We Know What We Must Do

By Connie Schultz

August 16, 2017 6 min read

In 1997, my 9-year-old daughter met Miep Gies, the Gentile friend who helped hide Anne Frank and her family in the small attic apartment in Amsterdam until they were caught and murdered by the Nazis.

This was a momentous event in our family.

Gies was in Cleveland to deliver an evening speech. I interviewed her earlier in the day. When she found out I had a young daughter, she asked whether she could meet her, so I brought Caitlin to her speech that evening.

My daughter was mesmerized by this tiny but mighty hero, and the next day she asked to read Anne Frank's diary. An ever-hovering single mom, I was worried that she was too young. I asked her teacher, who assured me that Cait could handle the harrowing account of the bright, idealistic girl whose only crime was to be Jewish in a Nazi-occupied country.

We are not Jewish, but we have many Jewish friends, including three generations of a family who, for years, included Cait and me for Passover. Gloria and Lawrence were the grandparents, and Cait always felt like one of their beloved grandchildren at the table, which tells you everything you need to know about this wonderful family.

For weeks, Cait pored over Anne Frank's diary. One evening, shortly before bedtime, she ran into my bedroom, her hair still wet from her shower, her eyes wide with fear.

"We would hide Gloria and Laurie," she said. "We would hide them, wouldn't we?"

When I looked at her quizzically, she raised her voice. "From the Nazis, Mom. We would hide them from the Nazis if we knew them back then?"

I pulled her close. "Of course we would."

"And Jeff and Joan and Peter and Lia, too?" she said. "Even though we could be killed, right?"

"Yes," I whispered, kissing the top of her head, trying to force the horror from my mind.

I haven't thought of that moment for years. I'm sure — I hope — I don't need to tell anyone why I'm remembering it now.

Last week, white supremacists descended upon Charlottesville, Virginia. They claimed to be protesting the removal of a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee. But if their only goal was to preserve this glorification of the slave-owning South, they wouldn't have worn swastikas and repeatedly yelled "blood and soil" — the English translation of the Nazi's German phrase "Blut und Boden" — and "Jews will not replace us."

They also wouldn't have targeted Congregation Beth Israel in Charlottesville during morning services.

The temple's president, Alan Zimmerman, described in a blog post what happened last Saturday morning. An excerpt:

"I stood outside our synagogue with the armed security guard we hired after the police department refused to provide us with an officer. ...

"For half an hour, three men dressed in fatigues and armed with semi-automatic rifles stood across the street from the temple. Had they tried to enter, I don't know what I could have done to stop them, but I couldn't take my eyes off them, either. Perhaps the presence of our armed guard deterred them. Perhaps their presence was just a coincidence, and I'm paranoid. I don't know.

"Several times, parades of Nazis passed our building, shouting, 'There's the synagogue!' followed by chants of 'Seig Heil' and other anti-Semitic language. Some carried flags with swastikas and other Nazi symbols. ...

"Later, I noticed that the man accused in the automobile terror attack wore the same polo shirt as the man who kept walking by our synagogue; apparently it's the uniform of a white supremacist group. Even now, that gives me a chill.

"When services ended, my heart broke as I advised congregants that it would be safer to leave the temple through the back entrance rather than through the front, and to please go in groups.

"This is 2017 in the United States of America."

In 1997, my daughter asked whether we would protect Gloria and Laurie, Jeff and Joan, Lia and Peter. Today when I think about her question, I see their faces and so many more: Jill, Jeff, Benjamin, Steve, Joe, Pam, Debbie, Ron, Dahlia, Lana, Jane, Gail, Amy, Jennifer and Matt. The list goes on and on.

In 2017, the president of the United States has sided with the white supremacists who chanted racist and Nazi slogans.

The question looms for all of us as Americans: What will we do to counter the racism and bigotry of this president?

History tells us what the answer must be.

Connie Schultz is a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist and professional in residence at Kent State University's school of journalism. She is the author of two books, including "...and His Lovely Wife," which chronicled the successful race of her husband, Sherrod Brown, for the U.S. Senate. To find out more about Connie Schultz ([email protected]) and read her past columns, please visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.

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