I spent years studying the testimonies of Jewish survivors of the Holocaust and the recollections of their rescuers. When the rescuers were asked why they did what they did, they usually avoided the question. If they ventured a reply, it was simply to say that they did what anyone would have done. Historians who read sources develop intuitions about the material. The intuition I developed was that people who bragged about rescuing Jews had generally not done so; they were, in fact, more likely to be anti-Semites and racists. Rescuers almost never boast.
She memorably described a seemingly normal woman who was caught up in her daily cares but, when the moment arrived, ran headlong into a burning building to save children who were not her own.
“We know ourselves,” Ms. Szymborska wrote, “only insofar as we have been tested.”
.. Until we have been tested, there is no sense in boasting of our goodness; afterward, there is no need. After Charlottesville, President Trump faced an easy test, and failed. When presented with an obvious opportunity to condemn the evil that was and is Nazism, he first waited, then equivocated, then read from a teleprompter, then relativized. He spoke of “very fine people on both sides.”
.. The Nazi groups that marched in Charlottesville cannot be considered a “side.” When they carry torches, they imitate Nazi rituals. When they perform the call and response of “Trump! Hail” and “Victory! Hail!” they are translating Nazi performances that we know better in German: “Hitler! Heil!” and “Sieg! Heil!” In Charlottesville, American Nazis shouted “Sieg! Heil!” as they passed a synagogue.
.. When the supporters of the alt-right chant that “Jews will not replace us,” they recapitulate the Nazi idea of a world Jewry that stifles the master race and must therefore be removed from the planet. When they shout “Blood and soil,” they repeat a Nazi slogan signifying that races will murder races for land without mercy and forever.
.. These views do not define a “side,” but rather a worldview in which the United States of America, with its Constitution and laws, and with its hard-won daily understandings of rights and responsibilities, would no longer exist.
.. Hitler and his henchmen strategically defined themselves, from the outset, as a “side,” as the defenders of the system against the other “side,” the left. Hitler came to power denouncing Communism, which then (unlike now) was a force in the world. In power, Hitler assimilated all opponents to the other “side”
.. When Germany’s parliament, the Reichstag, burned, Hitler had already established in his rhetoric that the other “side” was violent, and he used the (false) claim that the other “side” had committed terrorism to bring the German republic to an end.
.. He has provided American Nazis with three services, for which they have thanked him:
- He has normalized their ideology;
- he has excused their actions; and
- he has given them hope that he will blame his opponents the next time America is struck by terrorism.
American Nazis dream of another Reichstag fire, a moment of terror in which the president will show his true colors and his opposition can be crushed.
.. The Confederate statues he admires are mostly artifacts of the early years of the 20th century, when Hitler admired the United States for its Jim Crow laws, when Mr. Trump’s father was arrested at a Klan rally, before America passed its test.
.. We are being tested, and so we will come to know ourselves.