The fearful power of mere words

On the nights of Nov. 10 and 11 of 1938, my father and uncle, living in Frankfort Germany, experienced the fright of mobs breaking windows and burning buildings. As news of the incident reached the non-Jewish friends of the family, one woman remarked to my grandmother, “I heard it wasn’t that bad.” The reality is that it was worse than just the destruction of property; it was the fear it created in the Jewish residents of Frankfort and throughout Germany. This was the intent of the Nazi Party; property destruction was not important, creating fear was the goal.

The Nazis did not start out by killing Jews and other so-called undesirables. They started out by blaming them for economic ills, for spreading disease and later for criminal activity. During the rise of the Nazi Party, people who were in position to confront the blatant racism were either minimizing the problem, too afraid to confront the Nazis for fear of retribution or just turning a blind eye to what was happening as they enjoyed a resurgent economy.

I hope that my Republican friends take note that many of us fear a repeat of a dark chapter in human history. Democrats and Republicans share many common values: safe communities, good schools, good jobs and the freedom to speak openly about our government. I am not ready to equate our current president with the Nazi Party, but please remember, the Nazi Party did not start out by committing atrocities. The Nazi Party would never have gone as far as it did in the later years if people in power had stood up and said “No!” in the earlier years. Reps. Ben Cline and Denver Riggleman, please tell the president that his words do count and he cannot continue to have your support if he is going to use his words to incite anger on one side and fear on the other.

My father and uncle left Germany forever in 1938. They eventually found homes in the United States and Great Britain. I hope that this country never gets to the point where citizens have to flee to other countries for their own safety.

BRIAN JABLONSKI

Lynchburg

Go back where you came from

A couple of days ago, President Trump tweeted that some congresswomen should go back where they came from. He didn’t use those words exactly, but he came close enough. He said these four Democratic congresswomen who are hyphenated Americans should “go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came.”

I’m a hyphenated American too, and although I’m not in Congress, I’ve heard this kind of talk before.

Growing up in what was then considered Chicago’s Polish Triangle, I heard people calling Poles and Polish-Americans dirty, drunk and dumb Polacks. I heard them calling us that, and I heard these same people telling me and my Polish friends and neighbors that we should go back to where we came from. This didn’t happen all the time, but it happened often enough so that I remember it, and I bet that a lot of people reading my column today remember hearing it also.

Go back to where you came from.

I heard this said to Poles and Polish Americans, and I heard it said to the Italians, Mexicans, Puerto Ricans and Irish and Chinese people living in my neighborhood.

It was a way of dismissing us. It was a way of telling us all that we were basically inconsequential, unimportant, a waste of time and effort.

My parents, of course, had heard all of this kind of talk before. They were born in Poland and experienced World War II. They were both captured by the Germans and taken to Germany as slave laborers, and there they discovered that the Germans considered my parents and all the other Poles inconsequential and unimportant. Poles were considered subhuman by the Germans. My father used to tell me that the Germans thought that Poles spoke the language of mules and that my dad and the other Poles were just about as human as mules were.

When my parents came to America as “Displaced Persons” in 1951, they thought they would finally be treated as real people, not mules, but real people, and a lot of times my parents were treated like real people by Americans, but there were also times when they weren’t treated as people.

If there was some kind of disagreement or some kind of tension in the air or some kind of conflict, we would be told by people to “go back where we came from.” I hated the people who said this to us. They were trying to see me as less than human, just another mule that doesn’t belong where people are talking or walking or enjoying the day.

When I hear Trump suggesting to these women they should go back to where they came from, I hear the voice of every single unthinking stupid person who ever told my mom and my dad and my sister and me to go back to where we came from, the refugee camps and the concentration camps and the chaos of a broken by war and communism.

JOHN GUZLOWSKI

Lynchburg

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