This summer, I had the honor of taking my 11-year-old daughter to the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam. Anne Frank, as you probably know, was the teenage diarist who hid with her family from the Nazis for two years. After they were discovered, Anne died at Bergen-Belsen at the age of fifteen. Today, visitors at the Anne Frank House can tour the claustrophobic rooms where the family lived.
I visited the Anne Frank House twenty years ago, as a young woman. At the time, the experience was powerful because I was compelled to identify with Anne. But this time, the experience was much more visceral. This year, I entered the house with my own child, who was only a few years younger than Anne. I identified immediately with Anne’s parents, who did everything they could to save their children from people who, through some truly bizarre and incomprehensible logic, believed they deserved to die.
My daughter was deeply saddened by the experience; she was particularly horrified by footage she saw in the museum of stacks of bodies at a concentration camp. On the way out of the house, she wrote in the guest book about her experience. “I am scared because I’m afraid this could happen again,” she wrote. “I’m an American, and in my country, Donald Trump might become president.”
I was moved to tears by this. And I assured her, “I’m scared too. But don’t worry. Donald Trump will never be the president.”
Our family watches the PBS News Hour at night over dinner. For over a year, we watched the rise of Donald Trump. We watched him grow in popularity in the Republican primary after scapegoating undocumented Mexican immigrants for the loss of working class manufacturing jobs. I cringed because I understood how similar this was to the scapegoating of Jews for the German economic crisis of the 1930s. My daughter cringed because one of her closest friends is Mexican. She asked me if her friend could be deported. I assured her that this was an extraordinarily unlikely possibility. And I told her, “Don’t worry. Donald Trump will never be the president.”
We watched Donald Trump energize his base by declaring that Muslims should be barred from entering the country – and suggesting that there should be some sort of Muslim registry. I cringed because I knew there had been Jewish registries, and because I knew that European Jews had been turned away from America in their time of crisis, just as Trump advocated for turning away Syrian refugees. My daughter cringed because she lives in an integrated community where most people strive to be inclusive. Several years ago, two Muslim fourth graders at her school were killed in a terrible accident on a field trip, and the community mourned deeply. Trump’s words did not represent her lived reality, and that scared her. “Don’t worry,” I assured her. “Donald Trump will never be the president.”
We watched Donald Trump energize his base by declaring that when he became president, people would say Merry Christmas instead of Happy Holidays. We watched him give voice to the so-called “religious freedom” movement, which fights against efforts to keep the public space secular and therefore more inclusive of religious minorities. We watched Trump choose Mike Pence to the ticket, a man who supported an Indiana “religious freedom” law designed to allow businesses to discriminate against members of the LGBTQ community. This was horrifying to us as Jews, as supporters and friends of the LGBTQ community, and simply as Americans who could not believe a major party candidate could openly advocate for discrimination.
But don’t worry, I told my daughter.
Donald Trump will never be the president.
The morning after the election, I felt like I was reporting a death in the family to my daughter. I sat down on her bed with a carefully prepared speech. She took one look at me and said, “He won, didn’t he?”
I told her yes. I had betrayed her. I had been telling her all along that this would never happen.
Now, as the Trump administration is beginning, I feel I have an obligation to do everything I can to fight against discrimination and scapegoating. No, I do not believe the result of the election will be that I will have to hide my daughter, as Anne Frank’s parents did. But the parallels between Trumps’ rhetoric and the Nazi rhetoric of the day are unmistakable. As a Jew, and as a mother, I have to speak out and do my part.