My Turn: Lessons from history

  • A light illuminates names at the Shoah Wall of Names Memorial during the inauguration ceremony, in Vienna, Austria, Nov. 9, 2021.  AP PHOTO/LISA LEUTNER

Published: 1/14/2022 6:42:31 AM
Modified: 1/14/2022 6:41:38 AM

In case you don’t know, I’m Jewish. And I don’t classify myself that way because I attend synagogue or participate in religious ritual, since I do not.

I’m Jewish because my parents were Jewish and so it’s in my blood. I was born right after World War II, during which 6 million Jewish people were murdered for no other reason than that they were Jewish. Over 1 million of them were shot to death, while the rest were systematically rounded up, sent to camps, gassed, and burned in ovens by the Nazi regime in Germany and the countries it had invaded.

And when I say systematically, just imagine the huge mechanism that must have been devised to accomplish such a heinous act of hatred and inhumanity. And then try to imagine the enormous participation — in one way or another — of thousands, maybe millions of people in that endeavor, for it couldn’t have happened without them.

How could so many people be so convinced that the mass killing of Jews was the right and necessary thing to do? With lies, of course, through the endless cycle of lies, conspiracy theories, and misinformation repeated over and over again until the lies became “facts.” A political party used those lies to win elections to govern the country, bringing Adolf Hitler, an insane, anti-Semitic, but terribly shrewd man, to power. The result? A previously democratic nation, though a relatively new one, became an authoritarian one, bringing another world war and the murder of millions of innocents.

This hatred of Jews has been around for centuries. We have been accused of everything from kidnapping and eating children, to being the shadowy financial support behind every bad thing that happens anywhere in the world. And these beliefs continue today, of course. The fear and hatred of Jews is just one of many conspiracy theories that when repeated often enough end up converting once rational people into believers, no matter how crazy the theory may be.

So, last week I was not surprised to read the story in this newspaper about a recent virtual Board of Health meeting to discuss a proposed vaccination mandate in Northampton. Some online participants made anti-Semitic comments, one of which referred to the five-member all-volunteer health board members as “unelected, rich Jewish doctors.” One participant had that very popular neo-Nazi epithet “Jews Will Not Replace Us” as his Zoom name. And, of course, there were swastikas displayed as well.

I may not have been surprised to read about this incident, but I was frightened. How could I not be? And I’m not just frightened for the Jews in this country; I’m frightened for all minority and marginalized people as well. I have often been told that what happened in the past could not possibly happen here, but I’m sorry to say that I no longer believe that.

There is a fairly large segment of our population who believe the constant and continuing lies that the 2020 election was stolen, despite formidable evidence proving its legitimacy. The lies that we cannot trust our leaders to provide for free and fair elections just keep coming and the people keep believing.

We just passed the one-year anniversary of the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol and since that horrifying event we have witnessed the disintegration of the Republican Party. Republican elected officials have descended into a spineless group of sycophants who will do whatever it takes, lawful or not, to stay in power and in the good graces of the former president, a wannabe autocrat, and of his base of true believers.

This leaves us with only one real political party, the Democratic Party, that continues to be engaged in the difficult task of governing this country for the benefit of its people. The Republicans have ceased any efforts to make the lives of their supporters, or anyone else, better during this very difficult time of COVID and economic hardship. They are now interested only in winning elections, no matter the method involved. And if they do win in the November midterm elections and take control of either the House of Representatives or the Senate, or both, we will be looking at the end of our democracy. This is how it happens, just like it did so many years ago in Germany.

It can happen here.

Karen Gardner, of Haydenville, can be reached at


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