Why One Holocaust Survivors’ Granddaughter Rejects Proposed Muslim Registry

In late February 1943, the Nazis rounded up the last Jews remaining in Berlin. Of these, two thousand were men married to non-Jewish women. They were interned in the Jewish community center on Rosenstrasse as they awaited deportation. Quickly, their wives began quietly gathering outside the building to learn the fate of their spouses. Over the next few days, the crowd of women ballooned from a few hundred to over one thousand. The Nazis confronted them with machine guns, threatening to kill them if they did not disperse, and then women began shouting for the return of their men. They remained on the street for a week. The protest caught the attention of the international media. On March 6, Goebbels released all of their husbands.

Only 73 years later, in the United States, we read that the presidential-elect’s transition team is considering a “registry” for Muslims, and that camps used in World War II to intern Japanese-American citizens are deemed appropriate precedents to consider. As the granddaughter of Holocaust survivors, I could not be more terrified by this very concept. “Never Again” does not just apply to Jews – it is for all people facing dangerous threats to their existence.

I’ve seen many calls from the Jewish community in response to this abomination, asking Jews to add our names to the registry in solidarity with Muslim Americans. Theoretically, this is a good idea: if we all add our names, they can’t really act against everyone, right? I was very excited about the idea at first, but then I became consumed with horror. Immediately we’ve accepted the terms of this disgrace, the inevitability of ongoing human rights abuses. We should not give in so quickly and make their jobs any easier than they need to be. If they want a registry, make them work hard for it.

I learned an important lesson from my grandfather: when someone wants to register you, you refuse. There is only the barest paper trail of his existence, even after the war when he lived in American Displaced Persons camps administered by the JDC. He wanted no evidence of his existence, so if he had to disappear, he could. Decades later, he even refused reparations because he did not want the German government to have his name and information. My grandfather did not want his name on lists or registries because too many people he had known whose names appeared on lists were lists of the dead.

On a larger scale, let’s follow my grandfather’s advice and replicate the brave actions of the women of the Rosenstrasse protest: We will say no. No, there will be no registry. No, we will not accept this even in concept. No, if you dare implement a registry, you will have no names. Not the names of Muslims, not the names of Jews, not the names of LGBTQ people, not the names of people of color, not the names of women. There will be no names. None. We must resist the first step of tyranny, rather than acquiescing to it as an accepted pre-condition.

Doing this is harder and immediately riskier than handing over all of our information (which, realistically, any administration can eventually find in this day and age, although it takes time to compile from all the various sources). It requires harboring people in our homes to protect them after they refuse to register. It may require destroying physical or electronic files. It requires standing in the streets, possibly in front of machine guns, like the women of Rosenstrasse, saying no – you cannot have these people. We are protecting them.

The past teaches us that resistance works when done in large numbers and in public. If we stand together and say no, it is harder to enforce an unjust law than it is to follow up on names on secret lists and registries over time. People on lists disappear in the cover of dark; people in public protests have witnesses to their actions. Honor the women of Rosenstrasse and all of the survivors who said no.


The Rosenstrasse Protests and Resistance in the United States

The Rosenstrasse Protests and Resistance in the United States

Suzanne Reisman is an author with the Leshne Agency and her forthcoming novel, “This Eden Called Warsaw” is based on her grandfather’s life in Warsaw before the Holocaust. She holds an MFA in writing from The New School and an MPA in social welfare policy from Columbia University.

Holocaust Survivors’ Granddaughter Gives Advice on Resisting Authoritarian Registries

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Why One Holocaust Survivors’ Granddaughter Rejects Proposed Muslim Registry

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