Most Americans learn about the Holocaust and the rise of Hitler’s National Socialist German Workers Party (or the “Nazis” as most of us know them) somewhere around junior or senior high school. We watch movies like Schindler’s List or Sophie’s Choice and the Holocaust becomes almost fictional, so it’s often hard to believe it really happened. Here in America we don’t have any experience with Nazi Germany or anything to compare it to. We hear the stories and watch the movies and we think that something like that could never happen here. We wonder how a political party could possibly have that much influence over its citizens, and how those citizens could allow the atrocities committed against so many of their fellow citizens.
Fast-forward to America today with the COVID-19 pandemic. We can’t buy essentials, the shelves in the stores are empty more often than not. Stores are now being banned from selling nonessential items. Millions are out of work and relying on government-funded unemployment to survive. The economy has nearly come to a standstill. We are told to stay at home, with many communities fining individuals for walking on the beach or sitting alone in their cars to watch a sunset. Neighbors are calling the police to report each other’s violations of stay-at-home or social distancing orders. We are classified by our government as essential or non-essential workers and our ability to travel is linked to that designation.
I live in a small mountain community in Colorado, a heavily Republican-leaning county. I am classified as an essential employee of an essential business. I have been given paperwork by the state that certifies me as essential and allows me to travel freely for work. This paperwork has a paragraph stating that it is voluntary and not the result of any state order. However, keep in mind that people are being fined for sitting in cars alone or walking alone on beaches.
In 1938, all Jewish people living in Germany were forced to surrender their passports. These passports were returned only after the letter J was stamped on them. All Jewish people were required to identify themselves in a way that clearly identified them as Jewish. Identity cards that showed their heritage were to be carried at all times and individuals could be stopped at any time and asked for identification. Jewish citizens were eventually required to wear yellow Stars of David on their clothing to identify them. In Hungary, ghettos were set up for Jews who would eventually be taken to concentration camps. The houses in the ghettos were marked with yellow stars on the doors.
Here in my small county, where we currently have 12 confirmed cases of COVID-19, our sheriff has asked people in the county to put red or green paper in the front windows of their homes to identify whether or not someone is sick. This too is strictly voluntary, but many will comply.
So here we are, carrying our paperwork in case we are stopped while traveling, marking our homes, and reporting each other for possible violations.
Meanwhile in Idaho, Ammon Bundy, known for leading the standoff at an Oregon wildlife preserve, is holding meetings in defiance of his state’s stay-at-home order. The right to assemble is a constitutionally protected right. He is breaking no law with these meetings, and everyone attending is there of their own choice. The media however paints a different picture. In their version he is endangering the public, he is a threat and a danger to society, and many Americans share that sentiment. Just as they are reporting their neighbors for exercising outside, many now believe exercising one’s constitutional rights is also unacceptable.
As the Jewish people did in Germany, and much of Nazi-controlled Europe, we agree to carry our papers, and mark our homes. We face persecution for everyday activities, and we report each other for doing those once-typical activities. Worst of all, most of us do so willingly. It’s for our safety and the safety of others after all.
So far the death rate from the coronavirus is small, certainly smaller than the toll the disease has taken on us as Americans, neighbors and human beings. It’s unlikely that we will see concentration camps or people being loaded into cattle cars, but it is important to note the power of herd mentality, and humans typically like to follow the herd.
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