No, you privileged Americans, it’s not 1938


In 2005 I visited the Wießensee cemetery in Berlin and the Neue Synagogue located on Oranienburger street. Constructed in the 1860s the building was grand, with Moorish style dooms and faux-minarets. Despite the Holocaust this building and the extensive, lush cemetery that is about 4 miles away, are still standing.  In 1938 the synagogue was targeted by Kristallnacht rioters who broke into he building, desecrated its Torah scrolls and tried to burn it.  In a strange twist of fate, a German policeman actually prevented the place from being destroyed. But throughout Germany and Austria around 1,000 synagogues were burned and many destroyed.  Almost 100 Jews were murdered. Jewish cemeteries would eventually be plowed up by the Nazis, like the one on Gross Hamburger Strasse in Berlin.

Nowadays its fashionable in the West to compare everything to Nazism and Hitler. The election of Donald Trump in the US coincided with the anniversary of Kristallnacht and so some commentators and social media activists have been trying to draw out the parallels between Nazism and the recent American populist backlash. “Thanks to Trump we can better understand how Hitler was possible,” they say. “Im living in the 1930s.”

1930s, huh?  Take a white privilege pill and let’s discuss this.

For white Americans and Jewish Americans who have been pushing this “I’m living in the 1930s” story in the media, let’s step back and ask what your 1930s looks like. Jewish Americans earn among the highest salaries of any group in the US, around 46% make more than $100,000 a year. There are 60 major Jewish non-profits where the leaders take home over $100,000 a year, some heads of these organizations are making $500,000 a year. For whites the median income is about $55,000 a year, for blacks about $35,000 and for hispanics $43,000. The generation living today in America, the millennials, is the most privileged generation that has ever existed on the planet.  As a group they may be a bit less privileged than Saudi princes or Gulf Arabs, but with rare exceptions, these are the most privileged. And yet they say it’s the 1930s. Suffering under Nazism, they say they are. They think they are akin to Warsaw ghetto fighters, right?  A trip to the Vegan restaurant is about as bad as crawling through mud to escape Vilna?

Let’s talk about the Americans suffering under the new 1930s.  There are 11 million Syrians displaced by war, millions of them refuges in Turkey, Lebanon and Syria. Only .1% of them can get work permits to support their families. They work 12 hour days for 6 days a week and earn $10 a day.

Tell me, Americans, about your suffering.  Is it similar to Syrians? Is Boston your Aleppo? Maybe a cab ride to New Jersey is like almost drowning on a boat to Greece.  It’s about the same, right?

Let’s talk about the 1930s for a second. In Cambodia they had the 1930s during the Cambodian genocide.  In Rwanda in 1994 there was the 1930s. In Bosnia. In Darfur.

In 2014, just two years ago, while most Americans were relaxing, there was a genocide in Iraq carried out by ISIS against the Yazidi people in northern Iraq.

When the privileged Americans tell us that they are living in the 1930s, you should read this account and ask yourself, what is the 1930s.

What became of your friends and family after ISIS attacked?

On Aug. 15, ISIS separated about 700 men and young boys from the families and took them to the outskirts of the village and massacred them. Six of my brothers were killed with the men. We believe they were killed because about 16 men from the village survived the massacres and they later told us that all men were killed. After driving us from Kocho to the Institute of Sinjar near Sinjar city, they took my mother and around 60 other women and killed them too. ISIS was not interested in enslaving them as they were old. We were not sure of their death until this area was recaptured and a mass grave was found. All in all, 18 individuals from my family are missing including my six brothers and my mother, my brothers’ wives, my nephews and nieces.

What happened to you after leaving Sinjar?
I was taken with some 150 girls, ranging in age from about 9 to 28 years old, to Mosul where we were distributed from the distribution centers. In these centers, ISIS militants and others will come and take us and use us for as long they wished, then return us to the center. I was like all other women and girls, raped and tortured.

From a second account of the genocide and treatment of women:

“Every morning in Mosul, the women would be required to wash. Then, Nadia says, they would be taken to the Shari‘a court, where they would be photographed. The photographs would be posted on a wall in the court, along with the phone number of whichever militant or commander currently owned each woman, so that fighters could swap women among themselves.”

