In NEVER AGAIN, I attempted to create a near future in which events similar to the Holocaust – although without the mass murders and deaths – happen in the United States: American Jews are arrested and held in detention camps, eventually, they are deported. My task was to make the unthinkable thinkable. I relied on history.
Nearly every country in which Jews have lived, which means just about every country in the world, has, at one time or another, arrested, segregated, murdered or deported its Jewish population. Underlying my thought process was an assumption that something that has happened so universally in other times and places could also happen here. And now. Lets look at history.
Jews were prominent in English business, culture and politics in the Middle Ages. That changed in 1290 with the Edict of Expulsion, a royal decree issued by King Edward I, expelling all Jews from England. The expulsion edict remained in force for 400 years.
Jews were expelled from France in 1306, when half the property in Paris was owned by Jews. In 1492, all Jews were expelled from Spain. Jews were persecuted throughout the Reformation. Martin Luther wrote in 1543, “We do not know to this day which devil has brought them (Jews) here…like a plague, pestilence, pure misfortune in our country.” Jews were banned from Italy and Bavaria in 1593. There is a mind-numbing litany of expulsions, murders, pogroms and antisemitic acts online at http://www.eretzyisroel.org/~jkatz/expulsions.html.
The United States has not been immune. The radio priest Father Charles Coughlin was the Rush Limbaugh of the 1930s. His 30 million listeners were double Limbaugh’s audience. Listen to him urge his millions of supporters to drive Jewish money changers from the temple of American commerce. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oPBooPu28QY. If you think Father Coughlin is just history, read the recent comments on this video. Father Coughlin, like most American antisemites, was a private person. During the Civil War, however, General (later President) Ulysses Grant showed his antisemitic beliefs by officially issuing General Order 11 in 1862, stating:
The Jews, as a class violating every regulation of trade established by the Treasury Department and also department orders, are hereby expelled from [Kentucky, Tennessee and Mississippi] within twenty-four hours.
Germany, of course, is the most frightening, and relevant historic lesson. Just ten years before the establishment of the Nazi death camps, German Jews, before Hitler, were as patriotic as American Jews are today. They were prominent in the military during the First World War.
German Jews were as involved in politics during the pre-Hitler years as American Jews are today. Hugo Preuss was Interior Minister and wrote the first draft of the liberal Weimar Constitution. Walther Rathenau, the chairman of General Electric and head of the German Democratic Party, served as foreign minister in 1922, when he negotiated the important Treaty of Rapallo with Russia. Rathenau’s allegiance to Germany could be echoed by many American Jews today: “I am a German of Jewish origin. My people are the German people, my home is Germany, my faith is German faith, which stands above all denominations,” he said eleven years before Adolph Hitler was appointed chancellor of Germany .
German Jews were as dominant in theater and films as American Jews are now. And German Jews were increasingly identifying as Germans first, Jews second. In 1927, 54% of all marriages of Jews were with non-Jews. This is almost exactly the same percentage of Jews marrying non-Jews as in the United States today.
My point in this is that German Jews in 1930 had as little dread of what the near future held for them as American Jews hold today. If history could change that rapidly, that drastically before, how can you say it can’t happen again, here? I’m certainly not saying that it will happen, just that it could. My goal in writing NEVER AGAIN was to come up with believable circumstances in which it does happen.