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Date: 2024-05-21 Page is: DBtxt001.php txt00023383

Ken Burns’ Message of Warning to America ... His new documentary The U.S. and the Holocaust isn’t just about the past.

Ken Burns’ Message of Warning to America

Original article:
Peter Burgess COMMENTARY

Peter Burgess
Ken Burns’ Message of Warning to America

His new documentary The U.S. and the Holocaust isn’t just about the past.

Written by Micah Sifry

September 29th 2022

The final minutes of the last episode of the new three-part documentary “The U.S. and the Holocaust,” produced by Ken Burns, Lynn Novick, and Sarah Botstein, are not about the Holocaust.

Instead the filmmakers show us the following montage: the signing of the 1965 Immigration Act, which abolished the national quotas on immigrants that had kept so many Jews out during World War II (but still imposed restrictions on people from the Americas, the narrator notes), followed by images of diverse groups of newly naturalized citizens smiling at their good fortune, and then old black and white photos of Ku Klux Klan marchers filling the streets of Washington DC in the 1920s, an American Nazi Party rally, white southerners jeering black children entering newly desegregated public schools, the beating of protestors at the Selma march, and then — the present.

While historian Nell Irvin Painter talks about the recurring waves of white supremacy and anti-Semitism in America, the images turn to color. We see anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim graffiti followed by the hate-filled face of Dylann Roof (the Charleston mass murderer who, the narrator reminds us, wanted to set off a race war) and then the voice of Donald Trump promising to build the wall and the angry young men of the 2017 white power march in Charlottesville marching and chanting, “Jews will not replace us.” Then it’s the Pittsburgh synagogue mass shooting of 2018, and we are at yesterday’s door, the January 6th assault on the US Capitol. Burns and his colleagues end this stream with a close-up of a bearded white man, the insurrectionist who went to the Capitol wearing a “Camp Auschwitz” sweatshirt. The warning could not be clearer.

It’s getting harder every day to live in America and not connect the dots. As the child of a Holocaust survivor — my mother and her family made it through World War II by going into hiding from 1940–44 while Belgium, their home, was occupied by Nazi Germany — I am perhaps hyper-sensitive to the warning signs here. Indeed, there are lots of spots on this idea-map from that reflect my own experience, including “projecting historical traumas onto current realities,” “hyper-vigilance” and “difficulty slowing down.” But I don’t think it serves us at all to hide from what is going on.

History, of course, doesn’t repeat itself precisely. But it does rhyme. And so while Jews in America are in a much more powerful position today than the Jews of Europe during the 1930s, that hasn’t insulated us from a rising wave of anti-Semitic speech and behavior here, including more physical attacks on people who are visibly Jewish and on Jewish property like synagogues. But we are relatively well protected both by law and by law enforcement. Our situation, however, is nothing like that of transgender people, their families and caregivers, who are experiencing an alarming rise not just in physical and virtual harassment but laws and media campaigns explicitly targeting them.

Just in one week, from September 19–25, Melissa Gira Grant tallied the following series of threats to the LGBTQ community (read her New Republic piece for the whole list). Every night, Fox’s Tucker Carlson “aired a segment spreading virulent misinformation and outright conspiracy theories about LGBTQ people,” where he hammered phrases like “chemically castrating children” to describe gender-affirming care. On the 19th, Akron Children’s Hospital took down information about its gender-affirming care services, giving in to a wave of intimidation spread by the far-right Libs of TikTok. (This is after Boston Children’s Hospital was locked down from a bomb theat.) On the 20th, the city of Lynchburg, Virginia, was hit by anti-Semitic leaflets claiming “Every Single Aspect of Disney Child Grooming is Jewish.” On the same day, 17 public libraries in Fort Worth, Texas closed due to credible bomb threats. And the Republican governor of Tennessee called for an investigation into Vanderbilt’s pediatric gender-affirming care unit.

On the 21st, the Denver Public Library closed its branches due to bomb threats. Meanwhile the Vanderbilt University Medical Center removed info about its pediatric unit from its website while Republican Senator Marsha Blackburn joined in the call for an investigation saying, “there is nothing healthy about mutilating the bodies of young children.” The next day she asked the FDA to investigate the use of puberty blockers. On the 23rd, Libs of TikTok turned its attention to a gender-affirming program at a University of Wisconsin hospital, naming a specific doctor; an hour later Republican Senator Ted Cruz shared one post commenting, “She does this to children. Sterilizes & mutilates them.” Hours later the hospital’s website deleted the info.

On the 24th, the Pride Community Center in Gainesville, Florida was vandalized, while anti-“grooming” protestors picketed a bakery in Lake of the Hills, Illinois. The bakery, which has hosted drag events, was vandalized in July. Also that day, a group led by a self-described “Christian fascist” tried to intimidate people attending a drag bingo fundraiser outside a church in Katy, Texas, drawn there by Steve Bannon’s War Room show. Neo-Nazis from the Aryan Freedom Network and the Proud Boys were present.

That’s just one week in today’s America, and I left out other attacks on what people like Florida Republican governor Ron DeSantis calls “the woke agenda,” like assaults on the right to abortion. Singling out a minority group and accusing it of satanic intentions against children is a classic fascist trope. The intense moral panic being fomented against LGBTQ people for supposedly being “groomers” or “mutilating” young children is a precursor to organized violence against the LGBTQ community. And even if it doesn’t erupt further, the harassment is destroying lives, for example driving families to flee states like Texas that are already criminalizing gender-affirming care as “child abuse.”

Elie Wiesel, perhaps the most famous survivor of the Holocaust, said “I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.” Do not be silent now. Find an LGBTQ center near you and offer them your support. Speak up.

The text being discussed is available at
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