Here is a pathway that leads into a forest. It’s a beautiful day and a beautiful place. What could go wrong in such a place?
I made this picture while I was on a visit to the town my mother had come from, a little town in Poland. We walked the old streets where she had played as a little girl, looked at the empty ground where the synagogue once stood, come to understand that Jewish life was gone. It had been an emotional day, and I thought we were done. Then our guide suggested we make one more stop, to the place where the Jews of the town had been murdered. I had no real desire to see it, but we had come so far, and it seemed like an obligation to the dead, so we went.
The first thing that struck me as we walked into the forest was how beautiful it was, how peaceful. The afternoon sunlight filtered through green leaves and made terrible things unthinkable. But terrible things had happened here in an unthinkable way. Neighbor had turned against neighbor, hatreds had been stoked and once the fuel was gathered and the permissions had been given atrocities had been committed by everyday people, farmers, and shopkeepers … neighbors.
I came home and wrote a story about the place and the unlikeliness of what had happened there. The story wasn’t connected to anything in the present, just a reflection on the failings of humanity in another place and time.
As it happened though, I wrote it just before the 2016 election, the one that gave us a president hell-bent on turning neighbor against neighbor, and offering his permission to the worst of us. Unfortunately, and in spite of the warning signs many Jews have made common cause with him. For some, it is because his policies are aligned with their beliefs for the state of Israel, there are others who were seduced by his appeals to their economic interests. Regardless, for two years they have slept with the devil and woken in the morning with the smell of sulfur on their clothes.
Now no more. Any Jew who supports Donald Trump after the killings in Pittsburgh must clearly understand they share the blood on his hands, and this time it is the blood of other Jews. The events of Pittsburgh must make it clear that attacks on the other, the dog whistling and demonizing of any other leads inevitably to attacks on Jewish temples and Jews — because inevitably we are the other too.
It is time to remember again that Jews are not alone in knowing the outcome of the insider/outsider game. When you hear the cry that Muslims are destroying the fabric of America, you have to know they also mean Jews, that when they say “we have to stop the Mexicans” it is also Jews they are talking about. History makes it perfectly clear that when the fires of hatred burn they consume everyone in their path.
To those who have supported him, it is time to understand that Donald Trump has the power to destroy America. His hatred and desire for dominance have awakened in him that mad lust of all dictators to turn everything to their will even if it destroys everything that they hold. Think of Nero and Rome, think of Hitler in the bunker, we are not there yet, but that is how it ends. Even now, the far right, increasingly unleashed, have put on their old masks of malevolence, they are killing again, burning again, hurting and smiling while they lie. Unchecked, it will only get worse.
To understand where we are headed today ponder the gravesites of the victims. You can find them everywhere. America is not spotless, nor Europe or Asia. Everywhere you look, you can find the bodies of those who were labeled different before they were destroyed.
Our only hope is to turn back from this path before it is too late and the only way to do that is to replace the ones who lead us in this direction, all of them. This is not an abstraction, a game of politics or a question of who is right or wrong. Hatred of the other always leads to pain and suffering. It will come for you and your family too. It is time to put it back in the bottle if we can.
All over the world are the gravesites of people murdered for being different. Some of them are us.
Thanks for reading!
If you liked this story, you might like the story about Poland that started it: The Town My Mother Came From
There’s many more pictures here
and many more stories here