The US and The Holocaust

If you haven’t watched Ken Burn’s latest documentary, The US and the Holocaust, on PBS I highly recommend it. You can stream it on

I feel like I have studied quite a bit about the Holocaust. I read Anne Frank in elementary school, read Night by Ellie Wiesel in high school, taken a number of history courses on WWII, visited Holocaust museums from Germany, to DC to St. Petersburg, FL, watched endless movies and documentaries, and visited concentration camps in Eastern Europe. None of that gave me the same perspective as Burn’s work, that of the American perspective, while it was happening.

I knew that Americans were highly isolationist at the start of the war, but what struck me most is how similar the attitudes of Americans at the time mirror our times today. Immigration was considered a bad thing, refugees were not welcomed, there was a huge group led by Charles Lindbergh called America First, which was for isolationism and racism, even promoting the building of walls around America, people did not believe the news about the treatment of Jews and called it fake, fear of “the other” was rampant and those fires were stoked by some politicians.

It was almost as if a certain past American president had seen this documentary and said, let’s do all these same things again because I can create an empire out of stoking these fears.

What we have to fear is not speaking out about politicians who want to limit the rights, especially of women and minorities. If we don’t, things like the Holocaust happen again. Like in Ukraine as we speak. I had no idea that the word Genocide was created as a descriptor of the Holocaust and we have it happening right now by Putin.

A phrase in Burn’s documentary, “The structures of our civilized lives fall away very easily,” scared me the most. The striking down of Roe, and doing away with voting rights, are just the beginning of the stripping away of rights. If we don’t fight back the people who want to take away rights then we quickly find ourselves in a fascist world that is much harder to take back once the rights are gone.

Eleanor Roosevelt wrote at the time, “There is no compromise for the things we know are wrong.” We know that it is wrong to treat humans differently based on their race, sex, orientation, or beliefs, but people justify it, usually they say for a better economy or for trying to keep the status quo. Denying everyone equal rights does neither of those things. Our economy flourishes when everyone does better.

Please watch the US and the Holocaust and see the parallels between then and now. Allowing these kind of ideals to take hold in America is dooming us to repeat history we should have learned from.

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