I was living in occupied Paris under the Nazis in 1941 when President Roosevelt delivered his State of the Union address to Congress. He talked with passion about bedrock American values, the “four freedoms”―freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom from want, and freedom from fear. In my native Germany and in France―as well as all other countries Hitler conquered―each of these fundamental freedoms of a democratic society had completely disappeared. You cannot imagine the joy and sense of rebirth in Paris when the Americans liberated us in 1944.
A decade later, I became a naturalized American after I married Kirk Douglas. My husband believes, because I lived for so long under fascism, I love my adopted homeland with a ferocity that few native-born citizens can imagine.
“Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country,” said John F. Kennedy when he became the 35th President of the United States. Soon after, he created many opportunities for citizen participation like forming the Peace Corps and suggesting to my husband that an American movie star, representing the U.S. as a goodwill ambassador, could enhance our understanding among nations.
Kirk solidified the arrangement with the State Department and for the next 20 years―under both Democratic and Republican presidents―Kirk and I traveled to more than 40 countries at our own expense to talk about America. Some of the countries had totalitarian or military regimes. We always came home relieved to report that, even behind the Iron Curtain, there was affection and respect for America.
Neo-Nazis and the Ku Klux Klan seem convinced that President Trump is their friend. He has said little to dissuade them.
Kirk is now 100, and there’s little he hasn’t experienced during his lifetime. He’s eternally grateful his parents escaped the anti-Semitism of Czarist Russia so that all of their children could be born in America. He’s seen the greatness of our country, but also its dark side of discrimination against minorities, immigrants, and its Native American populations.
He helped to break the blacklist that grew out of Congressional hearings that destroyed lives of those who had once belonged to the Communist Party, a party whose existence was never made illegal. He knew people who were terrified that their sexual orientation would be exposed. He saw how easy it was for people in power like Senator Joseph McCarthy to persecute with impunity until a courageous lawyer for the Army named Joseph Welch destroyed him with these damning words, “At long last, have you left no sense of decency.”
Those are words I wish our congressional leaders would have quoted to the current inhabitant of the White House when he blamed “both sides” for the tragic events at the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.
The American-bred racists and neo-Nazis who gathered there have never experienced firsthand what a totalitarian regime inflicts upon its people when it takes power. I have. They have lived all their lives in a country which protects their free speech even when it is hateful.
As a child in Germany, I had to join Hitler Jugend (Hitler Youth) where we were indoctrinated with Nazi beliefs and encouraged to spy on our parents and neighbors. Later, when I was surviving in Paris by writing German subtitles for films, my maid denounced me to the Gestapo, eager to report the strange phrases on the work I brought home. I was picked up at 5:00 a.m. and interrogated for hours. I finally convinced the officer I was not a spy, but only because I could speak German. It was the most terrifying moment of many for me during World War II.
Our president, our elected representatives, and our military and law-enforcement leaders must tell them in no uncertain terms that there is no place for hate groups in America.
Neo-Nazis and the Ku Klux Klan seem convinced that President Trump is their friend. He has said little to dissuade them. His first wife Ivana said her husband kept a book of Hitler’s speeches by his bedside, so I wonder where his sympathies lie.
Movements like these openly share their goals of taking over the government. Our president, our elected representatives, and our military and law-enforcement leaders must tell them in no uncertain terms that there is no place for hate groups in America.