(Note to the reader: There are 2 parts to this post. This is the first part, which is more focused on personal recall/experience/memory. The second part is based on action.)
“Laura looks like Anne Frank!” my classmate said aloud. It was during one of those middle school grades at the Catholic school I was attending. We were reading a selection from “The Diary of a Young Girl” in the literary textbook. Suddenly the rest of my class was staring at me and generally in agreement that I resembled Anne Frank.
I still remember the intense amount of confusion and mix of emotions I felt in that moment. What pre-teen wants to be identified with someone who died tragically in the Holocaust? On top of all the other things I was teased for? Was being of Jewish descent that different? I was half Italian/Sicilian and half Russian/Lithuanian/Latvian/Hungarian/etc. I didn’t think I looked much different than my classmates (who were mostly all Italian, or Irish or Polish.) Plus, technically I wasn’t Jewish and I was being raised Catholic. My father is Jewish, but the tradition is that culturally the mother must be Jewish (which is another story in itself). Details.
Related to our English class reading, in religion class, we were told of the stories of nuns and priests who had hidden Jews during WWII – some successfully and some not. Of clergy who had converted to Catholicism from Judaism and were still hunted down and murdered. That anyone who didn’t fit the Nazi ideal in some way were targets, regardless of creed or background. It seemed so inhumane and monster-like, a force you can’t apply reason to or reason with. (Side note: I am really uncomfortable with movies with giant monsters you can’t reason with. Machines-gone-bezerk, zombies, Nazis, and dinosaurs all match that category.)
I didn’t understand it – how could you want to kill an entire group of people because of how they looked or believed? Or because they thought differently than you?
A little over a decade later, I’m entering Germany as part of a trip to teach dance workshops. I can’t say Germany was high on my list of must-go-to places prior to this trip. Coming into customs, I come face to face with the most Aryan-appearing man I have ever seen in real life. (Aryan is the first word that came to mind when I saw him). He does not meet my (probably nervous as hell) smile as he stares at me with ice-blue eyes, tight-lipped. His whole demeanor changes though when he looks at the name on my passport. “Ah Schmidt! You’re a Schmidt! Welcome home!” I don’t correct him that this is not my maiden name, nor my place of origin. I look much younger than I am, so he’s assuming that it’s my maiden name and I must be of German origin. I smile, thank him, and GTFO of there.
On that trip, I spent a fair amount of time traveling by train in Germany as well as in the Czech Republic, with a lot of the infrastructure dating back to pre-WWII. After the initial stress of trying to get on a crowded train with a lot of luggage without speaking the language, I began to feel another kind of anxiety. It felt connected to the tracks themselves, and into my mind flew the image of people being torn from their homes and forced onto trains that would lead them to concentration camps. After that vision, I had a hard time shaking it throughout the trip.I can’t pin it to an ancestral memory – my great-grandparents on both sides emigrated over prior to WWI. My father’s side most likely came over to escape the pogroms, my mother’s were probably looking for economic opportunity. Maybe it was a past-life thing, though I’m not really one to get into that. Perhaps I was picking up on the charged emotion of decades past, amplified by metal and stress. Or maybe I have a very vivid imagination fueled by my subconscious. Either way, the feeling and experience was very real. A sense of loss, helplessness, being powerless.
One more moment on that same trip, was a student commenting on my appearance. She essentially said, “We don’t have anyone that looks like you around here.” It stopped me for a moment, because I’ve longed been described as looking “old world” – and here I was, in the “old world!” I expressed my confusion in those terms, and my travel companion poked me and whispered, “She means Jewish-looking. This area was heavily ‘scrubbed.'” I’m beyond dumbfounded.
* * *
I’m writing about all of this here because it’s been seeping up through my brain over the last several months, like sewage we thought was long-flushed away. This is not a “woe-is-me” in any way, but poking at the roots of things I’ve never been able to understand. This is not about burning times fantasy, but our reality, right now. #WeAreAradia isn’t just about being witches, but fighting for the heart of humanity. It’s about taking care of everyone – regardless of creed, gender, sexuality, race, age, or ability.
There is no safe space, no place to hide, no place to be silent. There is no “it’s happening to them, not me. This doesn’t concern me.” History has shown us what happens.
First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.
– Martin Niemöller (1892–1984) a prominent Protestant pastor who emerged as an outspoken public foe of Adolf Hitler. He spent the last 7 years of Nazi rule in concentration camps.
Hate like this has no solid foundation. It thrives on misinformation, manipulation, and fear. It is a monster that is out of control, outside of rational thought, sense, and humanity. It craves to make others feel small, powerless because it itself stems from insecurity. There are but two sides: the side of Hate, and the side of Love. And it’s high time for Love to do some ass-kicking.