It has started again. My mother warned me. She knew how little it took to ignite hatred.
An Austrian politician wants Jews to register to buy kosher meat. Jews to register.
Yes, I couldn’t believe it either.
Isn’t this one of the first steps? To identify a group. Create a list or registry of their names. Blame them for problems, small and big. Encourage exclusion, contempt, turning to hatred. Then round up the names on the list. Isolate them within the society. From there, it is such a small step to the camps and the ovens.
Dallas is suffering through a heat wave with temperatures going to 110 degrees. But I am cold.
I am cold and chilled to the bone like the day I read the names. Twenty-eight years ago. In front of the Student Union at my progressive university with all the grants for bringing people together. During my doctoral program focused on valuing diversity.
I stood in the rains of November on Kristallnacht, the Night of the Broken Glass, and waited for my turn. The midday sun couldn’t break through the dark clouds. All around us, students, heads down, muffled in rain gear, were hurrying to class or the cafeteria. Steam rose from the warm buildings but in the square, the glacial air burned my lungs. The rain came down in sheets, soaking us, blinding us, knocking us sideways. The colors of the students and the buildings were down to a sleeted gray. The cold wet penetrated us through our clothes. The students moved with haste, dodging each other, and clutching their backpacks to their chests. I stood in the middle of the hubbub, next to a young man huddled under his parka. Both of us were shaking from cold and maybe, other things, as I waited for my turn.
The young man paused and handed me stapled sheets with names printed in a row down the page. He didn’t look at me. My shoes were so wet, and my feet sloshed in them, like standing in a pool of icy water. I pulled my hood further over me to protect the paper. Wiping the rain out of my eyes, I began to read.
For thirty minutes, I read the names of people who died in the camps. People like me. Jews. I struggled and stuttered over the pronunciation of some names, but after a while, the names became people. People with dreams and lives. Relationships. Successes and failures. Children and teenagers and adults. I said each name into the rain-soaked, gray day until I was yelling. I wanted each person’s name heard by another person. Students stopped and looked at me. I was crying, but I screamed their names until, at the end of my thirty minutes, I was whispering. Hoarse – all out of voice. My clothes stuck to my body like another layer of skin. Or a layer of ash.
A gloved hand tapped me on the shoulder. I gave over the precious list. The other student started quietly, tentatively but after a few names, he broke into a roar. The students turned to look at him, and his face was fierce. I smiled at him, nodded, and drove home. In the shower, I cried more tears, shivering, trying to get some warmth back in my body.
When we were kids growing up, our mother kept a baseball bat by the door. “For defense,” she said. I am glad she is not here to witness this again. Now I will place her bat by my door.
I am frozen in the 110-degree heat.