My days are haunted. Having just returned from a visit to Terezin, the “show” concentration camp 40 miles from Prague, where 15,000 children were held before they were sent to their deaths, I realize that the unspeakable cruelty to children, and their parents, started with depersonalizing and dehumanizing characterizations. The Nazis labelled their victims as vermin, criminals and worse. Such lies were needed to justify the murder of millions.
On my coffee table is a book of the children’s art and poetry from Terezin. Entitled “I Have Not Seen a Butterfly Around Here,” the book could be written in our country today by any of the over 2,800 children removed from immigrant families, flown to far away locations, incarcerated and too often lost. They are regimented, overwhelmed by rules, prohibited to touch each other — even to comfort younger siblings.
Cruelty and lifelong scarring start here, as in Germany, with dehumanization. As recently as this past May, President Trump again attacked immigrants saying, “These aren’t people. These are animals,” and earlier calling them “rapists” who are “bringing crime.” Through that lens, and only through that lens, can this administration justify policies to separate children from their parents, delay due process for their parents’ claims for asylum and treat them as criminals.
In Nazi Germany and the countries they conquered, as whole peoples were vilified and dehumanized, the lid of civil society was blown off, and the innocent suffered the consequences. So, today, as we hear about growing incidents of harassment, racial slurs and attacks on Latinos, we would do well to remember the children of Terezin and their fate.
We Americans still have the vote and a free press. Hopefully we will use these critical features of Democracy to overturn the lies and cruelty in our country before it slides toward the abyss.