Constable: U.S. still fighting anti-Semitism
For most people without a direct connection to World War II, it's easy to think of Adolf Hitler, Nazis and swastikas as things confined to history books, the comic relief in that old "Hogan's Heroes" sitcom or the plot device needed for Amazon's "The Man in the High Castle."
Recent news stories about bomb threats at Jewish community centers, vandalism at temples and the trashing of a Jewish cemetery near St. Louis, remind us that anti-Semitism is alive, deadly serious and requires action.
A Muslim group responded by raising money to restore the cemetery. People in New York took it upon themselves to wipe swastika graffiti off subway cars. For musician Roger Bain, 68, of Arlington Heights, the feelings came out in a song about Anne Frank that he posted on social media this week.
During a recent stay in Amsterdam, Bain read "The Diary of Anne Frank.
"I never read it in high school. It was chilling to read it as an old fogey," Bain says of the book, which chronicles the Jewish girl's thoughts as the Nazis swept into her adopted hometown of Amsterdam and her family hid in an attic before she was captured and sent to a concentration camp, where she died.
"A few days after completing this powerful book, I visited the annex on the Prinsengracht Canal, where she hid for two years during the Nazi occupation," Bain says. "I have never been more profoundly moved … We must never forget the forces of authoritarianism, bigotry and hyper-nationalism that made possible her plight."
Seeing parallels in today's world, Bain wrote a haunting song titled, "Song for Dear Kitty," which is how the girl started entries in her diary that became the monumental book.
You'd think we'd be done with anti-Semitism by now. In 1978, a couple dozen ragtag racists, anti-Semites and half-wits, led by a man who later would be sent to prison for molesting boys, went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court to win the right to march as Nazis through Skokie, before staging a "rally" in Chicago where they were met by thousands of people in opposition.
"I must respect the decision of the Supreme Court allowing this group (the Nazis) to express their views, even when those views are despicable and ugly as they are in this case," President Jimmy Carter said at the time. "But if such views must be expressed, I am pleased they will not go unanswered. That is why I want to voice my complete solidarity with those citizens of Skokie and Chicago who will gather Sunday in a peaceful demonstration of their abhorrence of Nazism."
The push to show anti-Semitism as despicable, ugly and abhorrent worked in some measure for decades -- until recently.
"After half a century of being increasingly relegated to the margins of society, the radical right entered the political mainstream last year in a way that had seemed virtually unimaginable since George Wallace ran for president in 1968," proclaims a story on the webpage of the Southern Poverty Law Center, a not-for-profit agency that monitors hate groups. The number of hate groups increased for the second year in a row in 2016.
A scathing statement issued Tuesday by Steven Goldstein, the executive director of the Anne Frank Center for Mutual Respect, blasted the current president's silence in the wake of recent bomb threats directed toward Jewish community centers and acts of vandalism at Jewish synagogues and cemeteries, while noting that the White House's statement on Holocaust Remembrance didn't mention the 6 million Jews who were killed.
Earlier that day, the president said anti-Semitic acts are "horrible," "painful" and "a very sad reminder of the work that still must be done to root out hate and prejudice and evil."
Bain's "Song for Dear Kitty" ends with this quote from Frank: "I keep my ideals, because in spite of everything, I still believe that people are good at heart."
That belief, and the fight by those who are good at heart, continues.