Using Holocaust and Nazi Analogies in American Politics: An Interview with Professor Gavriel Rosenfeld

On the 29th of November 2016, State representative Frank Hornstein (DFL) organized a public lecture through the Sabo Center for Democracy and Citizenship at Augsburg College entitled The Use of Holocaust and Nazi Analogies in American Politics. The speaker for the event, Professor Gavriel Rosenfeld (Fairfield University), was interviewed for this month’s scholar spotlight.

 

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An Open Letter to Donald Trump

Below is an open letter sent to President-elect Donald Trump by Generations of the Shoah International.


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November 30, 2016

Donald J. Trump
President-elect of the United States
Trump Tower
725 Fifth Avenue
New York, NY 10022

Dear President-elect Trump:

In your election night speech, you said, “Now it’s time for America to bind the wounds of division. It is time for us to come together as one united people.” Instead, those divisions are escalating. When members of the alt-right meet in Washington, DC and question if Jews are really people, it is time for moral leadership to put a stop to hate speech, to anti-Semitism, to racism.

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The Use of the Holocaust and Nazi Comparisons in Contemporary American Politics: November 29th

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Dr. Gavriel Rosenfeld

Minnesota State Representative Frank Hornstein is inviting students and community members to a guest lecture with Dr. Gavriel Rosenfeld, Professor of History at Fairfield University. Dr. Rosenfeld’s presentation, titled The Use of the Holocaust and Nazi Comparisons in Contemporary American Politics, will discuss the implications of comparisons between the Holocaust and the current political climate. Rep. Hornstein writes:

“For the past year, I have been researching the use of Holocaust and Nazi comparisons in the contemporary American political scene as a fellow with the Sabo Center for Democracy & Citizenship at Augsburg College. The use of these comparisons is quite common; for example, Donald Trump is compared to Adolf Hitler on an almost daily basis. The Iranian regime was routinely compared to Nazi Germany during last summer’s debate on the Iran nuclear agreement, while some in the gun lobby blame the Holocaust on gun control measures. Nazi comparisons are often made in a variety of issue debates ranging from abortion to climate change. The phenomenon has significant implications for how the Holocaust is remembered, and how history is interpreted. It also has profound and complex impacts on American civil discourse.”

The lecture will be Tuesday, November 29th at 2:00pm. Those interested in attending the lecture are invited to attend in person at Augsburg College in the Riverside Room in Christensen Center, or participate online. For more information or to register, log onto the lecture’s Eventbrite page.

In addition to Rep. Hornstein, the event is sponsored by the Sabo Center.

Sounding the Alarm: Comparing and Contrasting History in the Trump Era

Early this week Frank Navarro, a United States Holocaust Memorial Museum trained teacher who has taught at Mountain View High School in California for 40 years, was put on leave after a parent complained about the parallels he was drawing in his world studies class. He was accused of comparing Trump to Hitler, but in actuality he had only pointed out the connections between Trump’s presidential campaign and Hitler’s rise to power.

On September 1 of this year, Holocaust scholar Michael Berenbaum wrote in the article With gratitude toward Donald Trump, how as an educator, he was grateful to Trump for making it easier for him to explain to his students, how it was possible for the Nazis and Hitler to come to power. In my own classroom, it is my students who have made the connections, as I certainly did not have to spell it out for them.  We all agree that Trump is not Hitler, but certainly the rhetoric and unabashed racism, antisemitism and xenophobia unleashed by his campaign reminds us of the tactics used by Hitler, the Nazis and his followers.

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November 9th: Infamous Past, Disturbing Present

When I checked my departmental mailbox this week there was a postcard from the UMN administration that couldn’t be more timely: it showed two students wearing maroon and gold, hugging — one blonde and Caucasian and the other black and Somali — and a very simple phrase: “You are here. We like that.”

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One might wonder why such an obvious message would be at all necessary at a major American public University. The political reality that has unfolded in this country over the last months — reaching its culmination on Tuesday — has sadly shown that this reminder is more necessary than ever. Basic democratic norms, pluralism and willingness to coexist peacefully with people of different religions, languages and origins, has proven not to be a given for millions of Americans.

This chilling eye-opener comes on a fateful date. The night of November 9th marks the 78th anniversary of Nazi Germany’s state-sponsored riots known as Kristallnacht (Night of Broken Glass), a turning point in Hitler’s anti-Jewish policy. Before I read about Kristallnacht in books I had heard about that infamous night from my father, who remembers to this day how the police came to his home in Pirmasens, a small town in the Palatinate region, and arrested his father. By fortune, and unlike so many other Jewish families, they were able to leave Germany in time.

The Kristallnacht commemoration teaches that democratic institutions and values are not automatically sustained and that a modern society can become numbed to the fate of its minorities. This day reminds us what occurs when a community based on mutual acceptance has been destroyed. This day urges us to be mindful that the path that leads from verbal incitement to discriminatory policy and murderous action can be very short.

The Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies November/December newsletter is devoted to this historical event and features a number of educational resources (bibliographies, testimonies, artwork, newspaper articles). In this newsletter we ask our readers to teach the lessons of the past to wind back the divisive rhetoric that has been unleashed.

 Alejandro Baer is the Stephen C. Feinstein Chair and Director of the Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies.