It was a cold, rainy Saturday in mid-October. It was not a great day to be out walking for my friend and fellow Democratic colleague to help in his re-election bid. Little did I know that it was going to get worse because of what I was about to see.
As I walked up to my colleague's driveway, he brought me into his garage to show me a handful of his campaign yard signs spray-painted with swastikas along with the word "socialist." My heart fell into my stomach as I was affected on an incredibly personal level, eliciting a very emotional reaction.
That morning as I walked through the pouring rain knocking on his constituents' doors, I could not stop thinking about what I had just seen. The more I walked, the angrier I got. It brought back memories of when I was in 7th grade and the synagogue my family attended was desecrated. I kept thinking to myself, as a father, how would I explain this to my eight-year-old son?
I have already started to speak with my son about religious discrimination and intolerance. I feel like I'm prepared to have the tough conversations with my son — and daughter — about the bigotry they will encounter, even today, because of their Jewish faith, their identity. I am prepared to share with them why I believe it is so important for them to learn from their own experiences to be respectful and accepting of diversity and advocate for the rights of all people. But this was different! This was different from what I experienced as a 13-year-old. What I saw that Saturday morning was not hate as I understood it; it was the use of a symbol of hatred to send a political message. This is what I'm not sure about how to explain. How do I explain to my son that a symbol that, unequivocally, represents the highest level of human tragedy — genocide — that a symbol that represents the systematic extermination of 6 million Jews and 6 million other "non-pure" Aryans is now, for some, merely a means to express disagreement or dislike of an officeholder or candidate's political views or policies?
Before the reader dismisses this as simple vandalism or the work of "punk" kids — as has been suggested to me — please think again. This was too calculated. We have all heard the rhetoric and comparisons of the Obama administration to socialism and have seen the depiction of our president as a Hitler-like image. I recall seeing a swastika on a sign at a national tea party rally on television in the early spring. And now a Utah Democrat's political signs are vandalized with this hateful symbol.
And before the reader dismisses this as merely an isolated incident or the minds of a few ignorant individuals, please consider another incident that took place this past fall. A man in a prominent position in Utah politics, speaking to a group of university students, compared the popularity of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to a high-ranking Nazi official by stating — and I paraphrase — that Adolf Eichmann was probably more popular in Auschwitz than Nancy Pelosi is in this country. Unbelievable! This person should know better. No excuses!
Comparing an "unpopular" speaker of the House in the United States Congress to one of the masterminds of genocide? Does this person not realize that in our community today live survivors of Auschwitz and children and grandchildren of the Holocaust? I take comfort, and gain hope, in the outrage expressed by the students.
Every year communities throughout the world recognize Yom Hashoah — Day of Remembrance — to remember the Holocaust. The mantra is "never forget." We must never forget the innocent children, their parents and grandparents that perished at the hands of the Nazis. If we stand by silently while others trivialize one of the darkest moments in human history by using its symbols of hate and genocide, we have failed in honoring the memories of the innocent lives lost.
There was a lot of attention this last election, locally, to the lack of civility in today's political environment. We must all take responsibility for that lack of civility in public discourse.
In 10 years in the Legislature, I have learned that you can be passionate and respectful at the same time, that you don't have to call others names or use distasteful rhetoric to distinguish yourself or to share your strong feelings. I would hope that this is something we can all strive for; however, if you feel that you cannot, please at least have the decency and respect for those who perished at the hands of the Nazis to leave the hateful symbols at home!
David Litvack is minority leader in the Utah House of Representatives.
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