My Jewish Great Aunts Didn’t Die In The Holocaust For The GOP To Appease Neo-Nazis

As the nation mourns the deadliest attack on Jews in U.S. history, President Trump and the GOP continue to spread anti-Semitic conspiracy theories.
Protesters demonstrate near Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life Synagogue where President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump were visiting a memorial in Pittsburgh, Tuesday, Oct. 30, 2018. The Trumps came to Pittsburgh to honor the victims of a mass shooting at the synagogue last week. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

Protesters demonstrate near Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life Synagogue where President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump were visiting a memorial in Pittsburgh, Tuesday, Oct. 30, 2018. The Trumps came to Pittsburgh to honor the victims of a mass shooting at the synagogue last week. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

My Jewish great aunts perished in Europe. I know nothing about them. My mother was born in Brooklyn and never talked about the girls. My mother told me her grandmother, Rose, was born on a farm near Budapest, Hungary — she and sister hid in a cellar when Cossacks rode. My mother told me her Grandma Rose came to the U.S. when she was 14. The remainder of Rose’s family was lost in the Holocaust. My great grandmother made it out. My great aunts did not.

Whenever the topic of the Holocaust arose, my mother would shut down the conversation, saying, “It gives me nightmares.”

After my mother died in 2013, I found the photos she had hidden away in an envelope she’d marked “European cousins.”

When Trump was elected, I vowed in my aunts’ memory I would never be silent about the oppression of any people.

As Nobel Prize winner and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel said:

“I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. Sometimes we must interfere.”

On Saturday, 11 people were killed by a shooter at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh’s Squirrel Hill neighborhood. The shooter, armed with an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle and three handguns, rampaged for 20 minutes, after shouting “all Jews must die.”

The shooter frequently wrote on the social network Gab where he threatened Jewish groups and touted refugee caravan conspiracies. On one of his social media pages, the shooter wrote of the caravan of asylum-seekers: “HIAS likes to bring invaders in that kill our people. I can’t sit by and watch my people get slaughtered. Screw your optics, I’m going in.”

HIAS is a nonprofit, founded in 1881. Guided by Jewish ethics, the organization “stands for a world in which refugees find welcome, safety, and freedom.”

Trump’s propaganda network, Fox News, has often pushed a connection between the refugee caravan and George Soros. Anti-Semites characterize philanthropist and Holocaust survivor Soros as the head of a “globalist” effort that is “seeking to undermine a white, Christian social order,” as Talia Lavin wrote in The Washington Post.

Republican leaders in Congress have amplified the anti-Semitic narrative. When asked if he believed Soros was paying the Kavanaugh protesters, Republican Senator Chuck Grassley said, “I tend to believe it,” adding, “I believe it fits into his attack mode that he has and how he uses his billions and billions of resources.”

The night before the Pittsburgh shooting, at an event in the White House, Trump chuckled and echoed the shout of “lock him up” at the mention of George Soros’ name.

“The numerous statements [Trump’s] made, calling himself a ‘nationalist,’ crowds at his rallies chanting threats against George Soros — it’s all connected,” said Cecillia Wang, deputy director of the American Civil Liberties Union.

When reporters asked Trump about solutions after the synagogue shooting, he parroted the NRA’s lethal talking point: “If there was an armed guard inside the temple, they would have been able to stop him.”

On the day of the shooting, Trump read scripted comments from a teleprompter, denouncing anti-Semitism. But his words rang hollow, as if spoken by a ventriloquist’s dummy.

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Later that evening, while Americans grieved, Trump retweeted hatemonger Dinesh D’Souza’s interview with NRA spokesperson Dana Loesch. Trump commented, “Very interesting!”

D’Souza is a convicted felon who Trump pardoned in May. D’Souza has a record of making anti-Semitic statements, and retweeting hashtags like #BurnTheJews.

After over a dozen pipe bombs were delivered last week to CNN and Trump critics, D’Souza tweeted conspiracy theories: “Fake sexual assault victims. Fake refugees. Now fake mail bombs. We are all learning how the media left are masters of distortion, deflection & deception.”

D’Souza’s book, The Big Lie: Exposing the Nazi Roots of the American Left, posits a conspiracy theory, linking liberals to Nazis. He tweeted about his book from inside the White House last year, while visiting with now-ousted Trump aides Steve Bannon and Seb Gorka. D’Souza subsequently deleted his tweets.

