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Santa Inc. and why antisemitism is worse now – posted 12/26/2021

December 26, 2021 3 comments

I am a Sarah Silverman fan. I have watched her comedy, read her memoir, The Bedwetter, and I regularly listen to her podcast. As readers may know, Sarah is a New Hampshire native, born in Bedford, and she grew up in the southern tier of our state.

She and Seth Rogen recently did voices in a new animated comedy series, Santa Inc., that is streaming on HBO Max. It is made for adults – not children. Rogen plays the voice of Santa Claus and Sarah plays an elf who wants to become the first female and Jewish Santa. It is dirty and funny and I would describe it as in the Bad Santa tradition of Billy Bob Thornton. It will offend many.

Still, when the Santa Inc. trailer uploaded in November what was shocking was not the comedy. Santa Inc. received a torrent of ugly and creepy reactions from Jew-haters and Holocaust deniers. YouTube disabled the dislikes when the count went over 25,000 comments. Many seemed to dislike the idea of two Jews doing a movie about Santa.

The haters coordinated a troll campaign, brigading Santa Inc.. The response made me think about the origins of anti-semitism in the United States and why this is happening now. Is the antisemitism reflected in incidents like the reaction to Santa Inc. something qualitatively new or is it a continuation of longer-term history?

The United States has largely been a welcoming place for Jews since the beginning. When the Jews of Newport Rhode Island wrote George Washington a letter of congratulations on being elected President, Washington responded:

“The citizens of the United States of America have a right to applaud themselves for having given to mankind examples of an enlarged and liberal policy, a policy worthy of imitation.”

Of course, early on, Jews made up an infinitesimally small percentage of the American population. In 1776, there were about 1,000 Jews in America; by 1840, 15,000; and by 1880, 250,000, which was one-half of one percent of the population. Unlike in Europe, Jews benefited from our constitution that had a First Amendment guarantee of religious freedom.

After 1880, things changed dramatically for American Jews. Between 1880-1920, two million Jews fled Eastern Europe and Russia to escape pogroms and state-sponsored terror. And Jews were certainly not the only immigrants. Many millions came to the U.S..

The immigration influx ran headlong into American xenophobia and racism. In 1894, the Immigration Restriction League was founded out of a belief that Anglo-Saxon tradition was being drowned by a flood of racially inferior people from southern and eastern Europe.

In the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, WASP upper class elites looked down on Jews as a greedy, cunning and dishonest people. Protestant and Catholic religious leaders promoted stereotypes of Jews as Christ-killers. This was the heyday of Christian antisemitism before the Christian churches started recognizing their responsibility for acquiescing in the promotion of hate.

Although there was an American tradition of tolerance, antisemitism became more entrenched in all sectors of American society.

In this era, scientific racism and eugenics were used to justify immigration restrictions. A group of intellectual influencers, close to ruling circles, that included Madison Grant, Lothrop Stoddard, and Edward Ripley, argued against interracial mixing and against immigration. They argued that immigrants brought crime, illiteracy and political and labor radicalism. Jews, particularly, were associated with labor militancy.

Presidents Teddy Roosevelt, Warren Harding and Calvin Coolidge all spoke favorably of Grant.

Grant believed Anglo-Saxons were being displaced by highly undesirable immigrants, particularly Jews, whom he saw as worthless. In his very influential book, The Passing of the Great Race, he outlined the intellectual justification for the 1924 Immigration Act which greatly limited Jewish immigration to America. It was this restrictive law which precluded more European Jews from being able to obtain asylum during the Holocaust.

The gist of the book was that swarms of Jews and other racially inferior people were the cause of the passing of the great white race. Grant’s book was a favorite of Hitler’s. Hitler considered the book his bible.

In the 1930’s and early 1940’s, prominent Americans like Henry Ford, Charles Lindbergh and Father Charles Coughlin all contributed to an antisemitic upsurge. In his newspaper, the Dearborn Independent, Ford published a long-running series The International Jew, claiming there was a vast Jewish conspiracy seeking world domination.

