Enough with the Nazi comparisons
As the grandson of an Auschwitz survivor, I am always angered and saddened when confronted with comparisons of modern day organizations to the Nazi Party. Jim Donovan’s and Tim Pickwell’s use of Nazi imagery to hyperbolize opposition to bans against public smoking and plastic bags is both reckless and dangerous. Mike Hayutin’s use of that same imagery to protest taxation in American is also shameful.
In that spirit we should liken Mayor Bloomberg’s efforts to ban large fountain drinks in New York City to Kim Jon Un’s efforts to starve North Koreans. Or maybe we should draw a clear red line around the bird droppings in La Jolla Cove and liken the emanating stench to the chemical weapons used by Bashar Al-Assad in Syria.
Dare I compare 9/11 or Pearl Harbor to something in such fashion? No, such suffering is incomparable. The significance of those events mustn’t be diminished that way. And neither should the suffering endured by millions during World War II.
Today, we Americans cannot reasonably fear that anything resembling Nazi Germany will ever happen here. The many reasons for this should be self-evident to all. The Weimar Republic was doomed to failure from its inception and should never be used as an example of how good or bad democratic governance can give way to extremism. Local politicians can be many things, but maniacal and monstrous cult leaders they are not. Americans in general are also many things, but we do not harbor such bloodthirsty and murderous tendencies as those Europeans that would eventually join the Nazi party and require little, if any, convincing that they should mercilessly kill as many of their innocent neighbors as they could in the most terrifying and grotesque ways possible. Most importantly, our collective nature is to respect the rights of others, both native born and immigrant. Europe then had no such nature, and in some places, frankly, they still don’t.
Those such as Messrs. Donovan and Pickwell who believe they know enough about German history and the rise of Adolf Hitler to suggest that incremental and innocuous moves by government to “come for my plastic bags” augur the establishment of a Fourth Reich in Solana Beach, and that there’s no one left to speak for them, would do well to spend more time learning details of history and less time parroting sound bites. No one left to speak for them? Do they also believe that “Welcome to Solana Beach” should be replaced with “Arbeit Macht Frei”? Rest assured that if “they” should ever actually come for us, the honorable United States armed forces will be here to do more than just speak up. They will fight for us.
The German citizen Mr. Donovan quotes and Mr. Pickwell alludes to was Pastor Martin Niemöller, and the poem referenced is titled “First they came…” Niemöller spent eight years in Sachsenhausen and Dachau for opposing the Nazis’ state control of churches despite being an early supporter of Hitler. After the war, he became an ardent pacifist. My guess is he’d be sadly disappointed if he knew his words were invoked for the purpose of complaining about being charged 10 cents for paper bags.
As I grow older and witness the passing of a generation of Survivors, my heart aches in knowing that within their own lifetimes, the horrors and monstrosities perpetrated against them and millions of others by the Nazis, both Jew and non-Jew alike, are fading into a distant, abstract collective memory used in passing conversation as allegory for polemic effect.
I’m reminded of a 19th-century rabbinic sage, Haffetz Hayyim, who once commented: “There are people in the adjoining room preparing a telegram. Notice how carefully they consider each word before they put it down. That’s how careful we must be when we speak.”
As for Mr. Donovan’s concern for our Founding Fathers’ American ideal, I’m sure they’d be more concerned by the desiccation of American grit evidenced by the use of such extreme imagery to describe so petty an issue as a ban on plastic bags. They fought one of humanity’s most defining wars against impossible odds and did so without automobiles, electricity, oil, telephones, television, modern sanitation, medicine, computers, the internet, iPhones and countless other luxuries enjoyed today that were unimaginable in their time. I imagine their thoughts on this matter would be: “Toughen up.”