International Holocaust Remembrance Day is always a somber time for Auschwitz survivor Irene Weiss. But this year’s observance had an additional layer of grief: For the first time, Weiss is worried about her adopted homeland.
She knows better than just about any person alive. The Czech-born Jew lost her parents and most of her siblings in Hitler’s death camps. Now, when she hears about plans to register Muslims and to ban Muslims from entering the United States, “I’m worried about the tone of this country,” she said.
Wednesday’s ceremony was in a hexagonal atrium with the names of death camps on the walls. The participants recited Kaddish, the Jewish mourning prayer, and listened to the Hymn of the Partisans, the Yiddish ballad of resistance: Never say you are walking your final road.
At this time of open hostility to Muslims in America, museum staff arranged for Johanna Gerechter Neumann, who fled with her family to Albania after Kristallnacht, to talk about how Muslims protected them from Hitler. Her father, a patriotic German and World War I veteran, “certainly thought that it could never happen in Germany,” she said. “It did happen. Slowly, but it did happen.”
It could become Weimar Germany if you have Mr. Trump here and people keep believing what he says. … I think one has to speak up. And that’s the one lesson from the Holocaust: Do not be a bystander.
Margit Meissner, almost 94, who fled on foot through the Pyrenees from occupied France
“It’s not Weimar,” she said, “but it could become Weimar Germany if you have Mr. Trump here and people keep believing what he says. … I think one has to speak up. And that’s the one lesson from the Holocaust: Do not be a bystander.”
In Wednesday’s ceremony, German Ambassador Peter Wittig gave a moving tribute to Martin Weiss, 87 this week, who survived Auschwitz as a 15-year-old but lost most of his family. Wittig read aloud Weiss’ recollections: “We could also smell flesh burning, and then we saw the chimneys, the big five chimneys with black smoke coming out.”
Weiss continued: “That’s how Weimar Germany went to hell, because when Hitler came in, if somebody disagreed with him – guess what – he put them in prison or he had them shot or he opened the concentration camp.”
We are still far from that in America. But if anybody has the right to make the comparison, it is a man who saw the ovens of Auschwitz.
Washington Post Writers Group