“First They Came for the Jews…”

Published in Woonsocket Call on April 29, 2018

On April 26, 2018, the Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing on Senate Resolution No. 2696, urging law enforcement officials to recognize white nationalists and neo-Nazi groups as terrorist organizations. The Senate Resolution would enable law enforcement to pursue such groups’ activities and whereabouts with the resources and attention devoted to domestic terrorist groups. It would be tragic for the Senate panel to not pass this resolution introduced by Senators Goldin, Miller, Nesselbush, Quezada, and Crowley. Representative J. Aaron Regunberg introduced the House companion measure (H.B. 8131).

In response to last year’s racially-charged violence in Charlottesville, state legislatures across the nation have considered similar legislation. Roger Williams, founder of the Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, was a staunch advocate for religious freedom and tolerance. With that commitment, it is important for Rhode Island lawmakers to not send Senate Resolution No. 2696 to legislative purgatory but to pass it to strongly denounce the white nationalist and neo-Nazi ideologies of racial, social and religious intolerance that terrorize the state’s racial, ethnic and religious minority communities.

Anti-Semitic Incidents Increasing in Rhode Island

Last month, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) reported that the increase in anti-Semitic incidents in the Ocean State have nearly doubled from 2016 to 2017, with the number of reports jumping from 7 to 13. Let’s put a face on these incidents. According to the Jewish Alliance of Greater Rhode Island, it was reported by media that just one day after an anti-Semitic act of vandalism in the City of Pawtucket, on May 23, 2016, Stebbins Stadium in Cranston was spray painted with graffiti, including swastika symbols as well as hate messages directed to Muslim and African American communities. Among the incidents reported in 2017 by the media: a swastika burned into a sign located on a bike path in Barrington, anti- Semitic graffiti spray painted on Warwick Vets High School and a swastika made from human waste found in RISD dorm bathroom.

But, white nationalists and neo-Nazi hate ideology is also increasing throughout the nation. The increase is reflected nationally with the ADL reporting a nearly 60 percent increase.

The jarring historical imagery of the torchlight procession of supporters of Adolf Hitler moving through the Wilhelmstrasse in Berlin on the evening of January 30, 1933 came to life to Rhode Islanders and to millions of Americans last year when hundreds of neo-Nazis, white nationalists, KKK, militia members and other right-wing groups gathered for a “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Va. Carrying tiki torches, flags with swastikas and confederate flags, they came to the City’s Emancipation Park, chanting “Jews will not replace us”, “Blood and Soil” (a Nazi rallying cry), “White Lives Matter,” along with homophobic, racists and misogynistic slurs.

It’s Time for Rhode Island to Speak Out

While both GOP and Democrat Congressional lawmakers lambasted President Donald J. Trump’s choice of words for laying the blame of violence at the Charlottesville rally at the feet of both the far-right demonstrators and counter protestors, there were some who remained silent or defended his comments, saying his words were adequate.

With the increased public visibility of the neo-Nazis, white supremacist and other hate groups, and with President Trump failing to use his position and moral authority to strongly condemn the ideology of hate groups, the Rhode Island General Assembly is now positioned to take on this responsibility.

In response to the violent weekend in Charlottesville, Va., the Illinois Senate adopted a similar resolution, sponsored by Sen. Don Harmon, D-Oak Park, urging law officials to recognize white nationalists and neo-Nazi groups as terrorist organizations. As a state founded on the principle of religious freedom, Rhode Island can follow.

It is an appropriate time to remember the speech given by Martin Niemoller, a German Lutheran minister who opposed the Nazis and was sent to several concentration camps. He survived the war and explained:

“First, they came for the Jews. I was silent. I was not a Jew.
Then they came for the Communists. I was silent. I was not a Communist.
Then they came for the trade unionists. I was silent. I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for me. There was no one left to speak for me.”

For Rhode Island lawmakers, it is time for you to speak out.

Advertisements

Making Genocide and Holocaust Education Mandatory

Published in Woonsocket Call on April 26, 2015

By Herb Weiss

With newspapers reporting an increase of religious and cultural intolerance and hate crimes, it is refreshing to see the Rhode Island General Assembly pass resolutions condemning the systematic and barbarous murder of Armenians and Jews.

On Friday, April 24, Armenians across the nation stopped to remember the Ottoman authorities eight-year brutal campaign taking place 100 years ago to eliminate their ethnic group from its homeland in what is now Turkey. Both chambers of the Rhode Island General Assembly passed resolutions calling this day, “Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day” and urging President Obama and Congress to officially recognize the genocide which resulted in the estimated death of 1.5 million Armenians and to make restitution for the loss of lives, confiscated properties, those who endured slavery, starvation, torture, and unlawful deportations.

