Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Sanders, the Holocaust, Racism

(Updated on 2/14/20 with information about Sanders family in Europe. See also Talia Lavin's article from that date, “To Dream of a Jewish President.”) 
 Every Jew born in the United States before 1950 is a descendant of refugees. Jews came to the Americas very early on, and even supported the American revolution, as refugees from millennium-old oppression in Europe.
Sanders’ father, Eli Sanders, came from Słopnice, Galicia, in central Europe. One of his brothers also emigrated. Sanders’ mother, Dorothy Sanders, was the children of Jewish immigrants from Poland and Russia.
Galicia was once a center of Jewish culture in Europe. According to the Wikipedia article on Galician Jews, in 1938 there were some 3.31 million Jews in Galicia, many of them refugees from Poland. In 1959, there were only 29,701 Jews left. The ones that were not killed by the Germans in their Final Solution emigrated to Israel.
Half of the Holocaust was carried out in Galicia.
Eli Sanders had a brother who came with him, and a brother and a sister who stayed behind. There was a cousin and other family. A 2015 Margaret Talbot New Yorker article offers the following on Sanders background in Europe: “Sanders told me that, in the aftermath of the Second World War, his family ‘got a call in the middle of the night about some relative of my father’s, who was in a displaced-persons camp in Europe someplace.’ Sanders learned that many of his father’s other relatives had perished.”
Not only were most of Sanders relatives in Europe killed, likely most of the Jews that the Sanders brothers knew in Galicia was killed. Bernard Sanders and his father and uncle, though themselves spared, were brushed by the wings of malakh ha-mavet.
My editor offers their own family reminiscence:
I am reminded of my father counting on his fingers all the immediate family of his that was killed.  I think he could get to 30 without even trying. He had two grandmothers, they got out before they were interned. Both his grandfathers died first, the maternal one during kristallnacht.
He had one aunt on his father’s side and an uncle on his mothers, with two cousins descended from them. His other relatives were “Uncle Victor” (three degrees) and Victor’s son who was a pederast. And his cousin who died in Florida some time ago and her father.  He was his father’s second cousin once removed.
That’s all that survived of the family.
The closest parallel I can think of in US history might be the freed child of slaves during the Reconstruction. The extended family – aunts, uncles, and cousins – likely survived, but would mostly have been sold away.
Saying that the Holocaust had no impact on Sanders and his family because his immediate family did not die in it is like saying that slavery has no effect on the children of freed slaves. It is exactly the excuse that white people give to reject reparations or, indeed, any attempt to rectify anti-black racism. I don’t ever want to hear again that Sanders has had no experience of racism.
Antisemitism lives.

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