Groups like the German-American Bund sold virulently antisemitic newspapers in cities around the country. In Boston, Irish-Catholic gangs organized “Jew hunts” where a half a dozen young men would drive to a Jewish neighborhood, pile out of a car, beat up Jews and split. Boston had a reputation as the most antisemitic city in the country.

While the oppression was much milder than what African Americans experienced, antisemitism was, to some extent, institutionalized. There were limits for how many Jews would be accepted at upper echelon colleges and universities. There were also restrictions blocking Jews from getting into law firms, medical practices, private clubs, and exclusive residential areas.

Public opinion polls from the 1940’s present an unflattering picture of American antisemitism. A public opinion survey found that 63% of Americans believed that Jews as a group had “objectionable traits”; a majority believed German Jews were wholly or partly to blame for the Nazis’ persecution of them: and a third to a half of the American public would have sympathized with or actively supported an antisemitic campaign. No more than 30% would have opposed it.

After World War II, I do think awareness of the Holocaust changed the thinking of many Americans and moved antisemitism to the sidelines. The Holocaust was such an enormous atrocity that it discredited Jew haters and shrank their visibility and presence.

Over the last fifty years, I would mention the novel, The Turner Diaries, written in 1978, by William Pierce. It has been like scripture to U.S. white nationalists and antisemites. The Anti-Defamation League identified it as “probably the most widely-read book among far right extremists”. It is the most popular antisemitic read since Mein Kampf.

The novel argues that Jews use people of color to conceal their plans for domination. Pierce deemed blacks as not fully human and incapable of action on their own. He saw Jews as the puppet masters.

The Turner Diaries was the forerunner of the Great Replacement theory currently espoused by the far right in America and Europe. The Great Replacement theory is not simply a crazy ideological construct. It has led to attacks on Jews. When the neo-nazis in Charlottesville were chanting “Jews will not replace us”, that was no accident.

I do see antisemitism as getting worse in America and according to public opinion surveys, 82% of American Jews would agree with that assessment. The historical background I described creates context where antisemitic ideas have been insufficiently repudiated. Rather than confronting and rejecting antisemitism, Americans seem to prefer pretending it is not happening.

There are some indicators I would mention. According to the FBI, American Jews are subject to the most hate crimes of any religious group, despite making up only 2% of the U.S. population. Since 2016, there has been a significant increase both in antisemitic incidents and hate crimes more generally.

Among Jews, there is evidence that many have changed behavior out of fear. According to a new report from the American Jewish Committee, 39% of American Jews avoid posting content online that would reveal their Jewish identity. 23% refrain from publicly wearing, carrying or displaying items that might enable others to identify them as Jewish. Synagogues and other Jewish-identified institutions have increased security.

I think former President Trump kick-started the hate. Hate crimes spiked in the days after his election in 2016 and have conspicuously continued. For me though, Charlottesvile was the watershed. Trump’s refusal to clearly and unambiguously condemn the white supremacists and neo-nazis who made up part of his base boosted the racists and Jew-haters. The antisemites saw that as a win.

Kenneth Stern of Bard College’s Center for the Study of Hate has said:

“Antisemitism thrives best historically when people are given ammunition to act on an impulse to see an ‘us’ and a ‘them’.”

That was the Trump presidency. Trump ran against “the other”, especially immigrants, Muslims, Black Lives Matter and Antifa. He gave license to nutty conspiracy theories like QAnon which draw on antisemitic themes like the blood libel.

One other factor that must be mentioned in the worsening of antisemitism is the role of the internet and social media. Online communities connect haters from far and wide. Tomer Persico from Haaretz writes:

“The web connects oddballs and fundamentalists, and it gives extremists the feeling that they are part of a broad movement. A rising, seething wave of toxicity is being ridden by unscrupulous politicians who are aggrandizing the feeling of white victimhood.”

The reaction to Santa Inc. is a sad testament to the increase of Jew-hatred. Americans of all political stripes and persuasions need to publicly stand up against the hate and oppose it. Part of protecting our multi-ethnic, multi-racial democracy is protecting all citizens from emboldened haters.

