they forget they worship an Arab man who had to go live in Africa for a bit to escape people who wanted to kill him. Lyndon B. Johnson once said that “if you could convince the lowest white man that he is better than the best colored man, he won’t know you’re picking his pocket.”
White supremacists have taken Viking symbols, the swastika, and a great deal more to call their own. Let’s shut them down, period. They have no place within American values. And I know that most who are reading this still have some hope for their country. At the end of WWII, the vets of this nation were hailed as heroes. Or so the story goes, as we are taught. And yet, within the space of this last 70 years, we have forgotten that Nazis are bad. Well, they’re largely not in Germany anymore, so what does that say for us?
An American education comes with a lot of indoctrination. Some people may not like my saying this, but they have no control over what our curriculum is. We learn what we are taught about this country’s history for a reason. They have slowly and systematically taken much of the control over curriculum from teachers for a reason. Our kids are being taught to a test for a reason. The truth of the Trail of Tears is barely touched on, no talk about the smallpox blankets (1763, Fort Pitt). From kindergarten we’re coloring pictures of happy pilgrims and Native Americans sharing a turkey, but that was not the whole story. There’s a way to tell the truth without traumatizing children. Germany does this very well within their school system, by the way. Black History Month is relegated to endless reprisals of Dr. King’s I Have A Dream speech, one or two talks about Mama Rosa saying “naw,” a Song of the South version of slavery, and peanut butter, if we’re lucky (George Washington Carver). We’re not taught about Malcom X, or Marcus Garvey. This nation steers away from telling us the truth about its inception and all that was done in the name of raising this landmass into a group of states. They do that to keep people at odds with each other, so that we can continue to be fleeced by the 1%. Remember Bacon’s rebellion. The powers that be tremble when we all look at them in unison with fire in our eyes.
When my parents used to take me to one of the larger military medical centers during our time overseas, we always passed an old concentration camp on the way. I never asked which one. But the sun never, ever seemed to shine over that area. It wasn’t my imagination; every time we passed through that part of the countryside, that spot on the hill was shrouded in gloom, clouds always sat above it. Even the very earth that we know as Germany is repulsed by the Nazis and what they stand for.
So why are they on our soil? And what are we gonna do about it?