“Make sure you have a bag packed and ready to go,” my father told me and my brothers while growing up in New York City in the 1980s.
This is something his father routinely said to him. “The Jews in Germany didn't see it coming. Make sure you always have a go bag packed and never get too comfortable.”
This instilled in me a sense of hypervigilance that at any moment my life could be in danger simply because I am Jewish. Anti-Semitism and acts of violence can show themselves in a variety of ways and can happen anywhere, at any time.
Even in America.
Despite the fact that I am a third-generation American with more ties to America than my Eastern European roots, I can never get too comfortable.
Throughout the 1930s, the increasing acceptance of Nazism in Western Europe was slow, almost inconspicuous, but very deliberate. In less than four years, Germany turned from a liberal state to a murderous dictatorship that nobody was able to stop.
Adolf Hitler started out as a fringe political figure. He had never previously served in public office and was relatively unknown in government circles. He rose to power through the perfect storm of Germany's economic collapse, his indelible gift for persuasive oration, and the skilled technique of using a scapegoat, the Jews, to explain the country's problems.
Each year on Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Remembrance) Day, Jews around the world cry while singing “Never Again” as they remember their murdered brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers, aunts, uncles, grandparents, wives, husbands and children.
The Holocaust may seem like ancient history, but the truth is that genocide against people because of their religion and beliefs is currently taking place.
Today, we see civil war in Sri Lanka, the brutal murder of Rohingyans in Myanmar, and forced sterilization, detention camps, or worse, for China's Uyghur population.
Thus, it is with the utmost urgency that we must remember the Holocaust because it can, and is, continuing to happen.
The chasms in our society continue to grow deeper and wider. Our divisions based on our beliefs and ideals make it all the more ripe for fringe political leaders to come to power. They rise by captivating and capturing those who are looking for someone to lead them by finding a scapegoat to blame for their current woes.
We saw this firsthand in January with the insurrection on our Capitol. There, while the Capitol was seized, were men wearing Camp Auschwitz shirts, waving Confederate flags and holding nooses. If this isn't history repeating itself, I don't know what is.
In 2019, according to the Anti-Defamation League, the Jewish community experienced the highest level of anti-Semitic activity since 1979, the year it began tracking these figures; there was a 56% increase in assaults.
But the Jews were not alone. According to Stop AAPI Hate, verbal assaults against Asian Americans increased in 2019 nearly 80% over the prior year. And nearly every day during the summer of 2020, we were reminded of the continued prevalence of racism in our country through the Black and brown individuals who lost their lives and the resulting demonstrations.
The pattern of scapegoating and blaming a group of people for our misfortunes because of their race, ethnicity or religion is where it all begins.
We must take pause when our highest leader refers to “a common enemy.”
We need to understand how and where this hatred begins, how it festers and how we must do everything within our power to refute and stop the hate.
We must recognize it is just as important for us to continue to remember the 6 million Jews who perished during the Holocaust as it is to remember those we have recently lost by the continued existence of racism and anti-Semitism.
We can draw a very clear and direct parallel between life in the United States today and life in the economically stable and culturally diverse Germany prior to Hitler's rise to power.
And if we aren't careful, or do not learn from our past, we may all need to have a go bag packed and ready.
Amy Shepsman Krouse was born and raised in New York City. A Fort Wayne resident since 2018, she is an active member of the Jewish community as well as being involved with women's rights and issues of equality in northeast Indiana.