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A Jewish Response To Trump Being Called Hitler

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The Washington Post via Getty Images

I've been hearing a lot about Hitler lately, and nothing makes you feel more Jewish than hearing about Hitler.

There's the photo of a Donald Trump rally crowd with right hands raised and videos of his Brownshirt-adjacent followers attacking black protesters. That "Saturday Night Live" episode with the sight gag swastika and Darrel Hammond's Donald boasting, "The media is saying they haven't seen anything like this, not since Germany in the 1930s."

Comedian Louis C.K., Mexican president Vincente Fox and talk show hosts Glenn Beck, Bill Maher, Jimmy Kimmel and the ladies of The View have all compared Trump to Hitler, too. Even Anne Frank's step-sister said it.

Adolph came up again, in a different context, during last Sunday's Democratic debate when CNN's Anderson Cooper asked Bernie Sanders if he was downplaying his Judaism when his answer to the audience question "Is God relevant?" was apparently considered too multicultural.

"No, I'm very proud of being Jewish. And being Jewish is so much of what I am," he said, before going where he really had no choice but to go.

"Look, my father's family was wiped out by Hitler in the Holocaust. I know about what crazy and radical and extremist politics mean. I learned that lesson as a tiny, tiny child when my mother would take me shopping, and we would see people working in stores who had numbers on their arms because they were in Hitler's concentration camps."

For those us of who are not particularly religious, God's relevance doesn't necessarily factor into our Judaism, not like the Holocaust does. Being Jewish is also "an essential part of who I am as a human being" but not because I believe in a supernatural deity who used to engage a lot but has been on a pretty long miracle break.

The confusion comes from the fact that "Jew" is both a religious and an ethnic term rather than, say, Irish Catholic which uses different ones. I'm Jewish not because of my belief system but because my parents are Jewish, and their parents before them pretty much all the way back to the slave days in Egypt.

I'm also Jewish because if I had been born in Germany in the 1930s, the Nazis would have put me on a box car, sent me to a death camp, gassed me in a shower and thrown my body in an oven. Atheism wouldn't have saved me from Hitler.

(Ironically, an earlier spate of anti-Semitism did save my great-grandparents as they fled Russian pograms burning down Jewish villages, arriving in Canada before the wars.)

There were almost no other Jews in my town growing up and we didn't go to temple. When I had a bar mitzvah we did it at the beach, and mostly to make my bubbeh happy. But my connection to Judaism ramped up once I studied the Holocaust in high school.

We learned about how Hitler rose to power by blaming Jews for all of Germany's problems, from the Treaty of Versailles to hyperinflation. How he launched his political career in 1920 with a speech that declared "citizenship determined by race with no Jew to be considered a German" and "religious freedom except for religions which endanger the German race."

How he claimed he would make Germany great again.

We learned how Hitler was democratically elected in 1933, and then five years later of Kristallnacht, the "Night of Broken Glass," when thousands of synagogues and businesses were torched, Jews were murdered and raped and over 30,000 incarcerated in concentration camps.

We learned of the Final Solution, the extermination of six million Jews -- alongside six million Roma, Slavs, communists, homosexuals and political prisoners -- and saw footage of the gas chambers and mass graves, the bone thin arms and bugged-out eyes behind barbed wire.

This was no doubt hard for my classmates to witness. But if they'd been born there during that terrible time, it still wouldn't have been them. It would have been me.

When I studied in Europe during second-year university every city I visited had a former Jewish district. It took a few more years before I had the nerve to go to Germany and visit the Dachau concentration camp. It didn't feel like ancient history. I mean, one of my parents' older friends went to school with Anne Frank.

Trump's scapegoating of Muslims, Hispanics, blacks and other "others" for political gain is exposing a racist ugliness, and inflaming it. Who knows how big the fire might get?

It's a little strange to be an invisible minority, to look like a stereotypical privileged white dude but know that some people would hate me if they could tell. You might think such antisemitism is long gone. It's not.

The last time I wrote about being Jewish -- in a plea to not repeat the same fear-based mistakes with Syrian refugees that we did with Jews fleeing Germany -- my article was discovered by neo-Nazis, out and proud on Twitter.

A 2014 poll by the Anti-Defamation League found that 14 per cent of Canadians held anti-Jewish views, which was more than the nine per cent in the U.S. This wasn't about Israeli policies, either, but old-timey tropes.

While one question asked if "Jews are more loyal to Israel than to this country," the rest ranged from "Jews have too much power in the business world" and "Jews have too much control over global affairs" to "Jews are responsible for most of the world's wars" and "Jews still talk too much about what happened to them in the Holocaust."

It's worse overseas. Last year, The Atlantic ran a story headlined "Is It Time for the Jews to Leave Europe?" noting 50 per cent of racist attacks in France targeted Jews, who are one per cent of the population. It also reported a right-wing politician in Hungary had "called on the government to draw up a list of all the Jews in the country who might pose a 'national-security risk'" and that a survey found 69 per cent of Greek adults "hold anti-Semitic views." Last month, Newsweek ran a story of France's Jews fleeing in record numbers, many for London which, in turn, saw a "61 per cent increase in anti-Semitic crime in 2015." At an Oxford university debate, someone yelled "slaughter the Jews!"

Matthew Heimbach, the white nationalist singled out for attacking a black woman at a Trump rally, wrote on his Traditionalist Youth Network website in 2014, "International Jewry and the Jewish State are dedicated to subversion, manipulation, and total control over the worlds finances, media, governments, and our personal lives."

Trump was also endorsed by David Duke, the former KKK grand wizard and presidential candidate, who proclaims on his site that "the Jewish establishment, i.e. every major Jewish organization of all types of Jews - is working for our genocide."

As hard as it is to hear Hitler's name all over the news, let it at least remind us why we must stop Trump and all leaders who traffic in racism and xenophobia before such hate defines anyone else.

One other Hitler story went viral this week, an old New York Times article from 1922 headlined "New Popular Idol Rises In Bavaria."

"Several reliable, well-informed sources confirmed the idea that Hitler's anti-Semitism was not so genuine or violent as it sounded, and that he was merely using anti-Semitic propaganda as a bait to catch masses of followers and keep them aroused, enthusiastic, and in line for the time when his organization is perfected and sufficiently powerful to be employed effectively for political purposes."

Trump is not Hitler, the Iraq War wasn't WWI, and the Great Recession wasn't the Great Depression. But his scapegoating of Muslims, Hispanics, blacks and other "others" for political gain is exposing a racist ugliness, and dangerously inflaming it.

Super Tuesday exit polls found as much as 78 percent of Republican voters in some southern states support banning Muslims from entering the U.S. This week Trump raised the stakes again, telling CNN outright that "I think Islam hates us."

Who knows how big the fire might get?

"Never forget" became a Jewish slogan in hopes our collective memory might prevent another Holocaust, but also because we can't forget. It defines us.

So as hard as it is to hear Hitler's name all over the news, let it at least remind us why we must stop Trump and all leaders who traffic in racism and xenophobia before such hate defines anyone else.

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