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The 2020 coup as dress rehearsal for 2024 – posted 12/19/2021

December 19, 2021 Leave a comment

So much of the discussion of Trump’s failed coup attempt against democracy is about learning its many details. It is like putting together all the pieces in a huge jigsaw puzzle. Understanding is very important but I think less attention has been paid to what the coup attempt means for the future.

On TV, I saw the historian Timothy Snyder explain that a failed coup is practice for a successful coup. The coup plotters and the Republican Party have been studying why the coup in 2020 failed. They are taking steps now to insure the next coup in 2024 will be successful.

The Democrats appear asleep at the switch. They are not recognizing or responding to the magnitude of the anti-democratic threat. In their desire to normalize and be bi-partisan, they want to believe both sides play by the Marquess of Queensberry rules.

The autocratic threat has multiple dimensions and tracks. I would mention the role of state legislatures, intimidation of poll watchers and state election officials through threats and physical pressure, replacing state election officials or stripping them of their powers and destroying faith in democracy. All these dimensions are in play.

Although Trump lost the popular vote by a wide margin of over seven million votes, the currency Republicans are more concerned about is electors. In 2020, Trump needed 38 electors to reverse Biden’s victory in the Electoral College. Much of the Trump team’s efforts between November 2020-January 2021 was directed at inducing Republican legislatures in states that Biden won to switch and appoint Trump electors. The vote in the Electoral College was 306-232 in Biden’s favor.

Under our constitution, states appoint electors. States have always respected and deferred to the will of the voters. Electors have reflected majority vote. What the Republican partisans are engineering is a plan to fire the voters and replace them with Trump acolytes in key state legislatures they control. That way even if the Republicans lose the popular vote, a state legislature can appoint electors they desire.

The theoretical underpinning to justify the legal argument is the independent state legislature doctrine, a favorite construct of far right lawyers and jurists. The U.S. Constitution gives state legislatures the sole authority to set all election rules. What if state legislatures believe they can throw out electors and de-certify election results?

In his article in the Atlantic, “Trump’s Next Coup Has Already Begun”, Barton Gellman looks at strategies state legislatures are already pursuing to politicize, criminalize, and interfere in election administration. In a broad way, this is about putting in places of power and decision-making proponents of the Big Lie of election fraud so that next time ballots will not decide elections.

Gellman cites examples from Georgia, Michigan and Arizona. In Georgia, Brad Raffensperger, the Secretary of State, found no fraud and was censured by the Republican Party and is being primaried by Jody Hice, a U.S. Congress member, promoted by Trump. The Georgia legislature stripped Raffensperger of power as chief election officer. Raffensperger famously would not “find” 11,780 votes for Trump.

Trump also pushed former Senator David Perdue to primary the Georgia sitting governor, Brian Kemp. Trump had urged Kemp to use nonexistent emergency powers to overturn Biden’s Georgia win. Kemp refused and Trump found him insufficiently loyal.

In Michigan, the Republican Party removed Aaron Van Langevelde, a Republican, from the Board of State Canvassers because he rejected false and unproven claims of widespread voter fraud. Van Langevelde’s crime was that he voted to certify Biden’s win.

In Arizona, Trump endorsed Kari Lake for governor over the current Republican Governor, Doug Ducey, because Ducey also certified Biden’s win. Without evidence and after multiple recounts, Lake, a former TV anchor, called the 2020 election “shady, shoddy, and corrupt”. She earned the Trump nod by saying she would not have certified Biden’s win. The Arizona legislature is currently debating a bill to strip the Democratic Secretary of State, Katie Hobbs, of her ability to defend election lawsuits.

Death threats and harassment from Trump supporters have terrified U.S. election workers. There are many examples. One Republican City Commissioner on the Philadelphia Board of Elections, Al Schmidt, received this threat,

“Tell the truth or your three kids will be fatally shot”, along with names of his children, his address and a photo of his home.

Schmidt received other messages: “Cops can’t help you”, “Heads on spikes” and “perhaps cuts and bullets will soon arrive at (his address)”. Schmidt had defended the vote-counting process in the face of unsubstantiated claims of voter fraud in Philadelphia by Trump.

