Some incredible people and events were on my mind on the one-year anniversary of Jan. 6, 2021.
I started by remembering my father who was in the Pacific with the Navy in World War II.
My wife’s dad was in the Atlantic in the Navy during World War II as part of an escort unit bringing supplies to Great Britain. Some of the ships within his convoy were torpedoed.
I also remembered my good friend Hank Brodt, a survivor of five Nazi concentration camps. On May 6, 1945, he was liberated from Ebensee concentration camp.
One of his liberators was Colonel Guy Troy from Liberty, North Carolina. Some 15 years ago, the two of them met and maintained a relationship until Hank passed. Guy is 98 and still lives in Liberty.
After liberation, Hank worked in the kitchen for the United States Army, eventually coming to the United States and being made a citizen. After receiving citizenship, Hank fought in the United States Army during the Korean War.
I also found myself thinking of a recent picture I saw of two African American soldiers during WWII loading bombs onto a bomber whose destination was Nazi Germany. On the bombs, the soldiers had written the words, “Easter eggs for Hitler.” I feel so grateful to them as well!
These men were part of what we know as the “Greatest Generation.”
Although I feel that they were incredible men, most of them would have simply looked upon themselves as average people who had been called upon to defend democracy.
I write these words not only with a sense of gratitude, but also with an understanding that a significant branch of my grandmother’s family in Europe was murdered in the Nazi Holocaust.
Today, all that remains of these people are markers on the street outside of the homes in which they used to live.
In the immediate aftermath of the Jan. 6 insurrection, I spoke with two North Carolina female members of Congress – both friends of mine, one white and one African American.
The white member told me that she was concerned, but not all that afraid. She later would admit that she should have been much more afraid than she had been.
The African American member told me that she was very afraid and was positive that had the insurrectionists broken through to the House chamber, the African American members would have been the first to have been murdered.
I found myself remembering that in mid-March following the insurrection, a copy of the “Protocols of the Elders of Zion” was observed and photographed at a security post in the Capitol. It was dog eared and belonged to one of the Capitol police officers.
For those who do not know, the “Protocols of the Elders of Zion,” written in 1903 in Russia, is a fabricated antisemitic text which claims that there is a global cadre of Jews who are seeking world domination.
In Russia, the “Protocols of the Elders of Zion,” would be one of the causes of brutal antisemitic attacks against Jews.
I also remember the picture from Jan. 6 of one of the insurrectionists wearing a “Camp Auschwitz” T-shirt.
At the bottom of the t-shirt were the words, “Work Brings Freedom,” a loose translation of the words, “Arbeit Macht Frei,” which was found over the gates of many Nazi concentration and death camps.
At Auschwitz, 1,100,000 people were murdered. Over 1,000,000 were Jews!
All these things were running through my mind on the first anniversary of the insurrection.
I remembered my friendship as well with a prominent now-deceased Republican congressman from our area. Although we frequently disagreed, I could not help but think what he would have thought about those events.
I also remember with gratitude a former Republican congressman appearing at our Sabbath services on the morning of the massacre at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh in 2018.
I mention this because I like to think of myself as nonpartisan and hope that he too believes in American democracy.
And then I thought of God.
In 1954, the words “under God” were added to the U.S. Pledge of Allegiance.
Historians say that the reason they were added was to distinguish our country from the “godless” Soviet Union. I found myself wondering, “Are we really a nation ‘under God’ anymore?”
Jewish tradition teaches that we all are created in the image of God and that we all have a spark of the divine within us. From a Jewish perspective, recognizing the divine in others would be the meaning of living “under God.”
Judaism also believes in the “oneness” of all humankind. This would fit nicely with the fact that the word that appears in the Pledge of Allegiance immediately after “under God” is the word “indivisible.”
Similarly, the word shalom means not only “peace,” but also “wholeness” and “completeness.”
Today at Auschwitz, there is a sign which says, “Remember, it didn’t start with gas chambers. It started with politicians dividing the people with ‘us vs. them.’ It started with intolerance and hate speech, and when people stopped caring, became desensitized, and turned a blind eye, it became a slippery slope to genocide.”
As our country seeks to defend its democracy and freedom, may the lessons in these words be our challenge and our task!