Scott Gilbert, RefuseFascism-Boston:
“In the Name of Humanity, Never Again”
Revolution (revcom.us) recently interviewed Scott Gilbert, an activist with Refuse Fascism, whose family’s experience with Nazi Germany is very relevant to what is happening today.
Revolution: I’m here with Scott, and I know you’ve changed your life around to jump into the call put out by RefuseFascism that says “NO! In the Name of Humanity We REFUSE To Accept a Fascist America!” I understand this is, in part, rooted in your own personal history. Do you want to tell me a little bit about that?
Scott: Sure. I grew up in the ’60s when there was a lot of political turmoil—and I say that in a good way that people were taking on a lot of backward ideas, everything from the war in Vietnam to fighting for women’s rights.
And as I was growing up as a young man, I lived in a household where my mother had post-traumatic stress disorder. She was a holocaust survivor.
The family of Anne Frank and Otto Frank were close friends of my grandparents’ family. My grandfather was arrested in 1933, and the rest of the family moved first to Paris and then to Amsterdam, fleeing the new regime of the fascist government of Hitler and the Nazis. By that time, many people felt there was no way to oppose Hitler because he was already in power. I read The Diary of Anne Frank as well as other books and novels from that period of time. I made a promise to myself and anyone who would listen and say “Never Again.” That I refused to be what is now coined in the phrase, “a Good German.”
Part of the irony of that is that my grandfather was an officer in the German army during World War 1, and he himself was a “Good German.” My grandfather just kind of kept on going… he just lived his life… I don’t want to say a Normal life… he just lived, despite all the stuff that was going on. I guess he was thinking, “It can’t happen here.” He went along with events that were developing in the early ’20s throughout the ’30s until Hitler came to power, and then he was targeted.
The sad part of it for me is, “what could have been done more to prevent it?” It was a major turning point in Europe—fascism was a new phenomenon. Prior to this, the forms of oppression were oligarchies and royalty.
Revolution: Do you want to say anything about how they went into hiding—your family? And even though ordinary people did things like this, the big lesson of the Nazi period is: wouldn’t it have been better if it didn’t get to that point?
Scott Gilbert: Right. As I said, my grandfather was arrested in 1933. He was a prominent Jewish man in the financial world. When this happened, he immediately arranged for his wife and daughter (my mother) to move to Paris where there were friends who helped out. They lived there a year until my grandfather was able to get out of jail. People were not yet being executed, in the main, at this point in time. Things actually hit somewhat of a political lull as Hitler consolidated his power. My grandfather moved his family to Amsterdam, Holland, as did Otto Frank and many thousands of others. Holland was seen as a refuge. They could move around freely. There was not a lot of anti-Semitism. Over the next several years while the situation became worse and worse in Germany, Jews, Gypsies, gay people, “Undesirables” either lost their rights or citizenship. The invasion of Poland occurred on September 1st, 1939.
My grandparents began to think about whether the family should move to England or the U.S. But in the time that they waited, Germany invaded Holland on May 10th, 1940. My family was forced to live in hiding, a similar story to Anne Frank, which they did for the next 18 months. Only through some connections was my family able to eventually get to Portugal and take a boat to the United States, where they landed at Ellis Island and the famed Statue of “Liberty.” What many people do not know is that the United States government was already turning these refugee boats around and was not accepting these people. Some of the boats went to South America because the captains of these ships refused to go back to Europe knowing full well what would happen to the people on board, while other boats went back to Europe and many of the passengers were subsequently interned or killed. My grandparents, through their connections when they got to New York, were able to get off that boat, but there were very few who were able to do so. This is not the way we need to battle the Trump-Pence fascist regime, with connections and luck. We need to be proactive.
Similarities of Abortion Laws for Women in Nazi Germany and Today in the U.S.
In Germany, abortion was legal and available in Germany in the ’20s. The Weimar Republic’s laws on abortion were some of the most liberal in the world at that time. It was accepted as a medical procedure that women could choose to do. In 1933, when the Nazis came to power, abortion became illegal for Germans. At the same time, Germany passed laws of sterilization and eugenics for women who were not considered German. There was the infamous Kinder Küche Kirche (children, kitchen, church) program. German women went from a time of having abortion legal to women having their bodies (and their lives) completely controlled. This control went so far as to have medical personnel come to people’s homes monthly to make sure these women brought their pregnancies to fruition for the Aryan nation. Also, in 1933, Hitler’s cabinet introduced the “Law for the Encouragement of Marriage” which included monetary payments for the birth of Good German babies. In 1934, the Nazi government started to bestow the “Cross of Honor of the German Mother” to these women. The wholesale discrimination of women increased and women were not allowed to have occupations in medicine, law, and civil service.
