At a recent Solomon Tenenbaum lecture in Columbia, the keynote speaker was a professor. But, I don’t think that many, if any, in the audience believe that this professor, or any professor, is, because of a career choice, a danger to democracy.
Professor Deborah E. Lipstadt, PhD, from my alma mater, Emory University, spoke at the lecture on “Contemporary antisemitism: an enduring form of prejudice and hatred”.
Some people in our society, and in our world, she observed, label someone as undesirable and dangerous, based simply on their personal and social characteristics.
During the years before and during World War II, the German government sought the extermination of a specific group of people who excelled in their work as shopkeepers, teachers, artists, writers, and business leaders, but who were declared a danger to the future of the German state. The solution was to eliminate, according to a carefully designed plan, Jews in Germany, Poland, and other countries.
During this time, a third of Jews in the world - men, women, and children, were systematically killed in German-designed and operated “death camps” in Europe.
The Holocaust is, Professor Lipstadt says, a heavy gong that American Jews sound to make a point about the extraordinary level of hate within the German state in the 1930s and 1940s and within America today among alt-right groups.
The issue with which we must concern ourselves, she says, is the prejudice and hatred in the U.S. and elsewhere toward people who are Jews, blacks, transgender or in any other defined group.
One person in the audience said he lives in Israel. He reports that Israelis rarely, if ever, evoke the Holocaust and simply work toward improved recognition of the ethnic, religious, and national rights of Jews among people in the Middle East and Europe.
Recalling the Holocaust can be a strong tool when getting recognition and equality for Jews, in that many Jews died in the gas chambers, not as punishment for anything they did or didn’t do, but simply because they were Jewish.
However, just as there are people who deny that Neil Armstrong ever set foot on the moon, there are those who deny that the Holocaust ever happened. The Jews, the deniers say, are, in effect, looking for an emotion-charged excuse to get sympathy and political support for Israel as a Jewish state.
There are, Professor Lipstadt says “soft-core” deniers, who don’t say the Holocaust never happened, but simply downplay the significance of the Holocaust.
I noticed one person in the audience, probably in his 80s or 90s, who was wearing a “Holocaust Survivor” name badge. As those who experienced life in the German camps pass away, there will be only secondhand reports of what happened in these camps.
There are complaints, from scholars, Jewish or not, that some books written today about World War II fail to mention the Jews and others being exterminated in German-operated concentration camps.
Meanwhile, mention was made by an audience member about a 2017 bill passed in the South Carolina House (H. 3643) and sent to the Senate for further consideration that defines “anti-Semitism” for use in colleges when considering civil rights issues.
Professor Lipstadt declined to say whether such a bill should become law. However, based on her earlier comments, I expect that she would say that laws should protect the rights of anyone who faces discrimination based on their personal and social characteristics.
It is good for all of us, whether a professor at Emory or a soldier at Fort Jackson, and for the defense of our democracy, to be reminded about events in the history of the world and current events in South Carolina and in the United States that may deny anyone of unalienable rights given to all human beings and which our government, state and federal, was created to protect.