It was 10 years ago this month that two fellow travelers and I bribed a guard to get a tour of one of the world’s most gruesome memorials. We arrived at Auschwitz shortly after the gates closed for the day but Western currency spoke loudly, even to the communist guards.
So, amid swirling snowflakes and the cold light of late afternoon, we had a private and silent tour of the former Nazi death camp. I was startled to find the Auschwitz concentration camp was right by the town of Oswiecim, literally on the other side of the bullet-pocked firing squad wall.
Townsfolk had to have smelled the choking odors from the crematoria. They must have heard the firing squad rifles.
They had to know.
I trudged away from Auschwitz on that cold March night, convinced that evil often triumphs because average people don’t speak up. I vowed to myself to speak up when I saw hatemongering and intolerance. Since then, I’ve been amazed how many other people have told me they made similar vows to themselves over injustices they’ve seen.
I believe well-intentioned local folks are wrong when they say that ignoring the Aryan Nations march in Coeur d’Alene is the best way to deal with it. While I hear a few groups discussing a response, most Inland Northwesterners still cling to the belief that if we ignore the hatemongering, we’ve dealt with it as best we can.
I was told the same thing as a talk show host when I arrived here eight years ago. “We don’t talk about them because we don’t want to give them free publicity.”
Sadly, despite my vow, I went along to get along.
A lot of good the silence did us. The hate movement is not weaker than it was eight years ago. Our silence has not worked. And our local silence will not keep the march out of the national headlines.
The hate march is news and it will be reported.
Not only is the “silence is golden” maxim a paradoxical approach for talk radio, it’s a feeble community response to a local group preaching hatred under the protective banner of the First Amendment. It would be better for the national cameras to see local opposition.
Some may respond only by placing a picture of a menorah in their front window, as the folks of Billings, Mont., did when confronted with community hatemongers. The Billings newspaper published the pictures and residents by the hundreds placed them in their windows as a quiet testament to their solidarity.
Maybe some need to hold their own public gathering, as residents of Skokie, Ill., did during their infamous Nazi march.
Others have suggested closing Coeur d’Alene shops or flying flags at half staff.
There are numerous ways to speak out against the hate. Different groups may find different responses but every group should find a way to say, “Never again.”
Richard Butler and his disciples won’t learn from history. They choose not to understand what a Nazi judge meant when, speaking to a Protestant theologian on trial for conspiring to assassinate Hitler, he proclaimed that the only thing Nazism and Christianity had in common was that they demanded everything of their followers.
Butler doesn’t understand he’s trying to serve two masters. But those of us who oppose his message can learn from history. We can learn that silence is not the proper response to those who preach hatred and intolerance. They may have a First Amendment right to preach it but we have a responsibility to oppose it.
Silence is not golden. Indifference will not be understood by future generations.
It’s time to make good on some vows.
The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = Pete Fretwell Contributing writer