Nadia says. “When I raised my head I looked at him, this huge man, and I shouted and screamed…They were beating us with sticks while we were holding one another…He took me by force to the ground floor, and they were writing the names of those they were taking…I basically jumped on his feet, and I told him, I begged him, ‘Free me from this huge person, take me for yourself and I will do whatever you want…Then he took me for himself.”

Thousands of men and elderly women were murdered by ISIS in 2014 and buried in mass graves. Thousands of women like Nadia were kept as slaves, gang raped, dehumanized, disfigured, murdered.


Blindfolds worn by Yazidi victims of the genocide in Iraq in Sinjar, photographed in December 2015 (Seth J. Frantzman)

So when they talk about 1938 in America, where were they to talk about the crimes in Iraq in 2014? They talk about sexism and racism and homophobia.  But where were they to talk about preventing sexism, racism and homophobia by ISIS? They’re angry about Trump’s behavior, but how about the enslavement of women? That’s not 1930s, right? That’s not worth the opeds about “how Hitler was possible.”

I’ve seen how Hitler was possible in Iraq, I’ve seen how Hitler was stopped also in Iraq when I’ve seen the Kurds who fought ISIS.  But how many of those in America shouting about their suffering today supported the defeat of ISIS?  How many of them even shed one tear or gave one moment to discuss mass graves in Iraq?  Did they ask one question about Syria, about Aleppo?

This is my message to Americans who claim they are suffering the 1930s. If you want to talk about your “Kristallnacht” and your 1930s, how about caring first for the real Kristallnacht and about the 1930s other people are suffering everyday? Until then, the privilege of the most privileged people in the world and their supposed suffering doesn’t interest me much. When you’ve seen the refugee camps of the millions of people who suffered in 2014, when you’ve seen the villages destroyed, the ways of life laid waste, then after you’ve admitted your suffering is far less than that and taken time to fight for those people, then you can have your discussion of your 1930s. The one you suffer mostly in your mind.

Of course you should oppose racism in America and you should fight against sexism and attacks on minorities in your country. But you must acknowledge that the fight against racism and sexism doesn’t end at your border. Constant exaggerations seek to distract the world from more serious crimes. If you’re not offended by women being held as slaves and traded and raped, and you don’t find that as offensive as mansplaining or patriarchy in your own country, then don’t ask others to care about your suffering and take your “it’s the 1930s” comments seriously.

4 responses to “No, you privileged Americans, it’s not 1938

  1. Seth, you missed the point altogether. In order for Hitler to be allowed to come to power, the masses had to be so angry, so desperate for change, they were willing to put blinders on and elect anyone and totally ignore the real message that Hitler spoke and wrote about in Mein Kampf. Trump tapped into the very same fear; that they are losing their future and their children’s future to races that are a different color. And their proof is that for the last thirty years their birthright has been slowly ebbing away- their fundamentalist perception of who and what America is- along with a good job, home ownership, their children doing better than they. if we don’t know and understand our history we are doomed to repeat it. I, for one agree, we have just experienced a complete avoidance to the real issues for someone who has struck s chord with the voters discord.

  2. I doubt anyone is saying Trump’s election is like 1938 Germany. But, what about 1932 or 1933? No one is seriously saying that their morning commute to work or some minor difficulty is like Germany in 1938. But what some of us maintain is, it does feel like the very beginning. You know, when Germany was actually not at war with anyone (has the US not been at war with anyone since the end of WWII?) and life was OK for the average German, and actually got better – as long as you weren’t Jewish or a prominent Leftist or something – in the first years after Hitler was awarded the Chancellorship.

    Look at what’s going on: David Duke has crawled out from under his rock and will probably get a cabinet position. Trump is putting a combination of family members and white nationalists into various positions, and we’ve had a domestic “militia” arming up and warming up for about 20 years now. I’ve been watching this happen for the past two decades and when Obama was elected and then re-elected, the white nationalists ramped up their acquisition of arms, their training in them and willingness to use them, and their “philosophy” to back it up exponentially. I expect author Kevin McDonald’s books to become very popular and these days it seems new “leading lights” in the white nationalist camp are showing up right and left. Now it’s OK, even cool, to let your closet anti-Semitism out into the open and I’ve been hearing some pretty shocking things from some pretty (I thought) benign people.)

  3. Pingback: No, you privileged Americans, it’s not 1938 | People We Know·

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