On May 8, 1945, men and women rushed to the streets of New York, London and Moscow to hug and kiss and dance. Germany had just surrendered. The war against Nazi Germany was over. The killing had stopped. A great evil ended. Yet many had mixed feelings of joy and grief. More than 100,000 US soldiers had given their lives and almost another 450,000 got wounded. 15-20 million Europeans were killed. May 8 is still celebrated in our times as Victory in Europe Day, or V-E Day.
In 1930, my father moved as a young boy from Holland to Germany with his parents and brothers. My grandfather hoped to earn some money there during the Great Depression. He told me that nobody was foreseeing what would develop in the next fifteen years. Until 1930 there were only a few hundred Nazi Stormtroopers (SA), or ‘Brownshirts’ in German streets intimidating voters, opponents and Jews. Many of them wanted socialism. In the years thereafter their number escalated quickly to several thousands, and even hundreds of thousands. In 1933, when Hitler took power, there were 2-3 million SA Stormtroopers in Germany. It went amazingly fast, my grandfather always told me.
The Nazi’s were obsessed with race. They suppressed dissent, controlled the dissemination of news and controlled culture. In 1933, the German Student Union started to burn books in an effort to align German arts and culture with Nazi ideas. Books of authors like Hemingway, Helen Keller and Jack London were considered dangerous and had to be canceled. The students didn’t see themselves as suppressing culture, but rather as advancing a just culture.
The intimidations by the Brownshirts peaked on Kristallnacht (‘The Night of Broken Glass’). It was a night of looting, arson and public humiliation solely on the basis of ethnicity. Then the Blackshirts (SS entities) ‘finished it off’. They brought tens of thousands of Jews to concentration camps that night.
Nazi officials disguised the organized nature of the pogrom. They described the actions as spontaneous and justifiable responses of the German population to the assassination by a Jew of a German diplomatic official, Ernst von Rath, in Paris.
The government confiscated all insurance payouts to Jews whose businesses and homes were looted or destroyed during Kristallnacht, blaming the Jews themselves for the destruction. Then even more Jewish property was confiscated and Jews got canceled from employment in the public sector and from most professions.
In an interview with the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, the Iranian-American professor and author Azar Afisi, whose book ‘Reading Lolita in Tehran’ is canceled in Iran, describes it brilliantly. She says: “The first thing every totalitarian regime does, is confiscation, mutilation of reality, confiscation of history and confiscation of culture, and they happen almost simultaneously.” https://youtu.be/yHzM1gXaiVo?t=355
What used to be unimaginable is now taking place in America. We see certain aspects of Nazi-like totalitarianism in the United States. The obsession with race, declaring an ethnic group collectively guilty, shaming, humiliations based on ethnicity, lootings, arson, racist violence, intimidation of opponents, cancel culture, controlled dissemination of news and indoctrination of children in schools. We see fake news, conspiracy theories, an overhaul of history, a new language imposed, and unprosecuted theft. All in the name of a more just culture.
On May 8 we remember America had a leading role in the liberation of Europe from the totalitarian Nazi regime. But who could liberate America if it were to become totalitarian in the future? America, you’re playing with fire.