In September 1930, the Nazis had just secured the second-largest number of seats in the Reichstag. It was a staggering victory for Adolf Hitler. But there were those who did not appear especially troubled by the result.
Siegmund Warburg, a prominent Jewish businessman, famed for his integrity and good judgment, was one such person. As Niall Ferguson notes in his biography High Financier, Warburg wrote with characteristic hopefulness: “[O]nce they are in government, they will immediately become, first, more sensible and, secondly, once again less popular.” In both predictions, he could not have been more wrong. Years later, in hindsight, he conceded that he “realized the dangers but probably indulged in easy optimism.”
The Nazis’ rise to power was, of course, almost a century ago – in a different place, different time and a different political environment.
Those who opposed the Nazis’ worldview did not have our laws, courts or the United States Constitution. The events of the Holocaust took place in Europe, a place with a long and storied history of political extremism. Conspiracies to commit violence against despised groups could not happen to us here like it happened there.
Or could they? A year ago, hundreds of neo-Nazis, Klansmen, white supremacists and white nationalists from across the country descended upon the college town of Charlottesville, Virginia. People of color, women, gay people and Jews – each group and their supporters, were singled out as targets for violence. And violence there was.
The chants that rang out on the University of Virginia campus – uttered with chilling vehemence, determination, coordination and regularity – were simple and speak for themselves: “Blood and Soil” and “Jews will not replace us.” So much for the days of “easy optimism.”
What happened in Charlottesville was no accident. Months of careful planning and coordination were involved. One woman died and many others were injured. One woman on an Internet platform used for planning the violence in Charlottesville, for example, identified herself under the handle “kristall.night” – the night of broken glass – and evoked with pride the unspeakable pogrom against Jews that occurred in Nazi Germany in November 1938.
The plaintiffs we represent in Charlottesville include Seth Wispelwey, a pastor who joined other clergy in singing hymns, locking arms, and kneeling in prayer in the face of white supremacists; Marcus Martin, who pushed his then-fianceé out of the way of a car attack and was struck himself, sustaining serious injuries; and Natalie Romero, a student at UVA who was knocked unconscious by the car, which fractured her skull and has left her with severe vertigo. They courageously decided to seek justice because they understand this is no time for complacency.
They are right. The goals of this movement are clear, not hidden from view. As defendant Andrew Anglin posted on the Daily Stormer website: “Someone is getting gassed! My guys on the ground can’t see who – LET’S HOPE IT’S JEWS!” Defendant Christopher Cantwell agreed: “Let’s fucking gas the kikes and have a race war.”
This week on Rosh Hashanah, as they have for centuries, Jews will gather in synagogues to hear the sounds of the shofar.
Maimonides described these piercing sounds as a kind of spiritual alarm clock, intended to waken us from our moral slumber: “Awake, you sleepers from your sleep.
Arouse you slumberers from your slumber.”
In 2018, as we mark the anniversary of the violence in Charlottesville targeted at people based on race, religion, ethnicity and sexual orientation, we are awoken.
Robbie Kaplan, the founder of Kaplan Hecker & Fink LLP – of which Alexander J. Rodney is a Senior Associate – and Karen Dunn, a partner with Boies Schiller Flexner LLP, are co-lead counsel in a lawsuit against white supremacists and neo-Nazis captioned ‘Sines v. Kessler.’ Trial is scheduled to commence in the summer of 2019