It couldn’t happen here.
That’s what some Germanna Community College students told Holocaust survivor Jay M. Ipson when he spoke at the Fredericksburg Area Campus Thursday.
Ipson, a Jew who lived through Hitler’s rise and fall, said that unless Americans exercise critical thinking, history could repeat itself.
Ipson, co-founder of the Virginia Holocaust Museum, was raised in Lithuania, placed in a concentration camp at age 6 in 1941 and escaped with his parents in 1943. He arrived in Richmond with his parents in 1947, when he was 12.
He pointed to recent events in Charlottesville as evidence that similar forces are at work now in the United States and that only an educated, well-informed electorate can defeat those who seek to gain power by turning us against one another.
“The people have the power,” Ipson told a room packed with about 150 mostly young people. “You have the power. You elect the government. But sometimes some of us who elect the government don’t know what they’re doing because they’re not informed.”
The Nazi party, he said, never had a majority in taking over Germany. They only needed 44 percent, Ipson pointed out.
“Then Hitler said: ‘I am the chancellor. I am the leader. And what I say, you will do. The German Supreme Court fell under him and basically what he wanted is what they approved.”
Ipson told the Germanna crowd: “How important you are. You are our government. Don’t blindly vote for a party. Don’t vote Democrat. Don’t vote Republican. Don’t vote Independent. Don’t vote who knows what. Know what you are in for and what you have in the person and how trustworthy he is. That takes some study.”
The 82-year-old Ipson said he hasn’t missed voting in an election since he was 18 years old. “I’ll vote for dogcatcher, because if I don’t get what I want, then I get what I deserve. Be a part of the government. Don’t just read one newspaper or one commentator’s opinion. Check it out.”
Too many Americans don’t think critically about information fed to them that is not altogether different from the propaganda Germans heard in the 1930s, he said.
“The Internet, pardon me, is full of s—,” he said as students roared with laughter. “Some jerk posts some stuff or pulls it off of who knows what and sends it off to his friends. And because your friends trust you, you have just given them a bunch of crap to go on. How many of you verify what you hear from your friends?” Few in the crowd raised their hands. “It’s very important,” he said.
He said there are 917 hate groups in the United States, including 39 in Virginia:
“They’ll hate me as a Jew, they’ll hate you as a Christian, they’ll hate you as a white, they’ll hate you as a black. They’ll hate. If you do a little research you’ll be able to find out who they are and what they stand for.”
Recently in Charlottesville, “a woman died because some stupid fool hated a group so bad he took his car to drive [over] them. That’s not good for this country. It’s not good for us.”
He said advances in communications devices such as smart phones have turned the whole world into one big neighborhood and that should help us understand that we all have the most important things in life in common.
“What happens if you cut your finger? You bleed. What color is it? Red. What happens when somebody in Europe cuts their finger? What color? We’re all the same. It doesn’t matter what the color of the skin is, it doesn’t matter what color the hair is, it doesn’t matter what country you’re from. We are all the same.”