The identities of those responsible for distributing anti-Semitic leaflets to Jewish people in Donetsk, Ukraine, in April remain sketchy. Implications of the incident do not. The official-looking documents ordered Jews to provide a list of property they own and pay the city a registration fee, “or else have their citizenship revoked, face deportation and see their assets confiscated.”
Although a Ukrainian rabbi referred to the leaflets as a political hoax, the episode sparked legitimate fear because the intent was clear: to inflame anti-Semitic passion and inspire terrorism against Ukraine’s Jews. In fact, days later, the main synagogue in Nikolayev, Ukraine, was firebombed.
For the Jewish people of Ukraine, the incident resurrected the specter of the 1 million Jewish lives obliterated there during World War II. Even the wording of the Donetsk leaflets was a chilly reminder of September 26, 1941, when the Nazis occupying Ukraine posted the following in Kiev:
Jews of the city of Kiev and vicinity! On Monday, September 29, you are to appear by 7:00 A.M. with your possessions, money, documents, valuables, and warm clothing at Dorogozhitshaya Street, next to the Jewish cemetery. Failure to appear is punishable by death.
Although only “failure to appear” was “punishable by death,” those who complied were massacred.
To Justify Genocide
Genocide always begins with a pretext. To convince a nation to condone mass murder requires a lie; and the bigger the lie, the better the result. The pretext can start with a leaflet or specially crafted document, such as the infamous Protocols of the Elders of Zion, first published in 1903. The Protocols create a phony Jewish plot to take over the world. Russian imperialists, pogromists, Nazis, Islamists, and anti-Semites have used the villainous Protocols for centuries. In fact, Article 32 of the Hamas charter (1988) refers to them as basic to Jewish global ambitions.
A pretext can also be found in an incident, most often having little or nothing to do with the reality of a situation. Prior to World War II, Adolf Hitler had waged a war of discrimination, lies, intimidation, restrictions, and localized violence against Jews. These atrocities, however, were insufficient for him to sell Germany on genocide. So Joseph Goebbels, Hitler’s high chief of propaganda, formulated a pretext from an incident in Paris involving 17-year-old Herschel Grynszpan who was so distraught that the Nazis had confiscated all his parents’ possessions in Germany and deported them that he shot a German official in France.
Goebbels seized on the incident to claim “international Jewry” was conspiring to attack the Third Reich. The claim was ludicrous. But Hitler mobilized forces across Germany to launch a major offensive against the Jewish people––who were basically helpless. On November 9 and 10, 1938, a massive anti-Semitic operation began in which 1,000 synagogues were reduced to ashes, some 7,500 businesses were destroyed, 30,000 Jews were arrested, and nearly 100 were killed. The infamous Kristallnacht (“night of the broken glass”) had turned the Germans into a nation of consenting conspirators. The Holocaust had begun.
None Too Small
No hate language, printed instigation, slander, or vandalism against Jewish institutions or individuals can be ignored. In April a pall descended over the annual Passover celebration for the American Jewish community when three people were killed in a shooting spree outside the Jewish Community Center and assisted-living facility in Overland Park, Kansas. Frazier Glenn Cross, 73, a man with a long history of animosity toward Jews, was arrested. He reportedly yelled “Heil Hitler” while entering the police cruiser. Two of the people he killed were Christians.
Somewhere, sometime, Cross was taught to hate deeply enough to want to murder total strangers solely because he thought they were Jewish. This is America, where no one should be afraid to walk home alone and where no synagogue should be smeared with swastikas. It is inexcusable for us to tolerate vicious propagandizing or to yield to pressure from radical minorities.
Yet anti-Semitism is escalating. Given the libelous defamation of Israel and exclusionary actions being fomented in some circles, we are a nation on notice. Historically, America bears the unique distinction of having incorporated into our national way of life the essence of Genesis 12:3, where God promises to “bless those who bless you [Israel].” What has been good for American Jewry has been good for us all. This country is at a dangerous crossroads. It has a big decision to make. We can only pray that the rise in anti-Semitism does not indicate it has already made it.