Rick Barron, the director of voting and elections in Fulton County, Georgia has been subject to a barrage of threats including a voicemail: “you will be served lead”.

Claire Woodall-Vogg, the executive director of Milwaukee’s election commission has received email threats saying she deserved to go before a firing squad and she was called “treasonous”. Woodhall-Vogg left the state for ten days and put in extra security at her home.

According to an April 2021 survey by the Brennan Center nearly one in three election officials feel unsafe in their job. Many non-partisan election officials are choosing to leave the profession, creating openings for the inexperienced. These code red level threats are a new 2020 phenomena attributable to pro-Trump fanatics.

Law enforcement has largely failed to respond to the threats. A Reuters investigation in September found 102 threats of violence or death against election officials in key battleground states. Reuters could only document four instances in which someone was charged. In August, John Keller, a senior attorney in the Department of Justice’s Public Integrity Section told a meeting of secretaries of state, “The response has been inadequate”.

Instead of responding to the threats, Republican legislators have created new laws that impose tough penalties for election officials who violate rules. In Iowa and Texas, election officials who commit “technical infractions” can suffer big financial penalties.

One of the worst harassment episodes was Trump’s baseless attacks on two Georgia election workers, Ruby Freeman and her daughter Wandrea Moss. Trump and Rudy Giuliani falsely and repeatedly accused them of pulling false ballots from suitcases hidden under tables at a ballot-counting center. Trump slanderously called Freeman “a professional vote scammer” and “a hustler”.

The two African-American women received hundreds of death threats and racist taunts. Harassing strangers showed up at Freeman’s house. Even though local and state officials definitively disproved the fraud allegations, Freeman had to go into hiding. Trump-aligned social media demonized the two women. The most recent bizarre revelation was about how Kanye West’s publicist pressed Freeman to confess to Trump’s voter fraud allegations. Freeman was told she would go to jail if she did not confess.

Make no mistake: 2020 saw a deliberate effort to overturn a fair and free election. The Republican Party has degenerated into believing, without evidence, that Biden cheated. Even worse, in key battleground states, they have put into important positions proponents of the Big Lie while purging non-believers in the fantasy. They have gotten zealous buy-in from tens of millions. The coup almost succeeded in installing Trump as a dictator.

The Trump forces are destroying public faith in democracy. In their world, if fraud won, then democracy is already dead and it doesn’t matter what you do to win.

Gellman says the next coup will rely on subversion, not violence. If state legislatures can override voters, a far right Supreme Court can put the seal of legality on that.

I wish I saw the Democrats as up to the challenge but they are failing. To say their response has been muted is generous. President Biden has not used his bully pulpit to fight aggressively and consistently for voting rights and the Democratic Party remains divided, without clarity of focus or message. They passively watch the fascist advance. Maybe there will be a voting rights bill but who knows.

At the same time, Attorney General Merrick Garland and the Department of Justice have showed little inclination to go after big fish in the criminal coup. That is a failure of leadership that will come back to bite all people who support democracy.

Gellman says there is a serious risk that American democracy as we know it will come to an end in 2024. The urgent response required is not happening.

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CRACKED WINDSHIELD by Josh Baird – posted 12/16/2021

December 16, 2021 Leave a comment

My son Josh sings and I wanted to post his cover of Hiss Golden Messenger’s song “Cracked Windshield “.
https://soundcloud.com/joshsbaird/cracked-windshield-rough?si=9961414a211c4602bc2906538898c932

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It is time to release Leonard Peltier – posted 12/11/2021

December 12, 2021 Leave a comment

It has now been over five years since I last wrote about the Leonard Peltier case. Back then in 2016, Peltier had hoped President Obama would grant him clemency. That did not happen.

Now, Peltier is 77 years old, residing in a federal penitentiary in Florida. He is not in good health. He suffers from diabetes and an aortic abdominal aneurysm that could rupture. He has served 46 years behind bars and he is hoping President Joe Biden will grant clemency. Peltier is the longest serving political prisoner in America.

The Department of Justice issued a national response to the COVID-19 pandemic authorizing the Federal Bureau of Prisons to release elderly inmates and those with underlying health conditions from federal prison. Peltier’s sentence was life, with parole. He deserves this consideration.

