I’ve spent the past two and a half months writing poetry – some of it angry, some of it desolate. Some of it’s about the election and about the statements and actions of our new president. Some, however, has taken a different direction. It has turned to reflect inward on the protesters. On the minorities like me who decide to stand up, who decide to fight against the direction in which this country is moving. And it has become sad and lost and remained full of rage and frustration. Because for the past few months I have been slowly coming to terms with the fact that, as has happened so many times in history, no one will stand for the Jews. No one seems to notice us. Of the hate crimes and hate speech around the country, a great deal is still directed toward the Jewish people. Anti-Semitism is far from dead. Rather, it is growing again, and has been for the past few years. And while it is true that we are not the first targets of this new administration, we are still the targets of its supporters. Yet no one seems to notice us. Again and again, I see Jews left off lists of vulnerable populations. A few months ago, I began to wonder if we would be remembered. If others would fight for us the way I fight for them.
The past few weeks have taught me that I was right to be concerned. Because the absence of reference to the Jewish people in commentary about those who have reason to fear today is not merely forgetful. It is erasure. On campus, for example, the only campus-wide hate crimes I have seen reported since the presidential election have been anti-Semitic. But when I went to protest on Inauguration Day, our struggles were not only ignored, we were actively cast out of the narrative. I had expected not to be explicitly included in the speeches. But what I did not expect was to hear Martin Niemöller’s poem “First they came … ,” a speech rooted in sentiments of accountability and standing for others who will, in turn, stand for you, modified to fit the modern day and lacking the verse about Jews. There is room for all of us in your activism. Do not delete me from Holocaust poetry or from modern causes, because we are still hated.
This erasure is becoming more obvious. I read a post today on Facebook outlining how the current situation in the United States seems to mirror Hitler’s rise to power. In the brief description of the Holocaust, it said that, “minorities, including gays, the disabled, non-Christians and people of color were considered ‘inferior’ and sent to death camps for slaughter.” Six million Jews were murdered in the Holocaust, were sent to concentration camps and stripped of their humanity, tortured and starved and worked to death and shot and gassed and burned. Eleven million innocent people were murdered in the Holocaust, in the Shoah, and six million of them were Jews. Do not erase us. Do not take us out of our history when our solace and our promise to our people is remembrance. When all we can say to them is that we will not forget. And do not leave us out of the protests and the speeches of today. Just because we will not be the first to be harmed does not mean we are safer than any of you. Because whenever hate festers against any group, so too does anti-Semitism flourish.
In 1946, Niemöller wrote the first version of the line, “Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out, because I was not a Jew.”
Listen to his words. Speak out. I will speak out for you. I will speak out for every person who is victimized by this president, this political climate, and those who support and perpetuate hate and violence against any of us. So please. Speak out for me. And if you cannot do that, at least recognize that I, too, am part of this fight. And I too have reason to fear.
– Claire Breger-Belsky ’20
Contact Claire Breger-Belsky at cabb ‘at’ stanford.edu.