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Anti-Nazis Come to Washington: The American Response to Resurgent Nazism

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There are growing Nazi movements in over 30 countries -- FROM RUSSIA AND THE BALTIC STATES, TO EUROPEAN COUNTRIES LIKE GREECE, TO, YES, THE UNITED STATES. Real Nazi movements. Some are run by street thugs, some by elegant Parliamentarians. All share the worst historic traits of their predecessors from seventy years ago: violent and outspoken hatred of ethnic and racial minorities, Jews and gays with the additional targets of immigrants and some of the old victors in WW II. Very often they also adopt the symbols and language of the original Nazi era.

The response in Europe has been a increase in public concern and new organizations springing up in opposition. The response In America has been much slower.

There are reasons for that. We were further away from the daily reality of Nazism in the '30s and '40s. Our extraordinary contribution to victory in WW II was our soldiers fighting and dying in far-off countries and our role as the Arsenal of Democracy. After the war, American Nazism was a fringe element. On TV, we laughed at funny Nazis in Hogan's Heroes. There was nothing real and present about it.

On Tuesday June 4, in the Rayburn Building in the U.S. Capitol, that began to change. A delegation of European Parliamentarians, and activists, hosted by America WIthout Nazism, attended a Conference with Members of Congress and representatives of the State Department and made the case for a new and better response.

The evidence presented was impressive and disturbing. In Greece, Latvia, Moldova, Estonia and Hungary voters have elected members of parliament who support actions against Jews, Romanisch (formerly called Gypsies), immigrants, sexual minorities and ethnic minorities, and whose vocabulary is strikingly reminiscent of the language of the '30s and '40s. In Russia and Ukraine, major political forces are emerging with similar goals. In France and Germany, what was dismissed as the work of soccer thugs is becoming a daily occurrence. The leading anti-Nazi organization, World Without Nazism, publishes a monthly summary of violent Nazi-led incidents.

The response from American leaders was thoughtful and encouraging. Congressman Hakeem Jeffries spoke passionately about connecting our historical memory of the Holocaust with a political response to the new Nazism. Congressman Eliot Engel, who serves as the powerful Ranking Member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, offered ideas for bringing to the Congress the evidence of resurgent Nazism. And Congressman Jerry Nadler, one of America's leading progressive legislators, talked of the political coalitions that could be created in response.

A plan began to take shape. The Congress has a Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, better known as the Helsinki Commission, and Chaired by Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD) and Representative Chris Smith (R-NJ). The Conference concluded with a Statement asking the Helsinki Commission to hold hearings, and the American activists in the room promised an expansion of the work of America Without Nazism.

There is an understandable temptation to hope that all this will simply dissolve as the international economy recovers, and as individual nations respond in their own ways. That's a mistake. If there's a lesson from our first horrific confrontation with Nazi ideology and action, it's that we are infinitely better off responding quickly and firmly. The follow-up to the Washington Conference will insist on that.

The generation that fought for us in Europe is leaving us. The survivors of the horrors of the Nazi death camps are even fewer. Our historical memory is receding even as the Nazi threat is returning. What we are called upon to do today, we can connect to what they did years ago, after their political leadership failed to confront Nazism in time. Never again.