A momentous historical find has provided insight into the manner in which sentiment against a particular ethnicity can grow from the ravings of a deranged individual into a frightening national movement with catastrophic consequences. A letter authored by Adolf Hitler in 1919 speaks of removal of the Jewish people from Germany. While even he surely did not dream at the time that mass extermination was feasible, he spoke openly of cleansing his country of an element that he considered to be polluting the national character.
The enormous significance of this document from the youthful Hitler is aptly described by Steven A. Ludsin, a former member of the President’s Commission on the Holocaust and the original United States Holocaust Memorial Council, in a letter published in yesterday’s NY Times:
It shows that warnings existed that when a powerful speaker advocated that the Jewish people must be removed from Germany as a matter of national policy, his sick ideas should have been taken more seriously. Perhaps in this modern age of instant communication we can anticipate the virus of hatred and act faster and more effectively. Words have power, and anyone who ignores this may allow history to be repeated. The current economic downturn is fertile ground for hatred to spread. Let’s be vigilant.
It may start with the ravings of a lowly army corporal whom some find charismatic. As Mr. Ludsin notes, that’s when civilized society must intervene. If not, the fever might spread, and not only to marginalized sectors of the populace that are still considered by the unwary to be no threat. Without unequivocal condemnation of early manifestations of racism, the notion of forced transfer of an ethnically undesirable population will soon find expression in higher places, including prominent government ministers. Emboldened by silence, even supposedly liberal ministers may jump on the bandwagon, hoping to curry favor with a population that is hurtling toward barbarity. The problem can be especially insidious when it occurs in a country believed to be a culturally advanced liberal democracy, as was Germany.
Other red-flag factors include whether religious or cultural leaders call for anti-miscegenation measures to protect the purity of one race from mixture of blood with the “underclass,” whether there is a long-standing tradition of calling for transfer of the ethnically undesirable, and whether there is a prior record of success at such transfer, which would only feed the ugly conviction that it can be accomplished again. Ninety-two years have now passed since the Hitler letter, and 66 years since the end of his nightmarish regime. While the Holocaust is a historical event that is receding in the past, we can only thank vigilant people and organizations like Mr. Ludsin and the President’s Commission on the Holocaust, and presumably the Simon Wiesenthal Center, Abe Foxman and the Anti-Defamation League, who surely will be the first to call attention to any early warning signs of a recurrence. In the words of Mr. Ludsin, who asks that we all join in this effort, we must “anticipate the virus of hatred and act faster and more effectively. . . Let’s be vigilant.” Amen!