Views: The Political Trivialization of Trauma

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By Adar Rubin

The past few months, since the end of working through the Michigan midterm election cycle, I’ve had a lot of time for self-reflection. I have evaluated my role as the sole Republican Jewish voice and political organizer in the Michigan Republican Party aside from our chairman, Ronald Weiser. I built relationships with key stakeholders in Wayne County by incorporating my own identity and talking about my experience growing up as a conservative American-Israeli.

The election outcome took an emotional toll on me, but I quickly overcame the anxiety. The turning point came when I revisited the memories of my participation on the March of the Living in 2013 with my high school graduating class.

Deep Impressions
In Auschwitz-Birkenau, I walked through the eerie silence of the crematoria, saw the prosthetics, shoes and hair of the deceased, and heard the loud screams of my murdered ancestors as I stood in front of the wall of death. In Treblinka, I held one of my best friends while he cried his heart out on the bus after he read the mourner’s Kaddish for his family who had been murdered in the extermination camp.

In Majdanek, I inherited what would eventually be my permanent mental scar when I saw Hell right before my very eyes. Hell is a giant mausoleum in Lublin that carries the blood, flesh and ashes of more than 18,000 Jews, murdered on that very spot. Hell is the outcome of real systemic oppression, the brutality of a dictatorship that sought nothing but global dominance through a regime built on ethnic cleansing.

In Birkenau, I wrote a letter to myself where I promised to always remain strong no matter the situation, to educate people of other faiths and backgrounds on this experience, and to carry and embrace my identity wherever I go.

Two years later, on my 20th birthday, I received that letter in my dorm at Michigan State University. I collapsed in the hall and burst into tears upon seeing it, but the fact that I had honored the promise I made to myself two years ago on the frigid train tracks of Birkenau gave me a sense of pride.

Flash forward four more years, in the midst of the political divide, and I only feel a sense of confusion. It is the year 2019, and it is with great disappointment that I still have to remind people — sometimes even of my own faith or my own party — about how truly evil the Hitler regime was.

Trivialization of the Holocaust
When people call someone a “Nazi” or “Hitler” out of a petty political disagreement — or draw historically inaccurate parallels about the Holocaust to current events to score political points — they are cheapening the severity of what millions of Jews endured.

Although I was distinctly critical of the Obama administration due to its mistreatment of Israel, I would never compare him or his actions to Hitler or the Holocaust.

Trivializing the Holocaust is the most damning form of demagoguery. This disgusting habit of fear-mongering is practiced by both sides of the aisle and we can no longer deny it.

Establishment Republicans have incorporated this tactic primarily in the “pro-life” argument. A county party delegate in the 11th Congressional District publicly compared the extermination of “helpless Jews” to the extermination of “helpless babies.” He added on a Facebook thread: “In fact, the argument can be made that the evil of abortion is actually magnitudes more evil than the Holocaust that was brought against the Jewish people and other people groups by the Nazi regime.”

I tried to explain to the candidate why such a polarizing comparison is deemed offensive to Jews and how it draws the line in terms of support and was threatened with political reprisal.

Seriously, what do women’s reproductive rights have to do with the intended genocide of more than 6 million Jews? This is a question that radical, provocative groups such as the religious California-based Survivors of the Abortion Holocaust refuse to answer logically. Its strategies include sharing memes on Facebook of concentration camps with the “Planned Parenthood” logo written on the barracks and aggressive intimidation protests outside the facilities.

To my conservative colleagues, if you choose to continue to advertise the pro-life cause, that is your legal right, but our scabs are not for you to peel.

The Democratic Party applies a more mainstream approach to marketing their platform under the Reductio ad Hitlerum fallacy (Latin for “Reduction to Hitler”), where it is sprinkled around like confetti.

Members and leaders of the Democratic Party have linked Zionism to Nazism, Trump and Netanyahu to Hitler, immigration detention centers and child separations at the border to the separation of families upon arriving to the camps, ICE agents to the Gestapo, the manipulation of the Jewish community into believing that the high Palestinian death toll should serve as a shameful self-reflection of our own casualties in the Holocaust, and so much more.

Contextual and situational analysis are both long gone, replaced with the chilling normalization of the ugliest form of propaganda as a defensive tactic for voter pandering. Although I have no plans to run for office, if I did, I would go the extra mile to establish a series of unifying messages attractive to potential new voters across the aisle.

We Need to Take Action

The language must change and, for our country to achieve ideological maturation, we must confront our own trauma and provide more educative incentives for both public and private schools.

According to a Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany study, more than 22 percent of millennials never heard of the Holocaust, 41 percent of U.S. adults and 66 percent of millennials had never heard of Auschwitz, and 80 percent of people surveyed had never been to a Holocaust museum.

A lack of education is a factor that enables monsters like Robert Bowers, the man accused of murdering my aunt and uncle’s friends at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo recently appointed anti-terrorism expert and military officer Elan Carr as the U.S. Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism. Special Envoy Carr, I propose a fantastic challenge: Together, with the assistance of our colleagues across the aisle as well as the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, I call on you to adopt legislation that includes the devaluing or equating of the Holocaust for political gain, regardless of one’s true intentions, as a legally defined form of anti-Semitism. I also call upon the remaining survivors to speak out, lobby and condemn this custom. Let us do whatever it takes to adopt solutions to anti-Semitism, and it all starts with an honest conversation.

Adar Rubin was a political field organizer for the Michigan Republican Party during the 2018 election.

 

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