NEVER AGAIN? – BY ELLIN CURLEY

I am Jewish and grew up with parents and grandparents who watched the rise of Hitler and his systemic persecution and eventual annihilation of the Jews of Europe.

I was brought up with the fighting words, “NEVER AGAIN!” I was educated, probably too early (by the age of nine or ten) about the horrors of the concentration camps. I also knew about pogroms first hand from my grandparents – the organized massacres and looting of Jewish towns in Eastern Europe and Russia. The worst of the pogroms took place between 1919 and 1921, when thousands of towns were razed and the populations decimated in brutal and sadistic ways. This level of anti-semitism explains the cooperation the Nazis received in Eastern Europe by locals when they wanted to round up Jews and send them to camps or kill them on the spot.

From the time I was nine or ten, I would lie in bed and plan what I would grab to take with me when the knock came on the door to take us away to an unknown fate along with other Jews in the community. It breaks my heart to think that my childhood had these strong elements of distrust, insecurity and outright fear.

But as I got older, I came to believe that it could never happen in America. I called my parents and grandparents paranoid when they pointed to instances of anti-semitism in the States. I poo-pooed their fears and felt confident in the near total assimilation of Jews in America from the 1970s and 1980s on.

Many Jews in Europe in the 1930s and 1940s thought they were “safe” because they were, say, ‘Germans first’, and Jews only second. Unfortunately, it didn’t matter. Sigmund Freud, a Jew, lived in Austria and was sure that as an ‘Austrian’ and a famous scientist, he was safe from persecution. He believed that the Nazis wouldn’t touch him. He had to be dragged onto a plane to get out of Austria in time – his was one of the last planes allowed to leave without Nazi sanction. And, in fact, his name was on a list to be picked up by the Gestapo and shipped to a concentration camp.

Sigmund Freud

I just finished working on a deeply moving project for my audio theater group, Voicescapes Audio Theater. We dramatized the experience of one Jewish town, Felshtin, in Ukraine, which suffered a particularly horrible pogrom in February of 1919. The town never fully recovered. And those who didn’t escape the town and emigrate elsewhere in the aftermath of the pogrom were all wiped out by the Nais in 1941, only 22 years later.

We had the personal recollections of the pogrom from survivors, who told their stories in 1937 in order to preserve the memory of the town and its people. I took their poignant words and turned them into a powerful script which we performed with a violinist, sound effects and a power point display of photos. We got a standing ovation from the descendants of the Jews of Felshtin.

Voicescapes performance

Shortly after our wrenching performance, I heard about a synagogue shooting in San Diego, CA, by a white supremacist, which injured three or four, including the Rabii, and killed one. There had been an even more lethal shooting in a Philadelphia synagogue six months before. These incidents of violent anti-semitism hit me harder than ever because I am still raw from a year spent engrossed in the horrors of pogroms against the Jews.

Remembering the image of avowed Nazis marching in Charlottesville, NC, in 2017, shouting “Jews will not replace us!”, I get a chill to the bottom of my soul. This, unfortunately, IS America today.

Charlottesville rally, 2017

My parents and grandparents were right in understanding that there is, and always has been, a wide and deep swath of anti-semitism in the U.S. As late as the 1980s, there were apartment buildings in New York City, a very Jewish, diverse and liberal city, that didn’t allow Jews. One was across the street from where I lived. There were also still law firms that were all gentile or all Jewish because the two groups were not always allowed to mix in one law firm. This is also from personal knowledge and experience as a young lawyer in the city at this time. That was not so long ago.

Today we’re seeing white supremacy rising and getting the Presidential stamp of approval. Detention camps are being set up at the southern border for the vilified ‘immigrants’ from Mexico and Central America. If Trump wins a second term and gets to have six more years to reshape America in his xenophobic, racist and anti-semitic image, where will we be? Ready to put other nonwhite or otherwise not ‘totally American’ people into these camps? Are Blacks, Hispanics, Asians, Jews next? Then will they come after the evil Democrats and liberals?

It has happened before. Many times. Can it happen again? Here?

28 thoughts on “NEVER AGAIN? – BY ELLIN CURLEY”

    1. I really thought that we had put this kind of racism and virulent predjudice behind us in this country. It’s really depressing to realize how wrong I was.

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    1. Thank you! It was so difficult at first to read the horror stories from the Pogrom in 1919. But now I can step back and see it as another ‘Never Again” voice. The script I wrote may be performed again for some Jewish organizations who want to highlight the toxic effects of hatred and predjudice and anti-semitism. It would be great if my piece could be used to foster a deeper awareness of anti-semitism in America today.

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      1. OH wow yes I can imagine it is and was so hard I don’t even think I would have the words to say about it all. I think it’s wonderful and would be wonderful if your piece is used. That would be eye opening I think. 🙂

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        1. Unfortunately the topic of bigotry and hate crimes are very relevant today. We have to educate people all over again about the horrible societal effects of letting prejudice and hatred of others run rampant.

