The Germans didn’t think it could happen there, either

Emily A. Schmidt, Adjunct faculty, Philosophy Humanities and Religion

When I did my master’s degree at Harvard, I studied with Dr. Helmut Koester, an immigrant to America who served in the German military in WWII. Once, he had a meeting with students to talk about his experiences during the war. He enlisted, he said, because he heard that his country was being attacked, and because the secret police were always watching. He was eventually a prisoner of war under both British and American forces. He saw concentration camps at the end of the war. He and the enlisted Germans he was with had no idea that the camps were used the way we now know they were used: to kill millions of people. Not only was military command strict, the media was controlled by the Reich, so most citizens were afraid of “outsiders” and didn’t know what was really happening. The scariest thing Koester said that afternoon was this: “Germans didn’t think something like that could happen there.”

In November 1922 The New York Times ran an article which reassured readers that Hitler’s anti-Semitism and bravado weren’t serious, and that he wasn’t really as genuine or as violent an anti-Semite as he sounded. Germans didn’t think it could happen there, either.

The racism, misogyny, Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, homophobia and ableism displayed openly by Donald Trump and many of his most vocal supporters has no place in the U.S. I thought equality, civil liberty and religious freedom were American values! I don’t believe Donald Trump shares these values. Worse, some of his fellow bigots have been inspired by the election, leading to a wave of vandalism, taunts, threats, and assaults of minority people.

I support people of color, people of minority religions, LGBTQI community, people with disabilities, undocumented and documented immigrants, refugees, sexual assault survivors, and women. The U.S. is stronger and better with you here. I demonstrate support by wearing a safety pin. This is a mark of solidarity with minority people that developed in Britain after a wave of hate crimes followed the Brexit vote, and many in the U.S. have suggested we use this symbol now. The safety pin symbolizes that the wearer is supportive and is a safe person to ask for help when needed. Will you wear one?

The Germans didn’t think it could happen there, either.