What is the international holiday for the victims of communism? Asking for a friend.
There’s nothing about surviving a genocide that makes a person good or wise.
International Holocaust Remembrance Day is always a somber time for Auschwitz survivor Irene Weiss. But this year’s observance had an additional layer of grief: For the first time, Weiss is worried about her adopted homeland.
“I am exceptionally concerned about demagogues,” the 85-year-old Weiss told me at Wednesday’s commemoration at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. “They touch me in a place that I remember. I know their influence and, unfortunately, I know how receptive audiences are to demagogues and what it leads to.”
She knows better than just about any person alive. The Czech-born Jew lost her parents and most of her siblings in Hitler’s death camps. Now, when she hears about plans to register Muslims and to ban Muslims from entering the United States, “I’m worried about the tone of this country,” she said.
To Weiss, the ugly political environment in 2016 has an ominous precedent in Weimar Germany. “It has echoes, and maybe more so to me than to native-born Americans,” she said after lighting a candle for Hitler’s victims. “I’m scared. I don’t like the trend. I don’t like how many people are applauding when they hear these demagogues. It can turn.”
This year’s Holocaust remembrance comes at a time when Donald Trump, the front-runner for the GOP presidential nomination, retweets to his nearly 6 million followers a message from @WhiteGenocideTM based in “Jewmerica,” and a time when his nearest challenger, Ted Cruz, brandishes the endorsement of a minister who says Hitler was a “hunter” sent after the Jews by God. There has never been a more important time for Americans to heed the moral authority of the Holocaust survivors still among us.
“It’s really frightening,” said Al Munzer, hidden as an infant in the Netherlands with a Dutch family and their Muslim nanny. “When you see these mass rallies that Trump is able to attract, you really wonder: How are they buying into this message of hate?”
Munzer, who lost two sisters and his father to the Nazis, said he never thought such things could happen in America, but now he’s not so sure. “Thinking that Germany was somehow unique is wrong,” he said.