I’ve experienced plenty of antisemitism — and know confirming Deborah Lipstadt will help us fight back
I will accompany Dr. Deborah Lipstadt into the Dirksen Senate Office Building for her Senate confirmation hearing to become the State Department Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Antisemitism on Feb. 8.
I will most likely sit silently behind her as a reminder and witness to the problem of antisemitism in our country and the world. But I must break that silence today so that the urgency and critical need for her leadership and voice will be heeded.
Antisemitism is a continual thread that has run through my life. My father, George Salton, was a Holocaust survivor. After the German invasion in 1939, his family lived under the brutal boot of the Nazis and were forced to leave their homes in a small town in Poland and move into a crowded ghetto where there was great suffering, hunger, illness and death.
His parents, along with 23,000 other Jews from that ghetto, were sent in boxcars and gassed at the Belzec extermination camp. After three years in 10 concentration camps in Germany, Poland and France, my father was liberated by the 82nd Airborne of the U.S. Army on May 2, 1945.
My father came to the United States, served proudly in the U.S. Army and became an American citizen. He used the G.I. bill to go to college, where he earned a bachelor’s in physics and a master’s in engineering, even though he had only completed the 5th grade before the war. He had a career at the Pentagon where he got to meet and thank General Gavin, who had commanded the 82nd Airborne during WWII.
I was raised to be a proud American and grateful for our armed forces. I have attended two National Conventions of the 82nd Airborne as a guest and met many WWII liberators. I think they would be appalled to see the antisemitism and neo-Nazis marching and waving Nazi flags in our country today.
Last month, my rabbi and fellow congregants were held hostage in my synagogue, Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville, Texas. For 11 hours, we waited and watched in horror and disbelief. How could this hatred, antisemitism and violence invade my small congregation in my town?
But this was not my first experience with a hostage situation involving Jews. In 1977, at the age of 18, while a student at American University in Washington, D.C., I stood outside the Jewish organization headquarters of B’nai Brith International, where Hanafi Movement members held over 100 hostages.
The gunmen claimed that Jews controlled the courts and the press. These were the same antisemitic tropes that were used by the Nazis and by the gunman in my Colleyville synagogue. I stood outside the B’nai Brith building in the rain holding a sign that said “Never Again,” the post-Holocaust slogan to end antisemitism. But the ugliness of antisemitism keeps happening, again and again.
My children attended the Southlake, Texas schools which made recent headlines after it was suggested that teachers might provide books with opposing views about the Holocaust. Some feared this would open the door to Holocaust denial, which Lipstadt has fought against.
My son graduated from the University of Virginia, where the Unite the Right rally took place in 2017. Neo-Nazis marched across the historic grounds with torches shouting, “Jews will not replace us.” Lipstadt gave expert testimony in the Charlottesville trial, which led to a verdict against the white supremacist and neo-Nazi defendants.
I have experienced antisemitic slights and remarks and even woke one morning to find my lawn covered with discarded Christmas trees. A prank, perhaps, but a reminder that I was the Jew in the neighborhood.
But now, the remarks and slights have created a world where Jewish lives are in danger. I must pray with an armed guard at the synagogue door. Must I now hide my identity as my father’s family hid in the woods at night when the Nazis came looking for Jews to terrorize?
I spoke with Lipstadt recently and expressed my dismay that none of our efforts, museums, memorials and books have curbed this hatred of the Jews.
“If the Holocaust was not enough to end antisemitism,” she replied, “what can possibly stop it?”
My father used to say that we must remain vigilant to fight hatred, wherever it grows.
My father knew Deborah Lipstadt. He knew her to be a brilliant historian and scholar, a leader of courage and conviction.
So I will sit behind her on Tuesday in silence, but I hope the Senators on the Foreign Relations Committee know that if my pain and tears could talk, they would be an outcry to unite those of us who want a safer and better world. Deborah Lipstadt must be confirmed and help lead us there.
Anna Salton Eisen was the founding president of Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville, Texas. She is the author of “Pillar of Salt: A Daughter’s Life in the Shadow of the Holocaust” and “The 23rd Psalm: A Holocaust Memoir,” as well as the subject of the upcoming documentary film, “In My Father’s Words.”
To contact the author, email [email protected].