Stephen Gottlieb: Never Again Means Never Again

Sep 10, 2019

I joined a demonstration Sunday afternoon. It was called partly to make clear that Jews are not slaves to Trump regardless of his policies toward Israel. It was part of Never Again Action across the country to protest the use of concentration camps to hold people fleeing from persecution, now most urgently on our Mexican border. We were joined by good people of all colors, origins and faiths, many of whom I know and admire.

Justice Jackson, chief prosecutor at the Nuremberg Trials, told the world in his opening statement that “civilization cannot tolerate … [the Nazi’s wrongs] being ignored, because it cannot survive their being repeated.”[1] Never again and condemnation of the Holocaust was never just about Jews. These were crimes against all humanity. ICE, US Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and Trump get no atrocities pass.

Never Again protested holding kids in cages, separating children from their families, keeping immigrants in concentration camps, plus denying them everything from soap to medical care. It is not OK to do that to people whatever they look like or the language they use to speak or pray. It’s not OK to refuse to help people who are fleeing for their lives. It’s not OK to rename refugees “illegals” and treat them as if they have no rights even to the basics for survival. And it’s not OK for Sheriff Russo to assist ICE to round up decent, law-abiding people fleeing for their lives to the country that promised the world to advance life, liberty, freedom from fear and freedom from want. And yes, I did call them law-abiding – it’s not a crime to cross the border.

So we congregated at a park in South Troy and then marched to the Rensselaer County Correctional Facility. Rabbi Gordon reminded the crowd that when Rabbi Heschel was criticized for marching on the sabbath in the Civil Rights Movement, he responded, “I prayed with my feet.”  We prayed with our feet, as appropriate when our voices are not enough.

When we reached the jail, we were reminded of the names of people who died in US custody near the Mexican border. We remembered them with the Kadish, the ancient Jewish prayer for the dead. It’s a prayer I recite tearfully as I have recited it for my parents and others I held dear.

The march was peaceful and we had been instructed to obey the laws. But a group sat across the road leading to the jail and eventually people from the county police came to talk to those blocking the road. I saw Mark Mishler, as attorney for the demonstrators, come to join the discussion. I heard them discuss alternatives available to the police. When they got to the possibility of arrest, I heard Mark tell the officer that "There are people here who lost their families in the holocaust…. As Jews we have seen these things before and we are not going to be like the ‘good Germans’ who stood by and let it happen in Germany, that we will not allow detentions and family separations happen in our country without taking a stand. And, that's why the people blocking the road are not going to leave." If they left, they would be tortured by the thought that they had not done everything they could to stop others from being confined in inhumane conditions as their families had been.

Never again means never again, anywhere. It means that at home as much as anywhere else. We will not be complicit.

[1] Opening Address to the International Military Tribunal at the Nuremberg Trials (10 November 1945).

Steve Gottlieb’s latest book is Unfit for Democracy: The Roberts Court and The Breakdown of American Politics. He is the Jay and Ruth Caplan Distinguished Professor Emeritus at Albany Law School, served on the New York Civil Liberties Union board, on the New York Advisory Committee to the U.S. Civil Rights Commission, and as a US Peace Corps Volunteer in Iran.

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.