I had always been told that my paternal grandmother’s family came from Sighet, a decent sized town in Romania along the Ukrainian border. It was considered a small source of familial pride as it was the same home town for Eli Wiesel, the Nobel laureate who wrote about the Holocaust.
Some years ago, upon speaking to my grandmother’s brother about the place where the family grew up as my grandmother died before I was born, I learned that history takes a bit of time, both to happen and to explain.
My great uncle informed me that his family grew up in a small shtetl, a small Jewish village, some miles away from Sighet. One evening, when he was about eight years old, a fire broke out in a corner of the shtetl. All of the people in the town, including himself, rapidly lined up to pass buckets of water one to the other to help put out the flames. He recalled that while he was passing buckets he heard someone shouting that another fire had broken out on the other side of the village. The villagers started to shout how to break the line into two to deal with the second blaze, when they looked up to see a third blaze in another corner of the town. And then a fourth.
The local anti-Semites had come to incinerate their town.
He recalled how the following morning the family grabbed what belongings they could manage, and walked to Sighet as the smoke from his village filled the air. He told me the name of that former village, and as I quickly forgot the foreign sounding name, I internalized how history had forgotten it too.
So, yes, the family did live in Sighet, but it wasn’t really the town of his birth. Our family had already been routed by local anti-Semites a couple of decades before the Nazis came for the Jews of Sighet.
The alt-right relentlessly pursued the Jews of Europe and Russia for hundreds of years, sometimes as part of the ruling class and other times by the hands of a band of locals. In each circumstance, they knew how to rout the small collection of Jews.
The Four Corners of Anti-Semitism Today
In many parts of the world, the ruling class is being taken over by extremists. The alt-left made inroads in America’s Democratic Party with the Democratic Socialists of America getting seats in Congress with members including Bernie Sanders, Rashida Tlaib, Ilhan Omar, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Cori Bush and Jamaal Bowman. The DSA was following the playbook of the Labour Party of the United Kingdom, where Jeremy Corbyn pushed anti-Zionism, anti-Semitism and extremist ideas to take over the party.
The alt-right still exists around the world and in America but shunned and sidelined by civilized society. Not so the alt-left, which has bonded with Islamic extremists to gain power, and with the alt-right in the cause of setting fire to Jewish homes.
American Jews are surrounded on all sides by anti-Semitic extremists, and there are neither sufficient volunteers to pass buckets to extinguish the flames of hatred nor to expel the sinister arsonists.
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