Trump in Florida, and the German Jews Who Voted for Hitler

This is what I've come to know: Any Jew who votes for Donald Trump is voting for an anti-Semite. The next time he asks you to raise your right hand, America, just say Never Again.

U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump reacts after being introduced at a campaign rally at the Sunset Cove Amphitheater, Boca Raton, Florida, March 13, 2016.
Reuters

I'm not a person who is easily scared. But I am terrified for the America I love. 

I'm not at all used to feeling this way. I am used to Americans, Jews in particular, worrying about the safety and future of people who live where I do. But now I find myself thinking about what is about to happen to my loved ones in America. About what may happen to minorities and other people who may be rendered vulnerable by their faiths or their opinions, Jews certainly among them.

Here in Israel it's the middle of the night. The television's on. I'm watching Jews in Florida talk about why they're supporting Donald Trump. And I'm thinking about the German Jews who voted for Adolf Hitler.

I've never felt comfortable about equating present-day political figures to Hitler. I always felt that it represented a form of Holocaust denial. My discomfort has only grown over the years, as the epithet Nazi has been thrown around so often and so loosely, by so many sides to so many conflicts.

But this time is different. Because this time, the echoes are getting much too close.

Now Trump has an hour to himself on Fox News, with sympathetic anchor Sean Hannity and a wildly admiring studio audience. He is talking about other Republican presidential candidates. But his tone suggests that he may be talking about something broader in scope. From the Fox News transcript:

"Everybody that's attacked me is gone. Do you ever notice that? Wouldn't that be nice for our country? Everybody..."

"(CHEERS AND APPLAUSE)"

When I was small, my favorite aunt, who was a concentration camp survivor, told me that there had been Jews in Germany who, when Hitler was just starting his rise to power, supported him.

But now we all know better, other relatives were quick to add. Something like that won't happen again. We wouldn't let it.

I figured they were right. Until this week. Until I began to hear reminders of the observations of the Jews who'd once placed hopes in Hitler. How a leader like that could bring stability, restore a broken country to greatness. How you shouldn't pay too much heed to what he says – it's just what politicians need to do to get elected.

Trump is only speaking the way he is in order to win office, but once in power he will dial back, Trump supporter Chaim Bitterman said at Trump's mass campaign rally Sunday in Boca Raton, Florida.

“There’s a difference between a presidential race and actually being president," Bitterman observed.

Another rally participant, Marie Gosser, who moved to Florida from Israel decades ago, said of Trump, “He’s not racist, he says the truth."

Back when I was very small, my grandmother, who got out of the old country before the Holocaust, would tell me stories about what it was like to live through the pogroms she left behind. Her graying eyes far away, haunted, she would then tell me about when they came to America, to the Midwest, where they stayed inside and locked the doors when there were Ku Klux Klan rallies and burning crosses. The Klan, she told me, hated black people and Jewish people and anyone who didn't look like them or believe what they did.

My parents would then tell me that things like this would never happen again. Not in America. They could never happen again. Not after we've seen what we've seen, heard what we've heard. Not when we know what we know.

This is what I know: Any Jew who votes for Donald Trump is voting for an anti-Semite.

This is a man who three years ago, sent his Twitter followers this message about comedian-commentator Jon Stewart and his birth name:

"I promise you that I'm much smarter than Jonathan Leibowitz – I mean Jon Stewart @TheDailyShow. Who, by the way, is totally overrated."

This is a man who in 1991 was quoted by former Trump Plaza Hotel and Casino president John R. O'Donnell as declaring "Black guys counting my money! I hate it. The only people I want counting my money are little short guys that wear yarmulkes every day."

This is a man who just this month was pressed to disavow the support of white supremacists, only to defend his refusal to do so by comparing the Klan and other groups to Jewish charities.

“I don’t like to disavow groups if I don’t know who they are,” Trump told MSNBC. I mean, you could have Federation of Jewish Philanthropies in groups.”

Anti-Defamation League head Jonathan Greenblatt condemned Trump's statement as "obscene."

This is a man whose vocal supporter, Ann Coulter - who said Sunday that she "would like to see a little more violence from the innocent Trump supporters set upon by violent leftist hoodlums" – is the same commentator who in 2007 told Jewish talk show host Donny Deutsch she would like to see an America free of non-Christians. All Jews should just throw Judaism away and become Christians, Coulter suggested, and thus "be perfected."

Last September, Coulter, one of Trump's earliest supporters, famously responded to Republican candidates' frequent and glowing mentions of Israel during a debate by asking her followers, "How many f---ing Jews do these people think there are in the United States?"

This is a man who chose for his warm-up speaker at a North Carolina campaign rally, evangelist Mark Burns, who had this to say to prospective voters about the only Jew in the presidential race:

"And Bernie Sanders, who doesn't believe in God - how in the world are we going to let Bernie - I mean, really? Listen, Bernie gotta get saved. He gotta meet Jesus. I don't know - He gotta have a comin' to Jesus meeting."

A voice in the crowd then calls out "Send him to Europe!"  

Pastor Burns then repeats the remark, with a long, good-natured laugh, neither endorsing nor condemning it. "Send him to Europe. Well, we're not a socialist country. We're a democratic country.

Here in Israel, the other side of Europe, it's starting to get light outside. I switch the television to Israel. It's the news, Channel 10. They're showing Donald Trump at the Boca Raton rally, and Donald Trump is showing what he's made of.

"It's very important to vote," he calls. "But only if you're going to vote for Donald J. Trump. Do not vote if you're going to vote for anybody else."

The next time he asks you to raise your right hand, America, just say Never Again.