The “alt-right”’s staging of a Nuremberg-style get together in Charlottesville, Virginia, didn’t quite go as planned. Instead of Triumph of the Will-style coverage of Tiki Torch-Bearers parading around like good little Nazis what they got was on-the-fly video of James Alex Fields hurtling his Dodge Challenger into a group of counter-protestors, killing 32-year old Heather Heyer.
Like recurring adolescent acne that never seems to respond to Clearasil, neo-Nazis and their ilk have again shown up as ass-blisters on the body politic. My guess is that most sane and sensible folk feel if they just wait long enough the pain and discomfort will eventually subside. However, Richard Spencer and his troop of true believers aren’t the buffoonish Brown Shirts of Blues Brothers fame (“I Hate Illinois Nazis”) nor the drunken, tattooed, obese versions who’ve turned out at hate rallies in years past. No, Spencer’s followers, many of whom attended a we-won rally last November 19th, seemed absolutely orgasmic when he proclaimed, “Hail Trump, Hail our People, Hail Victory, and the scariest thing about it? Members of the audience looked more prep/hipster than white trash/hillbilly.
The pictures of clean-shaven, polo-shirted, miscreants at the “Unite the Right” rally — pumped up with fire and fury — reminded me of another clean-shaven kid of similar sentiments, featured in an iconic scene in Bob Fosse’s 1972, “Cabaret.” Remember? It’s set in the beer garden of a Bavarian Gausthaus during those sketchy, debauched Weimar years when Hitler’s NSDAP Brown Shirts, bulking up on hate-filled steroids, were beginning to flex muscles.
It starts with some drinking and conversation between English academic, Brian Roberts (Michael York), and aristocrat pal, Maximilian von Heune (Helmut Grieme). Suddenly they’re interrupted by a melodious tune with some compelling lyrics:
The sun on the meadow is summery warm The stag in the forest runs free But gather together to greet the storm. Tomorrow belongs to me
It’s a fiery toe-tapper; catchy with allusions to Teutonic greatness and as the teenager finds his musical stride, the town folk begin to join in, one after another… They sing with one strident voice.
The babe in his cradle is closing his eyes The blossom embraces the bee But soon, says a whisper, Arise, arise, tomorrow belongs to me
The camera pans down the singer’s brown shirt to reveal a swastika armband. He continues his paean to future German greatness; ending with a shot of the Brown Shirt putting on his NSDAP cap and raising his arm in classic Heil Hitler mode. It’s all Ein Volk, Ein Reich, Ein Fuhrer.
Leaving the premises Brian whispers to Maximilian, who’s dismissed the NSDAP rantings as nothing more than empty talk: “You think you can control them now?”
Yes, that’s the operative dynamic and listening to David Duke at the Charlottesville rally, adorned with the signature “Make America Great Again” cap, it’s obvious that he thinks otherwise; even invoking the name of the president as some sort of seal of approval.
Jew Baiting – like Bear Baiting – has been a popular sport for time immemorial and it seems like anti-Semites are always waiting for an opening, which may come sooner rather than later. If things go south, economically speaking — and a grass-roots blame game ensues — there’s more than enough wealthy “Jews” to point fingers at. Many come from that traditional target for Rothschild/Illuminati conspiracy-mongers: Goldman Sachs. Beckoned by power and glory alums like Steven Mnuchin and Gary Cohn have become willing props in what seems like a burgeoning Wiemar stage play. Others, like Stephen Schwarzman (head of Trump’s economic advisory council) and the president’s own son-in-law, Jared Kushner, are potential targets for Jew hatred.
This heavy Hebraic presence in the administration hasn’t been lost on another notorious anti-Semite, Minister Louis Farrakhan – leader of the Nation of Islam – who’s voiced his distaste, warning Trump (who he’s sweet on) to “extricate” himself from the influence of Jared Kushner, dubbing him a lackey of Israel.
I was born a mere four years after the war — the son of parents who spent hard time in Nazi concentration camps — arriving, as we did, in working class Brooklyn care of the Displaced Persons Act. In our neighborhood of East New York — which many survivors called home — there was a profound disbelief that American-style pogroms could ever take place although they weren’t all ostriches with heads buried in the ground. There was Arthur Godfrey – the Mel Gibson of his day – known wildly for his anti-Semitic predilections and Gregory Peck’s exploration of the polite “Gentiles Only” policy, in the award-winning film, Gentleman’s Agreement.
It was only moving out of this tight-knit enclave into the Sheepshead Bay section of Brooklyn did I discover what anti-Semitism was all about. Unlike today’s “artisanal” Brooklyn, drawing Millennials to trendy clubs and cafes, my Brooklyn had more in common with Thomas Wolfe’s Only the Dead Know Brooklyn. It was a melting pot grown cold, stuffed with unmelted toxic detritus. The Irish lived uncomfortably besides Italians who lived uncomfortably besides us Jews and while we were all shared a similar socio-economic status it really didn’t matter when you met face-to-face. I quickly learned to scan the sidewalks ahead for strange groups approaching; by strange, I mean kids sporting well-tended pompadours – Italians – or tow-headed swaggerers: the Irish.
The usual ritual went something like this: you’re walking down the street and fast approaching an unfriendly looking group. It was a High Noon moment. Who would be the first to side step and avoid a collision? If neither party responded a clash would open up with a hard bumping of the shoulders. This would be followed by a “what you looking at?” Not backing down — which I rarely did — opening salvos of “f*ck you,” no, “f*ck you,” would eventually culminate with a hurling of “Jew Bastard,” (or “kike” or “sheenie”) by the unfriendly party. The battle would then be joined, climaxing with hurled fists/headlocks, then rapid retreat to friendlier climes. A similar scenario played out in Rockaway where us Jews vacationed on the cheap in old boarding houses that were a bit too close in proximity to bungalows inhabited by the year-round blue collar Irish.
It was only at Brooklyn Technical High School back in the late sixties — all boys at the time — that some of these groups suddenly came to realize they had more in common than they thought; a result of the school’s mixing students from diverse neighborhoods around the city. Bonding was based on shared disruptive experiences and the consequences thereof (detention, or worse: I was thrown out for a semester). Sometimes the gym proved useful in creating new friendships across ethnic divides where, on a wrestling mat, you could prove manly prowess by squeezing your opponent’s neck so hard that his head turned bright red. In short, there were many teachable moments.
I doubt whether there are any teachable moments for the Neo-Nazi’s who marched in Charlottesville and who succeeded in turning Heather Heyer into a martyr of Chaney/Goodman/Schwerner/Liuzzo proportions. Props to those from the Antifa who put their lives on the line to face down these hate groups (Cornel West gave them credit for saving his life when torch bearers seemed out for blood on their soiree the evening before).
The coalition of Anarchists, Black Lives Matter; even Red Necks (yes, they have their own anti-racist group, RedNeck Revolt), demonstrated that despite what White Supremacists and Neo-Nazi’s believe, the future does not belong to them.
Historical note: Tomorrow Belongs to Me, written expressly for Cabaret, rings so convincingly that on Neo-Nazi chat rooms there’s talk of this having had true Germanic roots. Even Faux-Himmler, Richard Spencer, seemed to embrace this notion until Jason Kander let the fool know that it was his uncle, a Jew, who crafted the tune.
Joel Sucher, along with Steven Fischler, is a founder of Pacific Street Films and has written for a number of platforms including American Banker, In These Times, HuffPost and Observer. com. Fischler and Sucher are currently working on a new outreach campaign for their 2001 documentary, From Swastika to Jim Crow, which highlighted the story of Jewish refugee scholars from Nazi Germany who found teaching jobs at Black Colleges.