For those who are unfamiliar with the case, Peltier was a leader of the American Indian Movement or AIM on the Pine Ridge reservation in South Dakota. In 1975 there was a shoot-out on the reservation and three men died, two FBI agents and a Native American man.

Peltier was one of the three men charged in the murders of the FBI agents, Jack Coler and Ronald Williams. Peltier’s co-defendants were acquitted on grounds of self-defense. No one was ever charged for the murder of the Native American man, Joseph Stuntz. Stuntz was also an AIM member.

The FBI was desperate for a conviction since there were two dead agents. They needed a fall guy. Peltier played that role.

Obviously, at this late date, any recital of the facts can legitimately be considered partial but there have been some new developments on the case since I last wrote about it. The U.S. Attorney, James Reynolds, who played a prominent role in prosecuting Peltier sent President Biden a letter in July.

“I write today from a position rare for a former prosecutor to beseech you to commute the sentence of a man who I helped put behind bars. With time, and the benefit of hindsight, I have realized that the prosecution and continued incarceration of Mr. Peltier was and is unjust. We were not able to prove that Mr. Peltier personally committed any offense on the Pine Ridge reservation.”

Reynolds had previously said, “he (Peltier) didn’t go out there with the intention to kill anybody. He was just trying to protect his people”.

Just to reiterate, the prosecutor has admitted there is no proof Peltier killed the two FBI agents. The government had to drop the murder charges because they had withheld exculpatory evidence, a ballistics test that showed the murder weapon was not Peltier’s gun.

All that has been established is that Peltier was at the scene, shooting along with forty other Native Americans. He was charged with “aiding and abetting” but it was not proved whom he “aided and abetted” and you cannot aid and abet yourself.

The fact that a powerful institution like the FBI wanted to pin the blame on someone should not obscure the proof problem. Being in the vicinity of the shooting proves nothing but it has been enough to put Peltier away for 46 years. The FBI was hellbent on that result.

The trial was riddled with misconduct by the prosecution. The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals later wrote about it:

“Much of the government’s behavior at the Pine Ridge reservation and in the prosecution of Mr. Peltier is to be condemned. The government withheld evidence. It intimidated witnesses. These facts are not disputed. “

Even though Peltier’s co-defendants were tried separately and were acquitted based on self-defense, the trial judge, Paul Benson, did not allow Peltier a self-defense argument. Also, one of the jurors acknowledged she was biased against Native Americans. In a decision that is difficult to understand, she was allowed to sit on the jury (and she voted for conviction).

Peltier now has a new lawyer, Kevin Sharp, who was previously a Federal District Court judge. Willie Nelson’s ex-wife, Connie Wilson, who is a Peltier supporter, reached out to Sharp to ask him to take the case.

Via Freedom of Information Act requests, Sharp has uncovered FBI internal memos that showed U.S. Attorneys were directed to put all resources into convicting Peltier. The FBI had a broader strategy to suppress AIM. Sharp has said that the agency plan was to “continually harass and arrest and charge” AIM members to keep them tied up in court.

This fits in with the FBI’s Counter Intelligence Program (called COINTELPRO) which was directed, in part, against AIM. COINTELPRO was designed to infiltrate, disrupt and destroy a wide range of activist groups. In this period, virtually every known AIM leader in the United States was incarcerated in either state or federal prison. 69 AIM members and supporters were murdered on the Pine Ridge reservation in the period between 1973-1976. 350 others suffered serious physical assaults.

The prosecution of Peltier needs to be seen in the context of COINTELPRO and broader Native American history. AIM was in the forefront of the struggle to realize the rights of treaty-guaranteed national sovereignty on behalf of Native Americans. As Sharp has said:

“Part of what’s going on is an extermination policy. We’re taking your land, your minerals. We’re going to get rid of you altogether…That’s what started it. That’s what the counter-intelligence was running.”

The FBI was still infected by the J.Edgar Hoover racist virus. They pursued Peltier and they continue to fight his clemency petition to this day. It does not seem to matter that all the agents from that era are long gone from the Bureau. The FBI’s pursuit of Peltier was in the racist tradition that defined so much of Hoover’s disgraceful tenure as FBI Director.