You look at the parallels in the U.S. today—from 1973 when abortion was made legal to now—when only about 9 percent of the counties in the country exist where women can have access to an abortion. The laws have been changing over the last several years in the U.S. placing large restrictions on when and how an abortion can be done. There has been an ever-increasing push to make abortion illegal again. Further, as with Nazi Germany noted above, this whole issue is not only about abortion, it is about controlling women’s lives. I find this very frightening but also very similar to what went on in Nazi Germany. The whole traditional family philosophy, traditional family values, and how since the 1960s and1970s when all this was challenged, the reversals started. I think the turning point was really in 1980 when Reagan became president and many of these think tanks came together trying to push back against what came out of the 1960s and have been pushing ever since for the return to the “traditional family,” an oppressive and demeaning view of women.
I say: Abortion on Demand and Without Apology!
Revolution: Let’s move to the uncanny similarities and parallels between the history of Germany and what we are living through at this moment in 2017. Could you describe some of the things people were saying and thinking as fascism was coming to power in Germany and some of the parallels of that to here in the U.S. now?
Scott: To start out with, I just have to say that the United States is an imperialist nation. It has soldiers “protecting U.S. interests” in many countries around the world; and it is responsible for the deaths of many people around the world through its economic, political, and military policies. But, if the Trump-Pence regime comes to power, that will be a whole other level of repression—fascism, here in the U.S., as well as around the world.
Germany was a crushed nation politically and economically in 1919 after World War I. Germany had been politically destroyed by the powers that won World War I. Germany was in debt and they had the Treaty of Versailles—the victorious powers (the United States, Great Britain, France, and other allied states) imposed punitive territorial, military, and economic reparations and provisions on defeated Germany. Economically, Germany was doing very poorly—the Deutsche Mark became worthless and many people were out of work. There was also the overriding fear by the leaders and others in Germany at that time that Bolshevism (communism) would take over Germany. The Soviet Union was seen as Germany’s main danger externally. It was in this construct that the Nazi Party arose and the rise of fascism, but this did not happen overnight. Hitler was becoming a known figure, the Nazi party was growing, and then there was the attempted coup on November 8,1923 by Hitler and General Ludendorff. There was also the beginning of attacks on different sections of people in Germany by the members or associates of the Nazi party.
There were many people who were disillusioned by what they called the liberal democrats’ bankrupt policies that caused the German people to suffer, and many felt that the government at that time, the Weimar Republic, was politically weak and soft and did not stand up for the nationhood of Germany. Hitler wanted to, and fed on the concept, of bringing Germany back as a prominent imperialist nation, to “Make Germany Whole Again” for the German people. Hitler grabbed onto this hard. Step back a minute and look at this—the striking parallel with Trump’s expression “Make America Great Again” and Hitler’s expression “Make Germany Whole Again.”
Many people think that Hitler just came to power in 1933, that there was a coup, if you will. In fact, there was an election in March 1932 and then a run-off in April 1932 where Hindenburg became president. Due to the political makeup of what was going on, he asked Hitler to be the Chancellor. Hindenburg easily could have dismissed Hitler at any time because he appointed him. He did not. The political tenor was consolidating, though not solidified, for the Nazis. Even after all the intimidation and attacks and killings in the streets and Nazi sympathizers going after certain sections of people, including the Jews who made up only about 1% of the population in Germany at the time, even then Hitler did not win a plurality in the Reichstag, Germany’s parliament, on March 5th, 1933. He won 43.9 percent of the vote at the time. The Nazi party did not yet have control. As an example, of the 11 people in the cabinet, only 3 of them were Nazi Party members. The other 8 were not. There were 196 Nazi Party members in the Reichstag, which only represented 33 percent. Hitler had not yet consolidated power. It was only through backroom dealings with the Catholic Party, the Liberal Party, and the Nationalist Party was he able to come up with enough votes in the Reichstag for Hitler to become Chancellor and de facto leader of Germany. The German government then voted (look at laws here that were voted on such as the Patriot Act!) and changed the German constitution giving Hitler dictatorial powers, and the courts went along with this. President Hindenburg died in 1934, and the Nazi government decided to leave that position vacant.