Taking Responsibility for Your Actions

On April 6, it was a personal and professional triumph for Rep. Katherine S. Kazarian (D-Dist. 63, East Providence), a fourth-generation Armenian-American, to take the lead in sponsoring Rhode Island’s House resolution to commemorate the 100th Anniversary of the Armenian Genocide of 1915. In the afternoon before the vote, the East Providence lawmaker unveiled her resolution at a ceremony in the State House State Room attended by elected state officials and fellow lawmakers.

“The only thing worse than trying to eliminate an entire generation and culture is to deny that such a genocide ever took place,” said Kazarian. “For the past 100 years, the government of Turkey has continually refused to acknowledge their part in the ethnic cleansing of the Armenian people, “she said. Until the Armenian genocide that happened 100 years ago on her ethnic group is recognized by the government of Turkey, Kazarian promised to return to the State House every year to keep the issue alive.

Rhode Island Attorney General Peter Kilmartin says, “On this 100th anniversary, it is more important than ever to remember the horror and tragedy that the Armenian people went through, and it is long overdue that as a nation, we recognize the Armenian Genocide. Hopefully, through recognition, vigilance and education, this type of history will cease to repeat itself.”

“From my first days as a legislator to today as Attorney General, I have always advocated for recognition of the Armenian Genocide, and more recently filed an amicus brief in support of the Armenian fight to seek the return of stolen Armenian Genocide era assets through the United States Courts,” says Kilmartin.

“There are many parallels between the Armenian Genocide and the Holocaust carried out by Adolf Hitler, which ultimately killed six million Jews,” says the Attorney General, stressing that the Armenian Genocide served as an example for Hitler, who used the lack of consequences for the perpetrators of the Genocide as encouragement for the Nazis in planning the Holocaust.

“When giving a speech to Nazi leaders one week before the invasion of Poland, which effectively began World War II, Hitler reportedly noted, ‘who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?,’ notes Kilmartin, saying that “some historians have even suggested that if more had been done to thwart the Ottomans’ massacre of Armenians, perhaps the Holocaust could have been prevented.”

Eradicating Religious and Cultural Bigotry

Marking the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, Buchenwald, Dachau and Bergen-Belsen concentration camps, Rep. Mia Ackerman (D-Dist. 45, Cumberland, Lincoln) submitted a resolution commemorating Holocaust Remembrance Day (Yom Ha’Shoah). The resolution was passed by the House of Representatives.

“The citizens of Rhode Island have a rich tradition of fighting those who would trample individual liberty and human dignity,” said Representative Ackerman. “We must never allow anyone to forget the time when a handful of evil people tried to turn the earth into a graveyard by systematically exterminating an entire race of people.”

The resolution, which was passed by both the House and Senate, also applauded the courageous efforts of those who took part in the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising of 1943, stating “the brave actions in April and May of 1943 stand as testimony to a rare and indomitable human spirit and extraordinary courage exhibited in the darkest hours of man’s inhumanity.”

According to the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, by 2020 there will be only 67,000 Holocaust survivors left, 57 percent who will be at least 85 years old. How can the story of the horrific holocaust be told to the younger generation when the eye witnesses are dying off?

Andy Hollinger, Director of Communications for the Washington, D.C.-based U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, makes an obvious comment. “No one who did not live through the Holocaust can experience its horrors, he says, noting that “Holocaust survivors are our best teachers.”

Today, about 80 Holocaust survivors are still telling their stories and working to educate new generations about this history at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.

“When they are no longer here we will rely on the collections — artifacts, documents, photographs, films, and other materials to tell this story,” says Hollinger, noting that the Museum is “racing to collect the evidence of the Holocaust.”

“We’re working in 50 countries on six continents to ensure this proof [witness testimonies, artifacts, and documents] is secured, preserved and made available through exhibitions and, increasingly, digitally, adds Hollinger.

Marty Cooper, Community Relations Director, Jewish Alliance of Greater Rhode, believes it is “vitally important that the next generations learn about the holocaust and other genocides and atrocities that have taken place and continue to take place.” He calls for genocide education to be mandatory and part of the middle and high school curriculum.

One of the great lessons we can learn from the Holocaust and Armenian genocide is that hatred cannot go unchallenged. It must be immediately confronted wherever it emerges, by governments, religious leaders, nonprofit and business organizations, more important by each and every one of us. We must avow that these horrendous atrocities will never happen again to future generations.

Herb Weiss, LRI ’12 is a Pawtucket writer who covers aging, health care and medical issues. He can be reached at hweissri@aol.com.