My parents survived the Holocaust. My father was there during Kristallnacht, when Jewish places of worship, shops and homes were vandalized by Nazis. Although they worked hard to help us not be afraid, my parents reflected the intense fear and disillusionment they felt during that period.
Being somewhat super-sensitive, I was aghast when South Street Temple was attacked by an individual who painted anti-Semitic epithets on the old doors of the Temple and a swastika on its front steps.
My heart and my pride in my community soared at the response from the people of Lincoln. People of all faiths attended the Friday night service following the desecration. Our Temple was surrounded by Christians putting themselves in line to protect the right to worship. A GoFundMe account was established to raise $5,000 to repair the damage. People from all walks of life contributed over $23,000.
Recently, my pride was bolstered again when Nebraskans marched against racial injustice. These acts show a strong sense of caring by people willing to speak and act for the good of others.
An out-of-state acquaintance sent me a copy of "Mein Kampf," Adolf Hitler’s neurotic outpouring of hate. He asked me to donate it to a Holocaust Museum. The copy was signed by Hitler and presented to his adjutant. It was the epitome of hatred.
Did Hitler’s DNA still reside within the fibers of the cover? Was I in touch with the person who forged the death of most of my relatives and most of the siblings of my parents? Did this book harbor the evil that put my mother in a concentration camp during her teen years or that caused my father to give up years of his life fighting as a partisan in the woods and fields of Europe?
Before I shipped it, I thought about burning it to obliterate its essential evil. I didn’t. That was how Hitler and his ilk would have dealt with books, especially those countering their views with intelligent voices from the past and reasonable voices from the present.
Germany was commandeered by an evil leader who thought only of himself and his legacy. His ego was fed by the death of millions. He brought his country to economic and social collapse to feed his vanity and the evil that defined his being.
The caring people who made up the majority of Germans were blinded by propaganda, a desperately poor economy, and a belief that an easy solution was at hand. They quietly watched, in fear, as their country surrendered to the worst instincts of human beings.
The message is profound. No matter our politics, especially as a caring people, we need to take a hard look at our leadership. In our democracy, they work for us. Are they serving us, or are they serving their own egos and the desires of their limited minions?
My profound hope is that we will exercise our votes to elect people who will strengthen the sensitivity, the caring, the fairness and the reason that are at the heart of our American democracy and our being.
Arthur I. Zygielbaum is on the board of directors for Nebraska Appleseed and is an emeritus associate research professor at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln's School of Natural Resources. He lives in Lincoln. This column represents his personal views.
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