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Kanye’s Twitter post of a swastika after Alex Jones’ appearance is chilling. But the Jews have survived worse.


When news broke that former President Donald Trump dined with anti-Semites Ye and Nick Fuentes last month, I wondered if potatoes were on the menu.

Imprisoned as a child in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp during the Holocaust, my grandmother developed a strategy: although literally starving, she positioned herself at the back of the line for food. Waiting until the end, she explained to me one day, increased her chances of having a few pieces of potato in her bowl rather than just liquid, because they would sink to the bottom of the bowl from which soup was served. Skinny as he was, a few bites of potato could mean the difference between life and death.

Anti-Semitic incidents are now so widespread that we have had to postpone planned lessons on the history of the Holocaust to focus on the present.

Adolf Hitler and his Nazis took a lot from my grandmother: her parents, most of her siblings, many friends and her childhood. But they couldn’t take his survival instinct. She was too strong. She made it out alive.

“I love Jews, but I also love Nazis,” Ye, the rapper formerly known as Kanye West, proclaimed on Thursday, perhaps emboldened right-wing conspiracy theorist Alex Jones. by his dinner with Trump and Fuentes. “I also see good things about Hitler.” He then took to Twitter and posted a swastika before being banned from the platform on Friday.

I find myself returning to my grandmother’s story as Ye continues to praise the monsters behind the Holocaust, and anti-Semitism more broadly makes an appalling resurgence in America. Certainly, anti-Semitism dates back thousands of years. It is true that the Nazis came so close to exterminating the entire Jewish population that the world had to invent a new word, genocide, for what Winston Churchill called “a nameless crime”. Admittedly, anti-Semitic attacks in the United States have reached an all-time high in 2021. Admittedly, a former and possible future president broke bread with prominent anti-Semites a few days ago.

But here is another truth: the followers of anti-Semitism have never achieved their ultimate goal. Throughout history, our will to live has survived their futile attempts at destruction.

It is a will that has triumphed because we have summoned it day after day. For my grandparents and their compatriots, survival from the Holocaust did not end with liberation; it started there. The trauma he imposed was pervasive. The feeling of loss never went away. But they picked up the pieces of their shattered existence and, as far as possible, put their lives back together.

My grandmother met my grandfather – another Holocaust survivor who was liberated from Buchenwald after spending most of the war enduring hard labor in a munitions factory – at a camp erected for the displaced persons in Belgium after the Second World War. They came to America with little family and no money, having never set foot on the other side of the Atlantic and speaking no English.

In 58 years of marriage, they’ve raised a son, started their own dry cleaning business, saved enough for a summer home, and traveled extensively. They adored their three grandchildren. They made friends and built a community.

Their lives have been defined in large part by the Holocaust. But surviving each day from its aftermath, they continued to disprove Hitler’s master plan by also experiencing happiness and joy, finding meaning and purpose, and giving love while receiving it back.

To honor my grandparents’ legacy, I teach a seventh grade class about the Holocaust at my local Hebrew school. Each year, I remind my students that although the Holocaust happened decades ago, the anti-Semitism that fueled the Nazi rise to power is very much alive today. Lately, it has become too easy to make this point. In fact, anti-Semitic incidents are now so widespread that we have had to postpone planned lessons on the history of the Holocaust to focus on the present.

A few weeks ago, we spent most of a class reading the Anti-Defamation League’s real-time tracker of anti-Semitic vandalism, harassment, and attacks. It’s not easy reading, especially when some of these incidents are happening in our backyard — including a case in November of swastikas and executioners being spray-painted minutes from our synagogue. Afterwards, I asked the same question to each of my students: What will you do in the face of all these attacks against our people?

Their answers would have made my grandparents proud.

“Teaching my family and friends what I learned.”

“Speak up when I hear someone say something bad about us.”

“Be a good person.”

At this time, they joined the ranks of survivors like Frieda and Morris Zimmerman who had preceded them. Even though the room was quiet, if you listened loud enough, you could hear the shattering sound of anti-Semitism collapsing once again.

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