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    1. You’re absolutely right! Trump has made it acceptable to express and even act on any kind of bigotry and hatred. Unfortunately, Jews are still a popular target for people who want to hate anyone different from them. Jews have so totally assimilated into America, it’s hard to believe that we are still being singled out for this hatred and venom, but it’s been going on for centuries, so why stop now?

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      1. As our “president” said about what happened in Charlottesville almost two years ago, “you also had people that were very fine people, on both sides.” Very fine people. Sheesh!

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        1. I think there’s a kind of madness that overcomes the world about every 50 to 75 years where everyone forgets what happened LAST TIME. Somehow, they think to do the same things that failed throughout history are going to work out THIS time. Evil is evil, and it doesn’t matter the decade or the century. It’s happening again. If it were JUST happening in this country, I’d actually be more optimistic, but it’s happening in many places. All of Europe, Asia, Russia … it’s the same terrible story. We may have the worst president, but we are far from alone or unique. And THAT makes it even worse.

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          1. It’s horrifying to see anti-semitism on the rise all through Europe and Eastern Europe. The Holocaust wasn’t that long ago but the lessons seem lost already. Or maybe the haters just went underground for a few decades and kept quiet until it was ‘safe’ to speak out publicly again. For some reason, the world today is ripe for the haters to come out of the woodwork. Maybe it’s the incredible pace of change that is disrupting people’s lives or the masses of immigrants who are flowing into other countries and threatening more disruption.

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  1. Very well expressed, Ellin. I never thought that I would see our country in such a terrible state. Some days I’m actually glad that my parents didn’t live to see this. My mother (a ‘great worrier’) would have worried too much about leaving us behind…

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    1. I’m definately glad my parents and grandparents are not alive to see what’s happening today. My mother was active in the civil rights movement too and thought she had made permanent changes in our society. It’s so sad to have to refight the battles you or your parents supposedly won in the past.

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      1. I am so grateful my mother — even my father — didn’t live to see this. Yet I don’t think they would be surprised. My mother had little faith in humankind. She was always sure it would happen again … and you know, the motto of the military in Israel IS “Never again.”

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  2. I read “I Survived Hitler’s Ovens” as a young teenager and was horrified at what happened. I was never taught this in our schools. I don’t think it is taught in the schools even today. It is such an important event in history that this must not be not be overlooked nor its importance diminished. It can happen again and we must be ever vigilant.
    Leslie

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    1. It’s part of the reason I find this worldwide leaning towards dictators both appalling … and terrifying. If it were JUST here, it would be bad but it’s not just here. It’s all over the place. I have trouble understanding how so many people have no grip on what happens when you put these kinds of people in charge … and the horrors that can and do result. How quickly we seem to forget.

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      1. Dictators do tend to make persecution a government sanctioned activity. Often the governments themselves are the persecutors. But I’ve never heard of a dictator preaching love and acceptance and let’s all just get along together!

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    2. So much is left out of our kids’ history textbooks and history lessons. It seems that when you let up the pressure against bigotry and discrimination, it creeps back again. But kids in Germany have been carefully taught about German horrors during WWII yet anti-semitism is still on the rise in Germany today. Maybe, sad to say, it’s always going to be there in certain, hateful, resentful people, who need a scapegoat to make themselves feel superior, no matter what we teach them growing up. The difference may be that in the past few decades, it’s been socially unacceptable to express these hatreds in public – they had to go underground. Now they are out in the open again and the next step is acting on them, which is also happening more frequently.

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  3. I think social media has enabled disgruntled and angry people to vent and spew their hatred, and it gets picked up by others who feel the same way. It’s a quick way to gather like-minded people and give them a sense of belonging and the freedom to grow their anger. They need someone or something on which to place all their grievances and Jews have always been a target. Sande

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    1. Garry wonders whether social media give the nuts an outlet. I think it’s really both. It gathers them together … but it also lets them explode on a computer rather than blowing someone’s head off. But when the person doing it is supposedly the leader of a country … well … that’s a bit different. A lot different and a lot scarier. And these crazies are in charge in more than the U.S. I think we are not as aware as we should be of the internationality of this syndrome. That’s what I find particularly frightening.

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  4. Any world leaders who point to a group of people and encourage the population to fear them are fostering hatred whether they realise it or not. When people are fearing or resenting Jews, asylum seekers, “African gangs”, “dole bludgers and welfare cheats” or any other group they are being distracted from wondering why the government are not fixing the schools and hospitals and looking after the elderly, homeless and vulnerable people in our society. It may be true that social media is an outlet for some of the anger but it is also a means to round up an angry mob more quickly and I hope we don’t start to see that.

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