Esther Finder has witnessed the worst of humanity. Parents bleeding to death as her children watched. Children murdered in front of their parents.
The stories he has heard—of cruelty and degeneracy, bravery and ingenuity—stagger the imagination. As a teenager, Finder’s father survived a dozen Nazi concentration camps by posing as a doctor, electrician, and furrier. He once hid inside a cauldron the size of a man.
In all, Finder, a retired psychology professor, has recorded the testimony of nearly 250 Holocaust survivors.
“I can’t put myself in the shoes of the survivor, but I can stand close enough to get a sense of what they went through,” Finder said in a recent Zoom conversation from his home outside Las Vegas. “There is a lot of pain.”
But that hasn’t stopped a certain class of unconcerned politicians and sensation-hungry activists from nonchalantly spouting Nazi analogies and words like brownshirt to defend former President Trump’s misappropriation of highly classified documents, or to vilify public health workers. trying to stop a raging pandemic. which has killed more than 6 million people.
Anti-vaccine Robert F. Kennedy Jr. suggested Anne Frank enjoyed more freedom Hiding from the Nazis, who eventually killed Frank, his mother and sister, than Americans facing pandemic restrictions.
Florida Sen. Rick Scott and Colorado Rep. Lauren Boebert have compared the FBI to the Gestapo, Adolf Hitler’s secret police, after agents seized hundreds of sensitive documents from Trump’s estate at Mar-a-Lago. Arizona Rep. Paul Gosar called the officers brownshirts, a reference to Nazi stormtroopers.
(The court-approved search followed months of fruitless negotiations between government officials and the former president’s lawyers, who treated the state secrets like their personal trinkets.)
The most recent example of such callous stupidity came last week, when Rep. Mike Garcia, the Trumpy Republican from Southern California, compared the Biden administration to the Third Reich in an interview on a right-wing podcast.
“The FBI is not the Gestapo,” Finder said, her laugh as dry and sad as the desert around her. “The Gestapo would have just walked in and shot everyone. Who are we kidding?
Finder, 69, lost both sets of grandparents in the Holocaust. Her mother, like her father, survived Auschwitz; she lived out her days with a dented arm from an injury sustained on a cattle car the Nazis used to transport Jews to the concentration camp.
Finder’s family history and background in psychology made her a natural, if there is such a thing, to volunteer for interviews with the US Holocaust Memorial Museum and the USC Shoah Foundation, the latter founded by filmmaker Steven Spielberg to document the stories of the witnesses. and survivors.
The work is his attempt, Finder said, to “give a touch of humanity to numbers and statistics” that can never fully tell the horrors of the Holocaust. Taking testimonies has also been, she said, an “incredibly enriching” experience.
“Survivor stories are powerful,” said Finder, whose level tone and even demeanor suggested he was once again in front of the classroom. “They demonstrate the resilience of the human spirit and the will to live.”
On some level, Finder said, he understands why attention seekers invoke Hitler and the Holocaust.
“They do it for shock value,” he said. “They think they are going to make political points. They look at Nazi Germany and… the Gestapo as the epitome of evil. You can’t be worse than that. So if you really want to insult someone, call them a Nazi.”
But the reference, as easy as some find it, cheapens the experience of those who survived, violates the honor of those who did not and tramples on the memory of the descendants that remain.
“It’s insulting,” Finder said. “It’s demeaning. You’re stepping on my grandparents’ graves.”
Morning sunlight slanted through the shutters of his home office as the temperature outside climbed to 101. Finder’s expression was grim.
She has no illusions that the transgression will end. Too many are not aware of, or care about, the damage they cause. Too many enjoy the heady rush of attention they get from doing or saying something that startles or provokes.
Finder wants Holocaust defilers like Garcia, Boebert and others to bear witness to the anguish she has absorbed over the past decades. It’s too bad, she said, “you can’t see the look of pain in survivors’ eyes when they hear those analogies. She cuts to the bone.”
However, it is difficult to shame people who act so shamelessly.