Commentary

I’m a child of Holocaust survivors. We have to stop our slide into totalitarianism | Chuck Ardo

My parents warned me that what happened in Germany could happen here. I fear I’m now watching it happen in slow motion.

Capitol police try to hold back rioters outside the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. (Photo by Alex Kent for the Tennessee Lookout)

By Chuck Ardo

As a child of Holocaust survivors, my mother surviving Dachau and my father Oranienberg, while much of my family was murdered at Auschwitz, I have always been more sensitive to the dangers of fascism than most people.

With that in mind, I’ve become increasingly alarmed by the casual way in which the word Nazi has been invoked in the current political arena by people who don’t seem to have a clue about the movement’s true nature.

Proof can be found in media reports that, as president, Donald Trump was complimentary of some of Adolf Hitler’s achievements, thus confirming John Bolton’s claim that Trump seemed to have no sense of history.

To be clear, Nazism is a right-wing ideology based on fanatical nationalism, racial superiority and religious hatred. Nazis perpetrated some of the worst crimes against humanity in contemporary history.

Right wingers call Nazis socialists. But, don’t be fooled by their formal title. Just because the Nazis called themselves the National Socialist German Workers’ Party doesn’t mean they were socialists any more than North Korea is a democracy because it calls itself the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

Much of the Nazi party’s appeal was that many ordinary Germans saw it as the strongest alternative to the political left of the time.

Many angry and frustrated voters, desperate for change and disillusioned by the government’s failure to improve their lives, were attracted to the party believing that spending on public works and an unprecedented military buildup would kick start the economy.

As a child of Holocaust survivors ... I have always been more sensitive to the dangers of fascism than most people.

– Chuck Ardo

There was less concern that part of the Nazi platform included imprisoning their political opponents and implementing the most frightening elements on their agenda. Among their first acts was to erect the Dachau concentration camp to house socialists and communists long before Jews, the disabled, those with intellectual disabilities, gays and other out of favor groups were sent there to perish.

Nazi propaganda targeted voters in small towns and rural areas who were suspicious of urban elites. It emphasized the threat people who were different from them posed to the social order and the political power they had always enjoyed. It was Nazis who pioneered “fake news” by labeling the media as the “lying press,” a tactic allowing their story to be dominant in the minds and hearts of the German people.

In their effort to maintain popular support, the Nazis introduced “patriotic education” to indoctrinate young people with a glorified version of German history.

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They passed new laws forcing public education to reflect their nationalist ideology and vision of racial superiority. The Nazi minister of education made clear the objective of public schools was to “Awaken in the pupils a sense of responsibility toward the nation” and “imbue the pupils with pride in the fact that the German people are the most important exponent of the Nordic race.”

Much as Hitler used he burning of the Reichstag, the German Parliament building, an act of arson by the Nazis themselves, as an excuse to seize power and pave the way for the most evil regime in human history, the Trump inspired insurrection should serve as a warning of things to come.

When Army Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, warned of a possible “Reichstag moment” during Trump’s final days in office, fearing that Trump might attempt a coup we can’t afford to ignore it.

While no one today is proposing concentration camps and gas chambers there is an eerie similarity in the tone of our politics to that of the rise of the Nazis.

Calls to “lock her up,” labeling the media as purveyors of “fake news,” insisting that a less honest version of American history be taught and the racial, ethnic and sexually oriented animus of many Trump supporters are all echos from the past.

Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels contended that the bigger the lie and the more it was repeated the more likely it would be believed. If we don’t learn from history we are doomed to repeat it. What seems impossible here seemed impossible in Germany before the Nazi takeover.

Throughout their post-war lives my parents warned me that what happened in Germany could happen here. With every passing news cycle my fear grows that I’m now watching it happen in slow motion.

A veteran of public affairs communication, Chuck Ardo is a former spokesman to ex-Gov. Ed Rendell, former Harrisburg Mayor Linda Thompson, and former Attorney General Kathleen Kane. He writes from Columbus, Ohio. 

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