On this week in history, November 24, 1933 Adolf Hitler’s National Socialist Party passed a Law against Habitual and Dangerous Criminals, which allowed beggars, the homeless, alcoholics and the unemployed to be sent to concentration camps where they did forced labor until they perished from disease and malnutrition and were incinerated. It would be another five years before Nazis ordered Jews over age 15 to apply for identity cards from the police, to be shown on demand to any police officer, similar to Jan Brewer's “Papers Please” law in Arizona for Mexicans. Without papers Jewish men were deported to concentration camps, which meant certain death. In October 1939 the Nazis began euthanizing disabled people, such as individuals with developmental disabilities, which most likely, included those with autism, people about whom we are especially concerned today.
When I reflect on the incredibly offensive posters portraying Barrack Obama as Hitler at Tea Party rallies August 2009, I am utterly repulsed at the people carrying those signs. They must have known absolutely nothing whatsoever about what Adolf Hitler represented. To our family, and my wife Anneke specifically, Hitler was the man who ordered her mother and father tortured and then murdered. Anneke’s father, Erich Kohnke, was born 110 years ago this week, and died at the age of 43 at Auschwitz at Hitler’s hands. We do not find the Tea Party’s portrayal of the US president as Hitler amusing or politically apt.
The paradox, of course, is that the behavior of agitators who carryied those signs, who were paid to disrupt the 2009 Congressional Town Hall meetings, was very similar to Hitler’s SA Brown Shirts who shouted, threatened and carried guns into politcal meetings, designed to intimidate, not only Jews but ordinary German citizens. It worked in the 1930s and it worked again in 2009. this time it intimidated ordinary Americans. By remembering the horrors of the past, perhaps we can avoid repeating them, though it is looking increasingly less clear that is so.