Years ago, I watched a tv interview with shock talk show host Jerry Springer. Jerry's parents were Holocaust survivors. At some point, his mother pulled him aside and asked him to talk to his father about getting rid of the family car. She was worried that the elder Mr. Springer was getting way too old to drive, and would get into an accident. Jerry talked to his father, but the elder was adamant about keeping the vehicle. After much prodding from his son, he finally told Jerry that he had to keep the car in case he ever had to get away.
This story is not an anomaly. I've heard of many survivors who kept a packed suitcase in their closet containing cash, clothes, maps, and important phone numbers in case they, also, had to get away. This is the long-standing trauma of anti-Semitism and fascism.
I watched tv in horror on Friday night as angry men with torches screaming "Jews Will Not Replace Us", "You (African Americans) Will Not Replace Us", and "Blood and Soil" (which is a rally cry from the Third Reich). It is 2017 and this is my country, and this should not be happening. What happened the next day was far worse. Violence, beatings, war cries, murder.
The next 24 hours brought no relief as I was inundated with comments about AntiFa and Black Lives Matter. Many with Right-leaning beliefs claimed that both groups were there, and were just as violent. I had to Google AntiFa, because I had never heard of this group prior to Sunday, as I suspect many hadn't either. It turns out that AntiFa, which is short for anti-fascism, is mainly active in South America. There are minimal chapters here in the U.S., but this movement in the U.S. is relatively small.
As a matter of self preservation and blatant curiosity, I keep tabs on many different underground groups. I've sat across the table from a Confederate Hammerskin, I've had coffee with the LaRouche supporters, I've read extensively about the Weather Underground, I'm familiar with many groups on the Right, but even more on the Left, and until Sunday, I had never heard of AntiFa. Could it be, because this group is merely an explain-away invented by the Alt-Right media to use as a false equivalency for the actions of their Nazi groups? Now, more than ever, this appears to be the case.
The president's response to the crisis in Charlottesville was pathetic. What came a couple of days later was too little, too late, but what happened today was inexcusable. This president has two White Nationalist advisors who have, likely, been in his ear for the past 24 hours, and today's press conference was the result. Never in my lifetime did I think I would hear an American president explain away the violent actions of Nazis. He said that their gathering on Friday night was peaceful. He said that some are very good people. He said that their actions were no worse than anyone else's.
Johanna Altvater Zelle was known to Jews in the Vladimir-Volynsky ghetto in the Ukraine as "Fraulein Hanna". She regularly went through the ghetto targeting Jewish children. Survivors would tell stories about Fraulein Hanna beckoning a toddler to come to her, picking that toddler up and squeezing him tightly until he screamed. She then grabbed him by the legs, and with full force, smashed the toddler into the ghetto wall killing him. She would carry candy in one pocket and a pistol in the other. She would tell the Jewish children to open their mouths for candy, then put the pistol in instead and pull the trigger. She was tried twice, and acquitted for war crimes.
When I read about her, I was angry. There were many, many others like her who got away with murder. I wondered how others could stand by and watch this unfold and explain it away or do nothing. This was, of course, before Saturday, and before the "AntiFa/BLM boogieman" comments on Sunday, and before 45 made his speech today. Richard Spencer, one of the organizers of the "Unite the Right" hate rally and proud American Nazi, bragged that he and his Nazis could beat the counter protestors to death with their bare hands. There is precedent for this, because others, like Fraulein Hanna, did.
There are many people of color, fellow Jews, LGBTQ people, and others feeling like they need a plan to get away. When I first heard of the Holocaust survivors with their suitcases in their closets, my instinct was to want to take their hands, lean in and tell them that they don't need to worry about getting away, they are in America, they are safe, and this will never happen again. Now, as I sit here, nervously typing, I'm wondering if I should pack a suitcase.