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15 March 2017

Leslie Schwartz Regarding the Current Political Climate

When World War II ended, as a 15-year-old-kid, I was so convinced we would never face another war.

After all the horrors I had just experienced in the Concentration Camps—all because of a crazed man like Hitler—I thought—now there will finally be peace. The world will have learned the lessons and never ever repeat this madness.

More than seventy years have passed and countless wars waged, yet, unbelievably, the global psychology has changed drastically for the worse over the past year or so; I now hear there is even a lack of interest in Holocaust Studies, even as hate crimes and threats against Jewish people and institutions have doubled in the United States over the past year alone.

I wonder if compassion and empathy also fading from the world scene because of the current political climate? In one country after another, the human heart is closing itself off to the suffering of others and taking on a hardness not seen since the darkest days of WWII.

Is this why people are losing interest in the Holocaust?

You must explain this to me because I cannot fathom this new mindset sweeping the globe. I lived through a world where brutality and violence ruled.

These people today have no idea the demons they are summoning.

Believe me, if you owned a time machine, you would not want to travel back to the places I survived. You have no idea what people are advocating with this renewed interest in xenophobia and nationalism.

To witness this shift in America is so strange for me because after the war, there was no dream like the dream of America. The reputation of Americans throughout the world was always number one.

Americans were heroes, known all over the world. I only wanted to come here to start my new life. I fear we are losing this honor gained through so much sacrifice and heroism.

When I think back to my days in the Displaced Persons camp leading to my first experiences in America, I am constantly filled with gratitude for all the people who helped me.

I was then like a refugee today, fleeing the devastation of war, seeking a new home. So many people were so kind to me. I started to learn English for Foreigners at Jefferson High School in East New York. I had a teacher I will remember to this day: Mrs. Hayes, a devout Catholic by the way. Why did she care so much about me and my fellow survivors? Why did she take it upon herself to make sure we succeeded in this new country? Her spirit was of welcoming and building a better America by spreading love and compassion, so that someday her students would also help others.

I will never forget her and so many others who helped me when I was at my most vulnerable. Perhaps what people forget is how much power they truly have—literally to change the world by changing one person’s tragic journey into one filled with grace and hope. We all have this power and this spirit still lives today, just look deeply into my life story and you will see hope and complete transformation shining brightly. Please, let us never lose this spirit. Learn history so you too may build a brighter future.

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