Today, in the U.S., Trump is actually being able to hand pick his whole cabinet, and we need to seriously look at who these people are. I was reading an article online recently about General James “Mad Dog” Mattis, who is supposed to become the Secretary of Defense, who said, and I quote, “Be polite, be professional, but have a plan to kill everybody you meet.” Or what Steve Bannon, Chief of Staff to-be, led Breitbart to headline: “Birth control makes women unattractive and crazy”; “Would you rather your child had feminism or cancer?”; “Gay rights have made us dumber, it’s time to get back in the closet.”; “Hoist it high and proud: the confederate flag proclaims a glorious heritage.” It is this kind of thinking that is in the top tier of this country’s leadership that is very frightening.
Looking at what is going on today, the Trump-Pence people have not yet consolidated its fascist regime. But, many of the people who supposedly opposed Trump in the “American Reichstag,” our Congress and Senate, and the Heads of State, are going along as if everything is normal. Here are some sharp examples: Hillary Clinton said, “We need to give Trump a chance”. President Barack Obama said, and I am not making this up, “Ultimately, we’re on the same team.” Think about that! The people in the highest echelons of this country are not even trying to distance themselves from Trump. It is this kind of thinking that is going on today that was going on in Hitler’s time. Some people are saying, “We just have to give him time” or “We have to rely on reasonable leadership to prevent this fascism to consolidate power.” We should not allow this regime to even begin to think about taking power—he and his cabinet and all the people around him. It’s an illegitimate election, both from a moral standpoint as well as from a plurality standpoint.
Another similarity. Hitler was able to bring together different peoples who felt they needed to make Germany great again. Claudia Koontz, who has written a book about this called The Nazi Conscience, actually coined the phrase “Ethnic Fundamentalism.” What she is saying is that the two key elements that Hitler brought together were Christian fundamentalism and ethnic nationalism. The Nazis used these two components to make Germany, as I said before, “Whole Again.” Look at the parallels today in what is being pushed for here in the U.S. One, the rise of the Christian fundamentalists and Christian fascism. Mike Pence is a perfect example of this type of thinking. He wants to put this into practice when he talks about “embracing a culture of life in America”—a Christian fundamentalist culture with all its oppressive machinations. Two, the attacks on different sections of people in this country. The mass roundups and deportations of Hispanics and others who are “illegal” in this country, the killings of these people on the borders by the U.S. version of Hitler’s storm troopers, the Minutemen. The killings of people of color, mainly Black, with impunity, now that new laws exist such as “Stand Your Ground.” You know the famous cases of Michael Brown and Trayvon Martin and on and on. Trump’s 1989, 27 years ago! call for the death of the Central Park 5 who were proven innocent when he said, “Maybe hate is what we need if we’re gonna get something done.” The rise of the KKK and other neo-fascist groups here in the U.S. So, again, the parallel is the attacks on different sections of people in the United States that have been on the rise to what happened in Nazi Germany with the attacks on different sections of “undesirables.”
Another parallel is, I’ll quote Richard Spencer, a white supremacist and ideologue who popularized the term “alt-right” at a Neo-Nazi panel discussion in Washington, DC, on November 19th, 2016, just days after the elections, “America was, until this past generation, a white country, designed for ourselves and our posterity. It is our creation, it is our inheritance, and it belongs to us.” And he also said that in the era of president-elect Donald Trump whites “were awakening to their own identity.” These are very noteworthy and staggering statements for someone to say easily in 2016, and not to have many people or the mainstream media confronting that. What does Spencer mean when he says “us”? He means “Good Americans”—the Aryans of the United States. That is exactly what Hitler was saying back in the ’20s and early ’30s—that the Nazis were going to “Make Germany Whole Again.” So when Hitler used the phrase, he even talked about loving the people. A lot of times Hitler sounded middle of the road to even progressive, when, in fact, he was only talking about the Volk, he was only talking about the Aryan people. Everyone outside of that was the enemy. You listen to Donald Trump talking about building a wall, having a Muslim registry—these are extremely serious steps in trying to control sections of people in the United States. I do not think it has become a parallel yet, but the similarities are compelling and everyone needs to take his statements seriously.
Another parallel: I was recently reading a section in Claudia Koontz’s book, The Nazi Conscience, about Hitler and how he had this uncanny ability to speak out of “both sides of his mouth.” One side where he would attack certain sections of people while from the other side, more importantly, rants about “Making Germany Whole Again.” Depending on where he spoke, especially once he came to power in late 1932 before consolidating fully, and I’m going to read here, I’m going to quote: “Attired in a white shirt, tie, and black suit with a discrete swastika lapel pin, Chancellor Hitler fulminated about hostile foreign powers, the Bolshevik menace, the cultural decline and spineless liberals. Exuding ethnic fundamentalism, he said barely a word about Jewry. Many observers approvingly commented that Hitler had mellowed.” Does this not sound like what some of these leaders and media pundits are saying about Donald Trump? That he is mellowing? Again, this is very, very scary stuff.
