October 16, 2021

Holocaust survivor’s son reacts to Obama win

For a long time the pundits were saying that a John McCain victory on Nov. 4, would be unlikely. John King of CNN demonstrated on a virtual television map the incredible uphill struggle for McCain to win the election. Yet, for days before the election I, whose father survived the Nazi concentration camp at Dachau, couldn’t sleep.

The negative wedges that John McCain and Sarah Palin tried to use to sway the majority of American voters frightened me. They said that Barrack Obama was closely tied to the 1960s “terrorist” William Ayers, now a distinguished professor of education at the University of Illinois – Chicago. Ayers was a former member of the radical Weather Underground Organization that claimed responsibility for a dozen bombings between 1969 and 1974. Although never convicted of any crime, he told the New York Times in September 2001, “I don’t regret setting bombs … I feel we didn’t do enough.”

They criticized Obama for attending The Rev. Jeremiah Wright’s church for 20 years because of the pastor’s inflammatory remarks. Wright allegedly told blacks to sing “God damn” instead of “God bless America.” He apparently stated that the United States brought on the Sept. 11 attacks with its own terrorism.

And his opponents argued that Obama represents not only the scary “L” word, but also that offensive “S” word. In other words liberals are socialists who want to destroy capitalism.

But they failed in their election bid. Rather, the hope-proclaiming message of the first black presidential candidate to represent one of the two major political parties in American history was not destroyed by his opponent’s negative campaigning. Successfully overcoming hostile, negative attacks is a rare occurrence during political campaigns.

As the vicious attacks continued to escalate, I recalled my father’s fear of the Red Scare of the late 1940s and early 1950s. His obsession with the apparent demise of American democracy seemed similar to the failure of the Weimar Republic, the rise of Nazis and the effects of Hitler’s reign. The parallels he foresaw caused him to become anxious and distressed. Years later, following his suicide in 1962, I discovered on his shelves three books on Alger Hiss, one on Sen. Joe McCarthy, and two on the House Un-American Activities Committee.

Three days after my father’s 49th birthday, I, then age seven, remember that bright, sunny, yet bitterly cold snowy January 21, 1949. My mother placed the noonday meal – roast chicken, peeled baked potatoes and cooked frozen beans – on the small dining table in the sunny kitchen.

My father was slouched; his eyes were filled with anxiety. Apparently, that morning the news had broken that Alger Hiss had been found guilty of spying for the Russians – his second trial. My father was convinced of his innocence. After all, Hiss had worked for the justice department. Later he coordinated American foreign policy. Then, employed by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, he advocated an end to the Cold War with the Soviet Union.

On Nov. 5, 2008, my father might have awakened in the afterworld. A broad smile would come across his troubled face. Barack Obama has been elected president of the United States. Finally, a candidate won the national election who has the opportunity to regain world confidence in the U.S., thereby reducing the threat of terrorism.

In early 1948, a few months before the United Nations established the state of Israel, my father gave a chapel talk at Bowdoin College where he taught. He correctly predicted that to create a Jewish state in what was once British-occupied Palestine would be a catastrophic mistake. The only outcome could be violence, since both Jews and Palestinians regarded themselves as victims. Each saw the other as evil.

President-elect Obama understands both sides. He has promised to work for a negotiated settlement that will create a Palestinian state harmoniously coexisting with Israel.

Obama’s position toward Iran is to start a dialogue with that government in order to avoid escalating a vicious rhetorical confrontation into a war that could rocket in a nuclear calamity. He must fulfill his promise to withdraw American troops from Iraq within 16 months of taking office. He is obligated to do all within his power to seek a peaceful resolution to the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan. Finally, by encouraging the Democratic-controlled Congress to pass the Kyoto Treaty on climate change, President Obama will be well on the road to foster a safer, healthier and more harmonious world.

David Solmitz taught for 30 years at Madison High School and six years at Thomas College in Waterville. He is author of Schooling for Humanity: when Big Brother Isn’t Watching. He lives in Waterville.

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