At the time, I tweeted at D’Souza, asking why he had deleted his photo with Bannon. He responded: “Mainly to stir up conspiracy theories on the part of the kooky left.” He deleted his response to me, as well.

As Eric Alterman presciently wrote for The Nation last year: “Dinesh D’Souza’s book smearing George Soros is factually false, morally reprehensible, and nothing new.

“Incredibly, this is where our politics has taken us in 2017, a time when the murderous madness that seized so much of Europe in the 1930s and ’40s appears to be repeating itself—farcically, perhaps, but dangerously nevertheless.”

Soros’ son, Alexander Soros, wrote about “the poison of anti-Semitism” in a New York Times Op-Ed last week:

“But with Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, things got worse. White supremacists and anti-Semites like David Duke endorsed his campaign. Mr. Trump’s final TV ad famously featured my father; Janet Yellen, chairwoman of the Federal Reserve; and Lloyd Blankfein, chairman of Goldman Sachs — all of them Jewish — amid dog-whistle language about ‘special interests’ and ‘global special interests.’”

On the morning of the Squirrel Hill shooting, I tweeted in my horror and outrage: “My Jewish cousins perished in Europe. I will not be silent while Trump incites terror and murder. Trump’s ‘both sides’ dog whistles have lethal consequences.”

Robby Starbuck, a conservative video and film producer (whose tweets D’Souza has recently retweeted), responded in a tweet to me: “Nancy you’re not being helpful with this. Trump’s daughter, son in law and grandchildren are Jewish. He’s forged the strongest relationship of any President with Israel that we’ve ever seen.”

Trump and his supporters frequently lean on the president’s daughter Ivanka and Jewish son-in-law Jared Kushner to prop up their flimsy case. But theirs is a specious and despicable argument. It’s designed to whitewash what is more true: Trump’s bigotry and xenophobia provoke and inspire hatred and violence.

As for their argument about Trump’s support of Israel, rabbi and legal affairs columnist Jay Michaelson wrote for The Daily Beast:

“No amount of pro-Israel policies—no embassy in Jerusalem, no encouragement of settlements, no increased aid—outweighs the existential danger to Jews of the Trump movement’s coddling, or even overt encouragement, of anti-Semitism, racism, and nativism.”

When Holocaust survivors and their progeny say “Never Again,” we mean never again for any oppressed people — including refugees who are fleeing terror and torture. The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum issued a statement, saying: “The Museum reminds all Americans of the dangers of unchecked hatred and antisemitism which must be confronted wherever they appear and calls on all Americans to actively work to promote social solidarity and respect the dignity of all individuals.”

The day after the Tree of Life shooting, Trump tweeted about “Wacky Tom Steyer,” an outspoken Trump critic who was interviewed that morning by Jake Tapper on CNN. Steyer was one of the recipients of a mailed pipe bomb last week. His father was Jewish.

Republican House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy named Steyer in a tweet last week, along with two other Jewish Democratic Party donors. McCarthy tweeted: “We cannot allow Soros, Steyer, and Bloomberg to BUY this election!” McCarthy subsequently deleted his tweet.

Monday morning, Trump tweeted, again calling the media “enemy of the people.” While Trump attacked the free press, a third suspected pipe bomb targeting CNN was intercepted. The historical roots of the phrase “enemy of the people” are telling:

“The phrase was adopted in Nazi Germany — ‘If someone wears the Jewish star, he is an enemy of the people,’ Hitler’s propaganda minister wrote.”

Earlier this month, Trump lauded Republican Rep. Greg Gianforte for his criminal assault of a reporter. I wrote for Rantt Media about how Trump’s attacks against journalists threaten democracy and foment violence. As I noted, Harvard professor Daniel Ziblatt, co-author of the book, How Democracies Die, recently said in a radio interview, “His words matter, they have real consequences.”

Ahmed Baba wrote for Rantt Media last week: “What Donald Trump and his allies are doing is dangerous. This isn’t a game. Lives are at risk. The President of the United States is cultivating an environment where political violence is encouraged, and gaslighting his supporters into a state of such hatred and delusion that they are willing to concoct half-baked theories rather than believe the ‘fake news’ media.”

Trump tweeted an ostensible clarification on Monday night — he only considers the “Fake News Media” the “Enemy of the People.” Make no mistake — he was not clarifying. On the contrary. By repeating the refrains, discrediting and attacking the media, Trump is tearing a page out of Hitler’s playbook.

Leaders in Nazi Germany used the word “Lügenpresse,” meaning “lying press.” Rick Noack wrote for The Washington Post in 2016: “The verbal attacks against journalists soon turned into physical violence in Germany… The consequences of that rhetoric — of which the term ‘Lügenpresse’ was an important component under propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels — were horrifying.”

Monday evening, Vice President Mike Pence introduced a “Jews for Jesus rabbi” to open a campaign rally. As tweeted in a thread by Rafael Shimunov, “rather than praying for the victims and survivors of the Pittsburgh synagogue attack, Mike Pence’s Christian Rabbi prays — by name — for each Republican candidate on a list given to him.”

Journalist Matthew Yglesias tweeted, “the fake rabbi is bad but remember when they left Jews out of the Holocaust Remembrance statement and said Hitler didn’t kill anyone with gas?”

Monday night, Trump and his propaganda partners at Fox News continued to stoke fear and hatred in advance of midterm elections. Trump tweeted that he’d be interviewed by Laura Ingraham on Fox. Earlier in the day, Trump announced that he was sending 5200 troops to the border. The refugee caravan of asylum-seekers is about 1000 miles from the border and is traveling about 20 miles a day.

Trump hasn’t mentioned the children traveling with the refugee caravan, about 2300 minors. “These children are the most vulnerable of asylum seekers: some as young as a few months, many swaddled in blankets or asleep in strollers whose wheels were coming off after two weeks on the road,” reported The Washington Post.

Ingraham’s attacks on George Soros and the refugee caravan have been relentless. Adam Al-Ali, co-founder of Rantt Media, tweeted a compilation of Ingraham’s tweets and noted that her interview of Trump comes “two days after a massacre at a synagogue by a white supremacist that believed Jews were destroying America by supporting refugees and week after Soros was mailed a bomb.”

More than 82,000 people signed an open letter saying the president is not welcome in Pittsburgh unless he denounces white nationalism and stops targeting and endangering minorities. The mayor of Pittsburgh, Bill Peduto, asked Trump not to visit “while we are burying the dead.”

The White House announced Monday that Trump would visit Pittsburgh anyhow. My rabbi, Jill Zimmerman, tweeted: “I can’t believe they are going ANYWAY. Completely disrespectful, inappropriate, wrong, and disgusting. Have you no decency, sir?”

Local and national officials declined to appear with Trump in Pittsburgh. Thousands of protesters, of all faiths, marched in the City on Tuesday.

Mayor Peduto said of Trump’s NRA-informed solution, “Once you arm and have people in synagogues, in mosques, in churches, and schools, you start to have them in daycares… We might as well move into a prison at that point because we’re living in a police state.”

This morning, Trump tweeted about his visit to Pittsburgh, how nicely he and Melania were treated. He failed to mention anything about the victims or their families. He didn’t call anti-Semitism and the mass shooting of Jews in a synagogue “disgraceful.” Instead, he used that word to berate the “fake news.”

As Anne Frank wrote in her diary: “I still believe, In spite of everything, that people are truly good at heart.” I believe the same. A crowdfunding campaign started by two Muslim groups, Celebrate Mercy and MPower Change, has raised more than $210,000 for the victims and families of the synagogue shooting.

My mother loved James Baldwin’s writing. He wrote, “It is certain, in any case, that ignorance, allied with power, is the most ferocious enemy justice can have.”

How do we defeat this enemy? As New York Rabbi David Ingber wrote in a Facebook post after the synagogue shooting: “Today we will confidently and fearlessly stand and say no to hate. No to ignorance. No to bigotry. No to racism and sexism. No to white supremacy. No to anti-semitism. No to homophobia and transphobia. No to xenophobia and to the ugly rhetoric of our president and his debasement of basic human dignity… We will say yes to being firefighters – as MLK put it – vigilantly putting out the fires arsonists who spread lies and ignorance ignite.”

On November 6th, say no to Republicans, their president, and the infection of fear, hatred, and lies they spread. Vote for human dignity, vote for Democrats, vote for gun sense candidates. Voting is stronger than hate.

The 11 people killed at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh were the anchors of their Jewish community. Here’s a look at the lives they lived. Never again, never forget, never be silent.

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Opinion // Anti-Semitism / Donald Trump / GOP / Jews