Like so many of us, I have spent the past several days trying to come to terms with what we witnessed take place at our nation’s Capitol.
When I was a very young little girl my mother spoke to me of losing both her parents and two older sisters in the Holocaust because they were Jewish, leaving her orphaned at only 5 years old. I don’t remember these conversations with her in much detail but I was acutely aware from that young age of the profound weight she carried with her. She somehow raised me, however, to believe in the innate goodness of all people; that hate was something learned; that people have the ability to be incredibly good but are also capable of unspeakable evil. She taught me to raise my voice and to never be silent in the face of hatred, lest history repeat itself.
Over the last several years we have sadly watched the insidious rise of hate emboldened by a leader who did not reject the support of David Duke when he campaigned, who invited a man known to peddle anti semitism onto his national security council when he was president elect and who instituted a Muslim ban shortly after taking office. He dehumanized and criminalized immigrant families making it somehow acceptable to rip infants and young children from their parents’ arms. He saw good people on both sides when Neo Nazis marched through American streets carrying torches and confederate flags and shouting “Jews Will Not Replace Us!”
Hate has been politicized over and over again during the past several years, building a movement whose leader planted seeds of hate in a political party and let it grow wild and unchecked. The leaders in that party who now say they are shocked that it went this far, who now condemn the violence and destruction at the Capitol that has threatened our very democracy– they should have known better. It was their silence in the face of hate that allowed what transpired on January 6th to take place. It was their silence after a President saw good people on both sides that emboldened white supremacists and Neo Nazi holocaust deniers to carry confederate flags into the Capitol building , some shouting racial slurs at black police officers, one spotted wearing a t-shirt that said “Camp Auschwitz”. Words matter. Words have consequences and so too does silence.
It is incumbent upon all leaders — elected officials of both political parties, educators and faith leaders– to use their powerful voices to speak out swiftly and forcefully against hate whenever we see it rear its ugly head. It is incumbent upon us all as individuals to speak out ourselves and to demand that our leaders not remain silent. I pray that what took place this week was a wake up call to those who did not believe that what we witnessed could ever take place here in the United States of America. To them I say of course it could take place here! We are all human, all capable of good or evil. When we choose to remain silent we are no different than those who stood back and watched the rise of hate to power during WW2. The future of our democracy and indeed democracies around the world depends on how we and our leaders respond to this moment in our history.
Eve Meltzer Krief, MD
Pediatrician, Huntington NY