In 1933, the first group that Hitler fervently went after were the communists. They made up a small but significant section of the people. They represented the main political group that the Nazis thought they had to silence first. There had been major battles and fights in the streets where people were being killed from both sides, and that there were some people opposing the rise of fascism, but given the particularities of how it turned out, weren’t able to succeed in stopping Hitler and the Nazi fascists.
Today we have a similar type of situation. Are we going to wait for him to get to power or are we going to step up and say NEVER AGAIN!?
We do have an advantage over the peoples of Germany in the 1920s and ’30s —we have history to draw from today. We can look at the similarities and parallels of what went on in fascist Germany and learn from those lessons to prevent them from happening here.
Revolution: So one of the things the Call makes the point: It says, “We are millions. Our only recourse now is to act together outside of normal channels. And we’re talking about creating a political situation where every faction within the established power structure must be forced to respond to what we do, creating a situation where the Trump-Pence regime is prevented from ruling.” My question for you is, why do you see this is possible and how do you see that actually developing?
Scott: That’s a great question. I think I see it on several levels. One of the parts of what is happening that is not a parallel between Germany and the U.S. today is that there have already been tens, if not, hundreds of thousands of people in the streets the day after and the days following this illegitimate election. That is a great starting point. But, we need to not leave it there. We need to build on that. And we need to create a situation such as happened in 1968 in the United States when Lyndon Baines Johnson was forced out of office; the situation in 1973 when Nixon and Agnew were forced out of office; that enough people come into the streets with their different perspectives to Refuse Fascism. We need youth, and, we need older people who have experience to draw on—I don’t see another way of really preventing this from happening—that we all have knowledge of this now. People cannot say they didn’t know.
Another difference today is social media. As Hitler was very good at using the new tool of loudspeakers and that kind of media, Donald Trump has been using Twitter. But because he’s using Twitter, millions and millions of people here and around the world know exactly what this man and his cabinet and his regime are about. They can’t hide that. So we can’t just let this go and give him a chance. That’s not acceptable.
I have had friends recently say to me that I’m crazy in even thinking about something on this scale. Well let me pose the question to them and others: Not only is this possible, but if we don’t do this, what will the U.S. look like? I have friends who talked about how they will leave the country if Donald Trump becomes president. Again, I say to them, “we need to stand and fight. Leaving is not the solution because we have to think about it from the perspective of all of humanity, not just those living here.” We have a particular role, because we do live here, to take this on now. Many people are scared, and rightfully so. We need to help them turn that fear into action and opposing the rise of the Trump-Pence fascist regime. I remember going to my first demonstration against the war in Vietnam in 1965, and was told by basically all my classmates and teachers that I was already crazy and a dreamer, and that we will never be able to stop the U.S. government. Yet, we know what happened.
It is possible to stop this government from taking power, but we have a lot of work to do in a short period of time. There are millions of people who have already said they are against what is going on, whether it be from an ethnic perspective, a woman’s perspective, a scientific perspective—they are out there, and we cannot rely on the government to do this for us (though there are clearly some “cracks” among ruling circles creating more favorable conditions for us). The government has already proven that. We have to rely on ourselves and find the ways to do this, and it is possible. I can guarantee you that if we don’t do this now, it is going to be harder to try and do this in the future.
It is worth taking a moment and going back and reading Pastor Niemoeller’s poem: “First they came for the communists and I did not speak out because I was not a communist; then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out because I was not a trade unionist; then they came for the Jews and I did not speak out because I was not a Jew; Finally, they came for me, and there was no one left to speak out.” Everyone who has a beginning understanding of what is transpiring in the United States today has a responsibility to step out. Someone recently said to me, “but how can you do that? You need to stay within the norms.” And my response is, “This is not normal times. We cannot wait.” For myself, I’ve decided not to work the week leading up to the events of January 20th in opposing the Trump-Pence regime. It is possible to do this if we all take this up seriously. We need to create enough public opinion Against Fascism to prevent Trump-Pence coming to power.
In the Name of Humanity, Never Again. We Refuse to Accept a Fascist America!