Ralph Reiland: Children, racism & government commands
Aviya Kushner is the language columnist in The Forward, a small but influential American magazine published monthly in New York City for primarily a Jewish-American audience.
The Forward, formerly known as the Jewish Daily Forward, is a Yiddish-language daily founded in 1897 and originally published in New York City as a vehicle for bringing socialist and trade unionist news and ideas to non-English speaking immigrants.
Kushner in her June 20 column in The Forward, “Infest – The Ugly History of Trump’s Chosen Verb About Immigrants,” delivers a stark warning about the historical linkages between prejudiced and menacing language, targeted and besieged categories of people, and subsequent oppression, cruelty and eventual killing.
“When President Trump characterized immigrants as ‘animals,’ some people waved it away, claiming he was only referring to gang members,” wrote Kushner. “But his use of ‘infest’ in connection to human beings is impossible to ignore. The president’s tweet that immigrants will ‘infest our Country’ includes an alarming verb choice for anyone with knowledge of history.”
Kushner explains the lessons from past eras, citing historical counterparts: “Characterizing people as vermin has historically been a precursor to murder and genocide. The Nazis built on centuries-old hatred of Jews as carriers of disease in a film titled ‘Der Ewige Jude,’ or ‘The Eternal Jew.’ As the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum notes on its website, in a section helpfully titled ‘Defining the Enemy:’ one of the film’s most notorious sequences compares Jews to rats that carry contagion, flood the continent, and devour precious resources.”
Reporting that scholars of Jewish literature and history have been sounding alarms over what is happening at the Mexican-U.S. border and about the increasingly harsh language and political polarization surrounding immigration, Kushner cites a recent statement by Ilan Stavans, linguist, translator, Amherst College professor, publisher of Restless Books, and born into a Jewish family in Mexico.
“The Trump Administration’s policy of separating children of their asylum-seeking Hispanic parents is spiteful,” Stavans wrote. “It is reminiscent of the Nazi strategy to divide Jewish families. Racism at its clearest. For how long will we remain silent? Are some families more sacred than others?”
Comments Kushner, “The last two questions posed by Stavans are especially important now; the verb ‘infest’ is, indeed, to borrow a bit from Stavans, language at its clearest.”
Taking the mistreatment of families, parents and children to a more state-controlled and all-encompassing level, far beyond the tactic of a forced and temporary separation of a subset of immigrant parents and children as was recently implemented in the United States, the Nazis political agenda, implementing Germany’s “racial purity” objective and requiring state regulation of human reproduction, prohibited “undesirables” from having children and mandated forced sterilization of certain impaired individuals, as defined and controlled by the state.
In the first public meeting of the Nazi party, in Munich, then called the German Workers’ Party, Adolf Hitler issued a report outlining the party’s political agenda. The party platform demanded racial purity in Germany and proclaimed Germany’s destiny to rule over inferior races.
Ralph R. Reiland is Associate Professor Emeritus of Economics at Robert Morris University in Pittsburgh and a local restaurateur. His email: firstname.lastname@example.org