Identity threatened by antisemitism

Eliza Schloss, co-features editor

I have a firm stance on my Jew-ish identity. Though my ties to the religion aren’t very strong, I do commonly reflect on the past like many Jews do. During our study of WWII last year in my history class, I was reminded of the horrors that European Jews faced in the areas that were once their homes.

I knew vague stories of how some of my family members were affected, such as my German grandfather who was able to move to Chicago. I had also known that my great-grandparents adopted a child, my great uncle, whose family had passed during the Holocaust, but I didn’t know his story until I watched his taped Holocaust testimonials.

As I came to find out, Michael, my great uncle, grew up in Transylvania, a country previously known to me as the home of Dracula that now holds a very different meaning. His childhood and teenage years were spent in oppression under the Nazi regime. At one point he and his family were in a ghetto on the outskirts of the town where they had lived; where they had been free but now were stuck in purgatory.

As the war commenced, Michael, as well as some of his family members, were sent to Auschwitz. Upon entering the concentration camp, Michael’s family was torn away from him (some forever), and Michael was taken aside as he was a German speaker. After his time in Auchwitz, Michael spent time at a few more concentration camps prior to liberation and arrival in New York.

That’s where I thought the antisemitism ended, back in Europe in the 1940s with the end of the war.

When I saw the security footage of a man, Stuart Wright, smashing windows and putting a swastika sticker on a synagogue in Chicago, I just rolled my eyes. It wasn’t my temple he vandalized, nobody was injured, and I was desensitized to the symbol of the swastika after seeing it senselessly used many times. I thought this event couldn’t hit home until it did.

My aunt works to match companies in need of employees with qualified people in search of work. While looking through resumes, my aunt came across one that left her in shock. On the front page, it read, “Will not work for Jews.”

Upon further research, my aunt realized that this was the man who vandalized the Chicago synagogue. Though Wright was arrested, forced to plea restitution and seek mental health treatment for his actions, he still believed it was possible to live comfortably in society despite his hateful mentality.

The same sentiments I felt in response to Wright’s resume arose again after alt-right and neo-nazi groups marched in Charlottesville. The sheer number of people that came to protest the removal of Robert E. Lee’s statue was angering. My anger turned into fear after the event spiraled into a hate-filled, chaotic disaster. 

The racist, anti-semitic chants rang in my ears days after; I couldn’t shake it. Instead of just acknowledging the event, myself and many others appalled by Charlottesville decided to actively condemn such hateful actions.

My cousin and I attended a protest denouncing antisemitism and racism in the wake of Charlottesville. I left the protest with an increased sense of unity and appreciation for the Jewish community who gathered to voice their opinions. However, protests come to an end and people become preoccupied with other things in a world where new issues arise every day.

Given how unacceptable antisemitism is, there should be no limits in denouncing its existence. Protests effectively voice concern as well as spark conversation among peers to acknowledge the problem. But in the meantime, if you can’t get yourself to a protest, take that swastika carved into the bathroom stall next to the toilet paper and turn it into a flower.