In his letter to President Biden, former prosecutor Reynolds also wrote:

“ Leonard Peltier’s conviction and continued incarceration is a testament to a time and a system of justice that no longer has a place in our society…I urge you to chart a different path in the history of the government’s relationship with its Native people through a show of mercy rather than continued indifference. I urge you to take a step towards healing a wound that I had a part of making. I urge you to commute Leonard Peltier’s sentence and grant him executive clemency.”

Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont just became the most senior U.S. government official to support Peltier’s release. Before she became Interior Secretary, Deb Haaland, the first Native American Cabinet Secretary, also advocated Peltier’s release. On October 8, eleven members of Congress including Rep. Raul Grijalva, Barbara Lee and Pramila Jayapal requested Peltier’s expedited release and granting of clemency.

Please, President Biden: it is time to turn the historical page. Do the right thing and grant clemency to Leonard Peltier.

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Varian Fry, American Holocaust Rescuer – posted 12/5/2021

December 5, 2021 3 comments

Up until very recently I had never heard the name Varian Fry. I think that hardly makes me unusual. Yet, Varian Fry was one of our most important Holocaust rescuers. He was the American Oskar Schindler.

How is it that almost no one knows his story? I did not know about Fry until I read the novelist Dara Horn’s book People Love Dead Jews. Horn has a lengthy biographical essay that discusses Fry’s life and also raises many good questions.

Fry was born in New York City in 1907 to a Protestant family and he grew up in Ridgewood, New Jersey. His grandfather was an important person in his early life. He was active in the Children’s Aid Society in New York. That organization placed homeless children with foster families in the American West. Fry often accompanied his grandfather on trips. It is hard to know how much this experience influenced his later life choices.

Fry went to Harvard, graduated in 1931, and after college he became a magazine editor in Manhattan. He worked for a foreign affairs magazine called The Living Age. In May 1935, he took a business trip to Berlin, Germany that changed his life. While there, he witnessed an anti-Jewish riot with Jews being kicked, beaten mercilessly and spat upon. Crowds in a festive mood chanted, “The best Jew is a dead Jew”.

Fry was in a downtown cafe and he saw two Nazi youth approach a man who was quietly drinking a beer. Fry thought the man might be Jewish. When the man put out his hand to pick up his mug, one of the Nazis pulled out a dagger and with it he nailed the man’s hand to the table. The experience floored Fry.

When the Nazis took France in 1940, Fry was moved to action. He helped to found the Emergency Rescue Committee, a group of activists who opposed the Immigration Act of 1924 that severely restricted immigration from southern and Eastern Europe, particularly Jews and Italians. Many people who had fled Germany were living in the south of France along with anti-Nazi activists and escaping Jews. The Nazis only occupied northern France at the time. Southern France was something of a refuge.

Although the Vichy government in southern France collaborated with the Nazis and had agreed to surrender on demand anyone the Nazis wanted captured, there was not the level of control the Nazis enforced in areas where they were in physical control. The Nazis were after anti-Nazi activists, leftists, Jews, and artists they considered “degenerate”.

Fry wrote Eleanor Roosevelt to argue there was a need to get Jews, artists and intellectuals out of France. He suggested there was a need for rescuers to go to France to save people from the Gestapo. When no one else stepped up, Fry volunteered to go to southern France himself to begin a covert rescue operation. He strapped $3000 to his leg, took 200 visas he wrangled from the government and left New York.

Initially Fry intended to bike around Provence for four weeks, distributing travel documents and visas to a handpicked list of artists and intellectuals. He ended up staying thirteen months rescuing hundreds of Jews, artists, activists, writers, musicians, composers, philosophers and their families.

