Scapegoats and the Politics of Hate

The Holocaust did not happen overnight.

Germany’s loss in World War 1, the Treaty of Versailles, hyperinflation and the Great Depression had all brought Germany to its knees. In this environment of national desolation and shame arose a politician who was greedy, self-indulgent and a white-supremacist. Hitler desperately needed to rouse the masses and win public support to satisfy his own power-crazed needs. This demagogue needed a scapegoat, and he found one in the Jews of Germany.

Antisemitism existed in European society already, and Hitler succeeded in twisting this existing dislike into an explosion of hatred. My English dictionary gives a number of definitions for the word “trump”, one of which is “to invent a false accusation”. Hitler trumped up such a plethora of accusations against the Jewish people that the Germans became incapable of separating truth from insanity.

In a speech in Munich in 1922, Hitler told his supporters,

His is no master people; he is an exploiter. The Jews are a people of robbers. He has never founded any civilization, though he has destroyed civilizations by the hundred. Everything he has stolen. Foreign people, foreign workmen build him his temples. It is foreigners who create and work for him. It is foreigners who shed their blood for him.”

One of the earliest  Nazi policies was to deny Jews the right to citizenship of Germany. In 1920, Hitler announced,

None but members of the nation may be citizens of the state. None but those of German blood may be members of the nation. No Jew, therefore, may be a member of the nation.”

Jews became the “Untermenschen”, sub-humans, the untouchables. Jewish shops were marked with a yellow star of David and Germans were forbidden from entering them. In 1935 the Nuremberg laws were passed. Jews lost the right to be German citizens and so open discrimination against Jews became codified into the legal system. Then came Krystalnacht, the night of the broken glass. During this organised massacre, hundreds were brutally killed, over a thousand synagogues were burned to the ground, Jewish homes and businesses were destroyed and over 30,000 Jewish men were sent to concentration camps.

Joseph Goebbels is credited with saying that,

“If you repeat a lie often enough, it becomes the truth.”

It took decades of lies, false accusations, and vicious propaganda to get to a stage when the Holocaust could happen in full view of the world; when Jews and other minorities could be dragged openly to gas chambers while their neighbours looked the other way. When Jewish houses were being burned down, Germany’s fire engines stood cold and silent. When Jewish children were openly bullied in schools, the teachers ignored their complaints. When these children refused to go to school because they were terrified of the bullies, Hitler told the people that the Jews were inherently lazy. Jews were forced to wear yellow badges to identify them as the enemy.

Fast forward 82 years later to 2017, and we have an American president who regards Muslims as sub-humans, while his delirious party cheers his savage rhetoric. A president who refuses admission to America of Muslims from seven war-torn countries; a man who prides himself in hating refugees, Muslims, the poor and women generally. This man has brought Orwell’s nightmare to reality.

Trump is not the first American president to close his country’s borders to refugees. By May 1939, the Nazis had closed most of Germany’s borders and many countries were imposing quotas on the number of refugees they would permit into their countries. Many Jewish refugees wished to travel to the United States and Cuba became a transit point for many. The Cuban embassy in Berlin was offering visas to refugees at a cost of almost $5,000, which in today’s currency would be £3,000. In May 1939, more than 900 Jewish refugees fled Germany in the cruise liner SS St Louis; they held Cuban visas and hoped to travel to the US. The mood on the ship was jubilant and hopeful; they had escaped Nazi persecution and were looking forward to a new life across the oceans. But when the ship arrived in Havana, the authorities refused to let anyone disembark. The ship floated in the waters of Cuba for seven days while its passengers begged to be allowed to go on shore. They were then told to leave immediately. Captain Schroder then steered the ship towards Florida, but the US authorities also refused them permission to dock. The ship was forced to return to Europe. The joy and singing of the passengers had turned to despair and helplessness. Some passengers slit their wrists. They knew full well the fate awaiting them in Europe, so suicide seemed a better option. A month after setting sail from Germany, the ship docked in Belgium and its nine hundred passengers scattered across Europe. 250 of them were killed by the Nazis, while the rest managed to escape to freedom.

Our world today is facing a myriad of troubles. Climate change, deadly bacteria that are immune to modern medicine, extinction of animals and plants, shortage of water, high fossil fuel consumption, pollution, international security, terrorism and much more. None of these issues are confined to one part of the world or to one religious group. These are world problems that need united and sensible solutions. Yet Trump has deluded his followers into believing that infantile gestures will rid our planet of its problems. Building walls to keep Mexicans out and deporting Muslims is a way of looking for scapegoats, rather than looking for long-term and mature solutions. Trump is the Emperor without clothes; in his case, the Emperor without maturity, wisdom, intellect or decency. Just as Germans turned away their faces when Jews were being bundled into trucks bound for the concentration camps, so world leaders are ignoring the vileness of his policies. Trump is parading in the nude, and we await a world leader who has the courage to say so

By Ustadha Khola Hasan

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