People think anti-Semitism has vanished, but it still manages to sprout from the mud

04/29/2014 5:27 PM

04/29/2014 5:27 PM

A known neo-Nazi shoots people he thinks are Jews, but they are not. Surprise. Jews and Christians socialize.

When one has a limited view of what a healthy civilized population is, it’s difficult to know who to shoot. In reaction to the shootings, Steve Rose wrote about being raised in Johnson County (4-20, Commentary, “Anti-Semitism in Johnson County is not the norm”).

Sixty-something years ago, his Jewish family moved there, where they never experienced anti-Semitism, as far as he could tell. Maybe that’s because, until federally mandated fair-housing laws were enacted, Jews and African-Americans were not even allowed to buy houses in Prairie Village.

The anti-Semitism didn’t disappear. It was written out of suburban city ordinances after World War II. Check it out at the Johnson County Museum.

Mr. Rose wonders whether they were raised “in a bubble.” It’s also possible that Americans, after learning what happened to 6 million European Jews and others, at the hands of racist and paranoid Nazis, decided they didn’t want to be perceived as sharing anti-Semitic tendencies with people like that.

Nothing says “Welcome neighbor” like a tidy postwar village on the prairie, selling affordable Cape Cods to returning GIs, some of whom served with said minorities for the first time.

After witnessing organized mass killings and deportations to death camps, it was discouraging to hear agonizing personal stories, or see what anti-Semitism did to the cultures and history of communities stripped of their Jews. Instead, decades of embarrassed silence after the war, both here and abroad, were common. Some survivors spoke out, but mainly, people wanted to go forward, start anew.

Sometimes you just have to laugh.

At the community-seating table in a popular Los Angeles bistro in January, we sat with several locals, who seemed educated and curious. When one diner discovered that my husband was the son of a Holocaust survivor, she recounted her visit to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and how it had moved her.

She remembered the 1930s summit where each country turned down its chance to protect German Jews from Adolf Hitler’s impending threats. We listened respectfully until she magically concluded that Hitler became a scapegoat because when other countries forfeited their chance to emigrate Jews, it forced him to kill them, as he had originally intended.

The drive back to the hotel was probably one of the most dangerous I’ve ever driven, eyes full of tears as we repeatedly squealed her punch line, inducing peals of laughter as we screamed out of control, seeing double the taillights of the cars ahead. What else can you do, when you know your children’s great-great grandmother was shot in the head one night for fun because Hitler had to do what Hitler had to do? Poor Hitler!

And sometimes you can’t laugh. This month reactionaries in the conflict shaping up in Ukraine distributed leaflets ordering Jews to register or pay fines. It was thought to be a hoax, but it’s still not funny.

And then there is the Jewish waitress, who told us that someone had the gall to tell her that these kinds of attacks on Jews were related to the blood moon and other natural phenomenon. So at every lunar eclipse, the white hoods and burning crosses come out and involuntarily mow down Jews and African-Americans?

There are still survivors who tell their stories, becoming fewer every year. My mother-in-law tells hers, and her grandchildren expect to pass it on as long as they live, too.

It’s not just our family’s history but a collective resource for the education of people like the shooter who thought he was killing Jews that day. Had he any education or interest at all in what is true, instead of accepting the ignorance taught him with whatever other insufficient upbringing he had, three people would have had routine plans that Sunday, instead of funerals later that week.

This man will go ignorant to his cold and lonely grave. He could have learned something, instead of believing insignificant lies based on nothing more than hatred and stupidity, proving of no historic significance or importance.

Like Steve Rose, I’d like to think this crime is out of place in Johnson County; furthermore, out of place everywhere. Teach children what happened to people and why, and still happens to others because of hateful ignorance, stupidity and cruelty.

Read a book about what really happened to someone, discuss it and let your children know that they, too, could be mistaken for Jews. “Through Eva’s Eyes” is a true story about a child’s surviving the Holocaust, written and illustrated by Phoebe Unterman, my daughter. Available at Rainy Day Books or at www.throughevaseyes.com.

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