Tag Archives: Nazi

Why Donald Trump Has Scared Me Back to the US

Last month I wrote and published this piece in the Sydney Morning Herald

I grew up in Ronald Reagan’s America and moved to Sydney 16 years ago. I have made regular short visits to the US, but none have been as long nor as important as the one I’ll embark on soon.

President Donald Trump would be a dangerous disaster. His chances at success have been dismissed for months yet he is the Republican presidential candidate. I cannot sit idly assuming that Hillary Clinton will defeat him. It’s time for me to go and help.

In 1992, I loved both Bill and Hillary Clinton. After 12 years of Republican presidents, the promise of the Clintons in the White House was heady. They were young and part of a generation just coming into their own. It was an electric feeling, being in my early 20s, and helping bring change to America.

I was elected a delegate to the 1992 Democratic National Convention, served on the Clinton campaign staff, worked on his 1993 inaugural committee and then in the White House for most of a year. Even after I went back to finish my university degree I occasionally worked on events for the president and first lady, including President Clinton’s first visit to Northern Ireland and his 1996 re-election campaign. I was proud to be part of what they were building.

But as the century ended I had become disillusioned. I hated the way Monica Lewinsky, the young intern with whom President Clinton had an affair, was treated – by the president, by the first lady, by the media, by the gossips. She was abandoned and sacrificed. The president’s denials and the investigations they led to abused the commitment of many loyal staff. The waste of a year of the presidency was, to me, unconscionable.

I moved to Australia, happy to leave American politics to those with stronger stomachs. I could fall asleep beneath the Southern Cross thinking, “Not my problem.”

But this year is different. It’s different because Donald Trump is dangerous. It’s different because  against all logical predictions a majority of British voters want to leave the European Union, demonstrating that seemingly ridiculous political propositions can prove more popular than expected. It’s different because Pauline Hanson is back in the Senate reminding me I should never underestimate the polling power of fear-mongering and scapegoating. Fascism has a habit of arriving as populism, being dismissed by intellectuals as buffoonery and bringing darkness to the lives of many.

I spent most of the last year in Europe where I thought much more about Nazism than I’ve had occasion to in the past. At a museum in Munich I copied down this quote from Karl Zuckmayer, a writer who, having seen him speaking in the beer halls of Bavaria in 1923, said that Adolf Hitler knew “how to rouse those sullen crowds … not by arguments but by the fanaticism of his performance”. Crowds he described as “distraught petit-bourgeois citizens whose world was crumbling due to the degeneration of their accustomed values”.

I thought immediately of Trump and his comments about Mexicans bringing crime and diseases to the US and his suggestion to ban Muslims from entering the country. These are not policy proposals. This is Trump trading on the fears and insecurities of his core constituency: working-class white Americans whose world is “crumbling due to the degeneration of their accustomed values”.

When we talk about Nazis our focus is on the awful end of the story. We lose sight of the subtleties of the beginning. It’s easy to categorise Hitler and his fellow Nazi leaders as the embodiment of evil, as monsters.

But in the beginning they were men with ugly ideas and an angry populace who fed on them.

It’s not the monster we have to be on guard for, it’s the human being on the road to becoming monstrous. It’s the people who are convinced that monstrous acts will solve their problems. Do I think President Trump will round up Muslim Americans? Or build a wall on the Mexican border? Not really, but most people never thought the Nazis would murder six million Jews. History has shown it’s better to err on the side of caution when dealing with fascists.

When we talk about Nazis our focus is on the awful end of the story. We lose sight of the subtleties of the beginning… But in the beginning they were men with ugly ideas and an angry populace who fed on them.

So I’m going to leave Australia for a while and help elect Hillary Clinton, a candidate I support but I don’t love. I am going to do what I can to stop Donald Trump while he is merely an ugly human being.

As the Italian-Jewish Holocaust survivor Primo Levi wrote: “It happened, and thus it can happen again.” Vigilance is the price of liberty – and simple decency, too. It’s time to stop commenting from the sidelines and re-join the battle.

Elizabeth Everett Cage is an American-Australian writer.

“Who Do You Think You Are?” with Andrew Denton

Remember when I said I’d take a break from Holocaust stuff? I think you send a vibe of interest into the universe and queue stuff up to come to you – literally, though perhaps without intent.

I just watched the Andrew Denton Who Do You Think You Are? in which he traces his family back to a town in Poland. There he met a man in his 90s who spelt out the whole thing  out to him – no, no one left, rounded up, forced to destroy their synagogue and holy books, forced into a ghetto, then transported to Treblinka. Andrew then travelled there and met the last surviving survivor of the, like, 60/800,000 (60 survivors from 800,000 prisoners brought to the camp). It was a straight-up death camp. You died within hours of arrival; they could and did kill up to 12,000 people a day. The man he met had been selected as slave labour – among the things he did was shave heads. The Nazis, he said, used the hair in the mattresses on submarines because it didn’t absorb moisture. True or apocryphal?

From http://curiosahistoria.blogspot.com.au/2008/07/treblinka.html
From http://curiosahistoria.blogspot.com.au/2008/07/treblinka.html

Also in Poland he met the Chief Rabbi of Poland who showed him a book – a memory book of the town his family were from. There are 1000+ of these books, published in Israel after the war, filled with the memories of places the Nazis removed from maps, as Jewish places anyway – each filled with dozens or hundreds of stories of those who survived or had the good fortune of getting out while they could. Stories of the sorrow, grief, shock and anger but also melancholic remembrance of love and happiness.

How do you deal with the descendants of people who did that? I get, and agree, that the sins of the father should not be visited upon the son. But how will I find Germans, Poles, etc. I can talk to about this stuff. I can’t just travel through remarking on the pretty countryside. That’s part of my fascination with them. What shadow is cast by the knowledge that your parents, grandparents, at minimum bore silent witness and more likely actively participated in some way. Not everyone’s grandfather dropped the canisters of gas but some did.  I have to find some literature on this issue – descendants of Nazis talking about it.