Among those rescued were some very famous people including Hannah Arendt, Marc Chagall, Claude Levi-Strauss, Victor Serge and Andre Breton. Here I am barely scratching the surface of the list of luminaries rescued. It was an All-Star team of the European intelligentsia of that era. Victor Serge wrote:

“Our mob of fugitives includes first-rate brains of all types who now count for nothing through the mere fact of daring to say No! (most of them rather quietly) to totalitarian oppression…If it had not been for Varian Fry’s American Rescue Committee, a goodly number of refugees would have had no reasonable course open to them but to jump into the sea from the height of the transporter bridge, a certain enough method.”

After Fry arrived in France, he quickly assembled an underground team that assisted with the creation of false forged passports, provided money and physical transport across the Pyrenee mountains from France to Spain. The cover story of the group was that they were on a humanitarian mission to provide refugees money while they waited for legal visas. One participant in Fry’s group, Miriam Davenport, described the team:

“We were misfits. We didn’t fit the pattern of human behavior, of staying out of trouble and keeping your mouth shut.”

Fry placed himself in extreme danger. The Nazis were closing the window of escape. Fry was in a race against time to rescue as many people as possible. He anguished because he saw the need for rescue greatly surpassed his limited circumstances.

You might think the U.S. government would have supported Fry’s mission. If you believed that, you would be wrong. The State Department turned against Fry’s mission. Even though Fry and his organization had rescued an estimated 2000 people, the State Department arranged for Fry’s arrest and expulsion from France by the Vichy government in 1941.

When Fry returned to America, he tried to promote public awareness of the Nazi barbarism but he was ignored. In late 1942, he wrote a cover story for the New Republic titled, “The Massacre of the Jews”. In his story he provided hard evidence of the murder of over two million Jews in Europe. Horn writes:

“He pleaded for the one thing he knew would have saved the Jews of Europe: offering them asylum in the United States. His plea was roundly ignored, to the tune of four million more murdered.”

When we tell the story of World War II, the story we like to tell is the heroic narrative of the Allied powers triumphing over the fascists. That is a good story but the darker subterranean story of U.S. complicity with the Holocaust remains untold. As the filmmaker Pierre Sauvage has written:

“We live on two myths – that we didn’t know and that we couldn’t do anything even if we did know. This is the religion and it isn’t true. We knew plenty and could have done a lot. Varian Fry was a hero but he was also a maverick who flew in the face of American policy.”

After the war, Fry became a nobody. His story remained unknown. He never successfully re-adjusted to life in America. He became a Latin teacher at a high school in Connecticut. In 1967, he died at age 59 of a heart attack.

Thirty years after he died, in 1997, Israel’s Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum honored Fry as one of the “Righteous Among the Nations”.

I will offer an opinion why the Fry story was ignored. The story of American inaction in the face of the Holocaust is rooted in American anti-semitism. Our Immigration Act of 1924 that restricted Jewish immigration reflected the racism and xenophobia of the time. America strongly opposed more Jewish immigration and the law stood behind that.

In the 1930’s and 1940’s, anti-semitism played a big role in American life and culture. Partly this was because of the influence of far right movements in America but the hate went much farther. Influential people like Henry Ford and Father Charles Coughlin publicly disparaged Jews as greedy and dishonest people who were out to control the world.

The popular McClure’s Magazine featured articles on “The Jewish invasion of America”, describing Jews as “unassimilable aliens” who were taking control of New York City businesses, real estate and city government.

Jews were excluded from law firms, medical practices, universities, private schools, country clubs, hotels and from living in certain residential communities. Restrictive covenants targeting Jews were common.

Anti-semitism was the primary reason the American government did not do more to save the millions of Jewish lives lost at the hands of the Nazis and their collaborators. The government did not publicize the mass death, did nothing to relax immigration quotas, and did not take doable actions like bombing the Nazi machinery of death at the extermination camps.

Back then, most Americans retreated into their personal lives, kept their heads down or looked away. A small number cheered the Nazis. It is a shameful story and many prefer to bury it.

Fry was not only unappreciated (even by many he saved) but he went unnoticed.

There is a parallel now between the treatment of Jews in Europe and the treatment of those fleeing the Northern Triangle countries of Central America. While it is certainly nothing on the scale of the Holocaust, very compelling reasons have led to the Central America exodus. Again, due to racism, America is closing the door. As Fry showed, we are capable of doing so much better.

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