Leavitt: Those who never learned history are repeating it | VailDaily.com

Leavitt: Those who never learned history are repeating it

Howard Leavitt
Valley Voices
Howard Leavitt

It was a small town near the border of Ukraine and Belarus. A peaceful place where people lived and worked together, raising their families and going about their diverse lives. Suddenly, an invading force came in and terrorized the town and its inhabitants, killing indiscriminately, destroying homes, property and lives. Over time, hundreds of people were executed and dumped unceremoniously into mass graves, virtually eliminating any sign of their existence.

Most of us are aware of what took place in Bucha, Ukraine, last year as Russian forces prosecuted their unprovoked invasion and war. Only, the above recounting of this atrocity didn’t take place in 2022, or in Bucha. This is the story of the town of Wysokie, just a few miles away, in what was known as the Pale of Settlement, now part of Belarus, in 1942. And the invading army was that of Nazi Germany. And that more than 2,400 people, Jew and non-Jew alike, were killed, shot, beaten and tortured.

This was my Grandfather’s hometown. He left in 1915, on his own at the age of 16, to find a better life, landing in New York and settling in Massachusetts, where he enlisted in the Army, serving during World War I. He eventually sent for his brother and parents who joined him after the war.

But his parents did not assimilate well and eventually returned to Wysokie to join his two younger sisters who had stayed behind. They stayed in close touch until 1942, when all communication suddenly ceased. We can only assume that they all perished in that massacre. The few that may have survived likely made it as far as the gas chambers at the Treblinka death camp.

And so, here we are, 80 years after the unspeakable horrors of the Holocaust and the devastation of World War II, witnessing it all over again with Putin’s unprovoked war. History repeats itself. This, alone, should be reason enough to stand by Ukraine. Many in our own government disagree, seeing a populist and autocratic putsch with which they sympathize as they wish for our own country’s “purification.”

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Internally, we are seeing a frightening resurgence, not just of anti-Semitism, but of hatred and demagoguery of anyone who isn’t white and Christian and straight. The Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville — and the response to it — was, for me, the first indication of just how far off the rails our national sense of morality had gone.

The image of mobs of angry white men, in khakis and white shirts, carrying torches and chanting “Jews will not replace us” should have been unsettling and horrifying, no matter one’s religion or political affiliation. The only thing missing was the “brown” shirts and the red, swastika armbands. The president’s pathetic response that “there are very fine people on both sides” simply emboldened the white supremacists and Christian nationalists to step out of the shadows.

And it’s only gotten worse, with ignorance and false equivalence ruling the day, as our legislators and media espouse vast Jewish conspiracies. To name a few:

  • Vaccinations — equating Dr. Anthony Fauci trying to save lives during the pandemic, with Dr. Mengele who tortured and performed horrific experiments on his Jewish prisoners.
  • Requiring  unvaccinated House members to wear masks — equating this to requiring all Jews to wear yellow stars
  • Wildfires — caused by space lasers funded by a Jewish financier.
  • The indictment of Trump — a sham perpetrated by a New York prosecutor backed by the same Jewish financier.
  • Replacement theory — whereby Jews promote massive immigration to replace white Christian voters (Republicans) with immigrant voters (Democrats)

All of this is tangible proof that one can be educated, yet still be ignorant, whether by choice or design. This is what all demagogues and aspiring autocrats thrive upon; misinformation, outright lies and the willful ignorance and insecurity of their audience. It’s a tried and proven equation as old as time, and we are living it right now. It’s in the history books for all to see if they choose. Are we doomed to repeat it?

When I was a boy, my grandparents had a framed piece of paper hanging prominently on a wall in their home. On that paper were the simple words of the Golden Rule, in five different languages representing the major religions of that time. 

Stripping away all the dogma and ritual of organized religion, the concept of treating others the way you would want them to treat you was the one common thread that ran through all of them. I’m pretty secular in my own belief system, but for me, that was good enough to guide me in life. I’m by no means perfect, but I believe it imbued in me a sense of compassion, decency and empathy. 

It’s not that complicated. I only wish it was the same for those who profess to be religious — many of whom make our laws and are now deciding the path for our country.

Howard Leavitt lives in Avon with his wife, his hunting and fishing buddy, Daisy, and Shaman, a very talkative cat. He‘s had his own marketing and advertising agency for more than 25 years.

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