Sunday, June 25, 2006


This weekend I watched the Oscar-winning movie “The Pianist,” which tells of the story of the Polish pianist and composer Wladyslaw Szpilman and his survival of the German occupation of Warsaw and the horrific Jewish Ghetto. Three things struck me as remarkable:

First, the Germans did not immediately round up all Jews and ship them to Treblinka. The process was incremental. First they took away small rights—limiting the amount of money they could keep in the home, limiting where they could work, restricting the restaurants and stores they could go to. Then more basic rights—no sitting on public benches, no walking in public parks. Then they required them to be visibly marked with the Star of David. Then they prohibited them from living and working in all but a designated area. Then they walled in that area and let very little food in. Then all Jews were required to get a work permit, or else be removed to a labor camp. Then everybody was removed to the labor camp. And the rest, as they say, is history.

Second, it boggles the mind why Polish Jews submitted to this treatment, or better yet why everyone else in Poland did. Of course, so long as these laws did not adversely affect them, the average Pole—or German or other European nationality, for that matter—probably thought it was not their problem. Some, like the man who buys Szpilman’s piano for a pittance of its worth, doesn’t even acknowledge that he is exploiting their desperation. When one of Szpilman’s family members protests the low price, he replies, “What are you going to do, eat the piano? What’s the matter with you people—I’m doing you a favor.” Of course, eventually the plight of the Jews became the plight of everyone, and the Nazis went after anyone else who dared oppose them.

Third, I recall how the Nazis came to power anyway. Not everyone recognized them for the monsters they were. In fact, they were democratically elected to power. How were they elected? They were able to convince large parts of the public that some groups of people—mostly Jews, but also Gypsies, homosexuals and other non-Aryans—were to blame for Germany’s problems, not to mention the Communists. This was done by propagandizing lies and stereotypes about the Jews, and convincing people that “The Jewish Problem” was a critical priority: Jews were not loyal Germans. In fact they were a scourge upon that country and the Aryan race. They were taking advantage of Germany, they were dishonest, they were dirty and diseased. Jews and the others were to be feared and hated. History’s lesson is clear—Nazis did not take Germany over because of their lust for power. The Nazis took over because everyone else gave up their power and allowed it to happen.

Some of this is starting to sound a little too familiar. With regards to the Illegal Immigration Problem, that is. And Homosexuals for that matter too. Despite a very long list of questionable policies and decisions, a growing number of our elected officials, primarily Republicans, are increasingly turning to fear as their next play to stay in power. America’s problems are not the result of anything we’ve done. Muslims want to kill everybody. The homosexuals and activist judges are trying to destroy families and the institution of marriage. And illegal immigrants are pouring across the border and destroying our country. I am starting to understand how it happened in Germany and Poland. It happened in the name of nationalism, in the name of security, the rule of law, and cultural preservation. It happened legally, incrementally, and democratically. Will it happen again? Will the powers of fear be allowed to convince the American public to believe what they say about immigrants, gays and Muslims? Will the majority give our power away—with the Patriot Act and domestic spying—and allow it to happen? America has between now and November to decide.