On May 8, 1945, men and women rushed to the streets of New York, London and Moscow to hug, kiss and dance. Germany had just surrendered. The war against Nazi Germany was over. The killing had stopped. A great evil had ended. Yet many had mixed feelings of joy and grief. More than 100,000 US soldiers had given their lives and almost another 450,000 had been wounded. In all, 15 to 20 million Europeans had been killed. May 8 is still celebrated in our times as Victory in Europe Day, or V-E Day.
In 1930, my father moved as a young boy from Holland to Germany with his parents and brothers. My grandfather hoped to earn some money there during the Great Depression. He said that nobody had foreseen what would develop in the next fifteen years. Until 1930, there were only a few hundred Nazi Stormtroopers (SA), or “Brownshirts,” in German streets intimidating voters, opponents and Jews. Many of the stormtroopers wanted socialism. In the following years, their number escalated quickly to thousands, and even hundreds of thousands. In 1933, when Hitler took power, there were two-to-three million SA Stormtroopers in Germany. It went amazingly fast, my grandfather always said.
The Nazis were obsessed with race. They suppressed dissent, controlled the dissemination of news and controlled culture. In 1933, the German Student Union started to burn books in an effort to align German arts and culture with Nazi ideas. Books of authors such as Hemingway, Helen Keller and Jack London were considered dangerous and had to be canceled. The students did not see themselves as suppressing culture; they saw themselves as advancing a just culture.
The intimidations by the Brownshirts peaked on Kristallnacht (“The Night of Broken Glass”). It was a night of looting, arson and public humiliation — solely on the basis of ethnicity. More than 90 Jews were murdered. Then the Blackshirts (SS entities) ‘finished it off’. That night, they brought tens of thousands of Jews to concentration camps.
Nazi officials disguised the organized nature of the pogrom. They described the actions as spontaneous and justifiable responses of the German population to the assassination by a Jew of a German diplomatic official, Ernst vom Rath, in Paris.
The government confiscated all insurance payouts to Jews whose businesses and homes had been looted or destroyed during Kristallnacht and blamed the Jews for the destruction. Soon, more Jewish property was confiscated and Jews got canceled from employment in the public sector and from most professions.
In an interview with the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, the Iranian professor and author Azar Nafisi, whose book Reading Lolita in Tehran was canceled in Iran, describes what took place:
“The first thing every totalitarian regime does, along with confiscation and mutilation of reality, is confiscation of history and confiscation of culture. I think they all happen almost simultaneously.”
What used to be unimaginable is now taking place in America. We see certain aspects of Nazi-like totalitarianism in the United States. The obsession with race, declaring an ethnic group collectively guilty, shaming, humiliations based on ethnicity, lootings, arson, racist violence, intimidation of opponents, cancel culture, controlled dissemination of news, and indoctrination of children in schools. We see fake news, conspiracy theories, an overhaul of history, a new language imposed, and unprosecuted theft. All in the name of a more just culture.
On May 8, we remembered that America had a leading role in liberating Europe from the totalitarian Nazi regime. But who will liberate America if it becomes totalitarian state? America is playing with fire.