Just last week in The Washington Post, I read about the installation in the District of Columbia of a sculpture based on an iconic picture of General Dwight D. Eisenhower as he addressed soldiers belonging to the 101st Airborne Division just prior to the massive invasion of the Normandy beaches during World War II on June 6, 1944. Of course, the date is better known as D-Day.
He knew, and they knew that many of those listening to the Allied Commander and future president of the United States would die in what was the greatest amphibious invasion in military history. Surprise belonged to the Allied forces, tactical advantage to the Germans.
Eisenhower understood the horror of war, the maiming and loss of lives of American, British and Canadian soldiers fighting to rid the world of Adolf Hitler and his merciless diet of tasteless Nazism. He knew too the physical destruction of once beautiful cities.
Once combat ended in Europe, Eisenhower saw first-hand the results of another unconscionable act of brutality: the killing of six million Jews. He viewed the worst of man’s inhumanity to man.
Eisenhower, along with Generals Bradley and Patton, visited Ohrdruf Concentration Camp, part of the infamous Buchenwald network of forced labor and concentration camps in central Germany. He had a specific purpose. He wanted to see for himself the bodies of Jewish prisoners and the emancipated but living human beings who somehow avoided death.
Eisenhower wished to be able to tell the ugly truth about concentration camps should naysayers in the future claim that the holocaust never happened. He was uncannily prescient.
Yesterday was the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the German camp in Nazi-occupied Poland known worldwide as Auschwitz. About 1.1 million Jews either died or were killed at this site of mass murder.
The guiding principle of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC is never to forget (and maybe forgive) the horrors imposed in the name of anti-Semitism. It was a nightmarish persecution of people guilty only of being Jewish.
It was an evil attempt to obliterate the Jewish religion and culture in Europe. Hitler used the extermination of Jews to rally Germans to feel a sense of superiority and empowerment to rule the world. He was cruelly shrewd, a masterful propagandist.
It was a concept born out of a sickness, to use Jews as scapegoats for the problems that bedeviled Germany after World War I. He converted a formally civilized country into a hotbed of extermination.
Anti-Semitism is still a thriving scourge in and outside our country. Hate crimes in Pittsburgh, PA, Poway, CA, New York City and elsewhere are despicable examples of terror still bedeviling Jews. The shameful killings and acts of bias are increasing, according to the Anti-Defamation League.
So is nagging fear. Memories of the holocaust are strikingly searing. Jews find themselves haunted by the past.
Why is anti-Semitism on the rise?
I am neither a theologian nor a political scientist. I am treading on thin philosophical ice. But I will wade where I shouldn’t.
Our president has fanned the festering flames of prejudice by his asinine attacks on Muslims and minorities. He leads by insult and baseless claims.
Hatred is ingrained in the human condition. If given permission by an irresponsible leader, “bad angels” feel emboldened to use violence as a tool.
Both in our nation and Europe, elements of the population feel disenfranchised and disrespected. They feel their lives and livelihoods are threatened by minorities.
For reasons beyond my comprehension, Jews become a common target. Festering resentment translates into acts of violence and harassment.
I can offer no prescription for tolerance. I hope and pray that civic, political, business, religious and academic leaders will speak up—constantly—against anti-Semitism and personal degradation. Not just platitudes but genuine disgust.
Silence is unacceptable. It feeds the beast of bias.
President Eisenhower governed during a more placid time in the early 1950s. He was a strong, tough leader, often under-estimated in the political world.
Ike understood the power of peace and wanton destruction wrought by warfare. His visit to a concentration camp enabled him to view inhumanity at its basest level.
I liked Ike. Still do.
Columnist Howard Freedlander retired in 2011 as Deputy State Treasurer of the State of Maryland. Previously, he was the executive officer of the Maryland National Guard. He also served as community editor for Chesapeake Publishing, lastly at the Queen Anne’s Record-Observer. In retirement, Howard serves on the boards of several non-profits on the Eastern Shore, Annapolis and Philadelphia.
Letters to Editor
David Reel says
Despite efforts by his opponents and the media during his two terms as President to portray Ike as a doddering bumbler, history has confirmed as Howard Freedlander notes that “He was was a strong, tough leader, and often under-estimated in the political world.” One of his guiding principles was “When things go well, praise your subordinates, when things do not go well, assume full responsibility.” A man of his word, he hand wrote the note below the day before D- Day. It was discovered in his pocket by an aide after it was clear D-Day defied the odds and was successful . While it was a message Ike never had to deliver, he was fully prepared and willing to do so. It read:
“Our landings in the Cherbourg-Havre area have failed to gain a satisfactory foothold and I have withdrawn the troops. My decision to attack at this time and place was based on the best information available. The troops, the air, and the navy did all that bravery and devotion to duty could do. If any blame or fault attaches to the attempt it is mine alone.”
C. Paul Cox says
Thank you Howard. This is a timely and important story to write. Too easily we forget how “civilized” people, as the Europeans were at the end of the 19th century, can let it all slip into the worst of human barbarism which the death camps surely were. My touchstone has been the words of our forefathers, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness”. It was at the time and remains today one of the most radical statements ever made. It has guided our country. It guided Eisenhower. And if we hold true to it, I am confident it will guide us through the messy politics that seem to consumes us today.
Willard Engelskirchen says
Well said. Silence IS unacceptable.
Barbara Denton says
To blame President Trump for the antisemitism raging in this Country and around the world is preposterous. Donald Trump’s daughter and son-in-law are Jewish as well as 3 of his grandchildren. The wave of anti semitism in this Country is fanned by the muslim groups on college campuses and in cities around the Country. President Trump has done nothing to fan these flames besides exist. Mr. Freelander seems to let his extreme dislike of our tough and strong President overrule his common sense.
Deirdre LaMotte says
Trump has normalized, repeatedly, a toxic standard of behavior that his supporters imitate. He alone has elevated this behavior whether vulgar, racist or inflammatory. Historical data suggest a strong link between heated rhetoric and hate crimes. One study found a 226% increase in hate incidents in counties that hosted 2016 Trump rallies (University of North Texas study).
If you don’t believe this, listen to his words and read his Tweets yourself. If you think they are fine perhaps some inward reflection is needed.
Barbara Denton says
No President in history has had to put up with the 4th estate lies, the Democratic lies and the base ridicule of elitist politicians. On top of that he has withstood the ridicule and lies of never Trumpers in his own party and the leakers in the White House who are former Obummer employees. I too can withstand your rhetoric accusing our President of being vulgar, racist and inflammatory. You better get your list of examples together because this statement is just Party of Death Democratic rhetoric to keep the sheeple in line. No President has accomplished in 3 years what this President has accomplished despite the vile hatred displayed toward him since January 21, 2017. You can start right there with vile, racist and inflammatory! Oh, I forgot. That was the Womens March on Washington. That was certainly a display of all the behavior you have falsely accused Trump of doing.