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20 September 2017

Celebrating National Punch a Nazi Day

A video has gone viral of a man in Neo-Nazi garb getting punched in Seattle. The individual is left crumbled up in pain on the sidewalk as the person who assaulted him is congratulated. The Independent is one of many on-line news outlets featuring the story, and here is a slightly more detailed story from Vice.

Many of my current and former college students have commented about the story both in social media and in person, mostly expressing their satisfaction, even leaning toward joy, over the outcome.

My Holocaust scholarship including my book, Freedom From Hatred, written with survivor Leslie Schwartz leads people to the assumption that I, too, am pleased with the outcome; they obviously never read our book or any of the hundreds of articles or news stories posted about Leslie Schwartz and have completely missed the thesis of our work together.

We strive to resolve conflict and to heal the destructive consequences of violence and hatred by non-violent means, which include, but are not limited to education, empowerment, and mutual truth-seeking while increasing humanism and democracy in all nations.

Despite their immense and incalculable losses during the Shoah, neither Leslie Schwartz nor his mentor, Max Mannheimer ever punched a Nazi.

Rather Mannheimer dedicated his entire life after the war to peace and education. He lectured to hundreds of thousands of German students dating back to the first days after the war right up until the present. His presentations never tainted with malice or hatred, only love for truth and hope that if people knew the truth, they might well strive to become better people and to make the world a better place. Mannheimer received countless awards and recognition all over the globe for his work. Leslie Schwartz began his work of educating German students by following the example of Mannheiner. Leslie wanted to share the feeling of doing good. Easing his suffering by helping others, yes, even the descendants of the people who murdered his entire family.

Schwartz also told me stories of prisoners once freed from Dachau murdering German civilians in fits of rage immediately following their liberation in May 1945. One of the people killed was the husband of a German farmer woman named Agnes Riesch.

Frau Riesch spent the war years bringing bread to fourteen year old Leslie Schwartz while he was imprisoned at Dachau. She also gave him money and food coupons to shop in a local bakery.

She called Leslie her son while her unconditional and perilously public displays of affection for Leslie often brought down the ire of SS Guards who once remarked to her, "If you keep this up, we'll put you in here."

She responded, "I don't care. I'm old."

Her biological son was a prisoner of war in the Soviet Union and never returned to Germany alive.

Leslie kept in touch with Frau Riesch for many decades. He even brought food to her from the Red Cross immediately after the war while Leslie was living in the Displaced Person's Camp nearby. Leslie finally visited Frau Riesch again in 1972, bringing her a loaf of bread and smile, pictured above.

There were also other German civilians who helped Leslie survive the camps. He carried their acts of kindness and compassion with him when he left Germany for America. Yet for sixty plus years he wasn't able to speak publicly about the camps until  he had a moment of epiphany and freedom experienced during a visit to Germany a few years ago; he had became obsessed with finding out the identity of yet another German farmer woman who took him and his friends into her kitchen one afternoon during their failed escape attempt near Poing in the final days of the war. Leslie never learned her name was Barbara Huber until recently, but her kindness haunted him each and every day. He needed the world to know what she had done, as simple an act as feeding a few starving emaciated prisoners milk and bread with butter.

Hate and violence are energies that achieve only what they achieve: to bring about more hate and more violence in endless cycles of suffering.

What shocks me so terribly is the flippant attitudes of younger students toward this violence. I don't know the person who was punched or the person who punched him, nor do I  know how their life experiences brought them to that particular and unique moment in time, Flannery O'Connor would call it "a peculiar crossroads where time and place and eternity somehow meet". I do know I see hate being held up an venerated by intellectually lazy, spiritually ungrounded, and terribly ignorant people who somehow think this is all just OK. People are angry about a lot of things--righteously angry--I get that, but this is not the way forward.

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