Ernst Hess. Emil Maurice. Most people don’t recognize these names. That is because these men are footnotes in the history of the Third Reich. They had the dubious honor of being personal friends of Hitler. Hess was Hitler’s company commander during WWI. Maurice was a longtime friend from when he and Hitler were members of the German Workers Party. After Hitler rose to power and the anti-Semitic agenda of the Nazis was well established, Hitler went out of his way to issue two orders. The first order commanded the German secret police to grant Hess “relief and the protection as per the Fuhrer’s wishes”. His second order was addressed to Heinrich Himmler. Maurice, despite his Jewish heritage, had not only joined the Nazi Party, he was an SS officer as well as Hitler’s sometime bodyguard and personal chauffeur. Himmler insisted that Maurice be expelled from the ranks for failing the racial purity rules, but Hitler wrote a letter to Himmler ordering him to make an exception for Maurice as well as his brothers. The Maurices were declared “Honorary Aryans” and allowed to stay in the SS.
So what is the point of this brief glimpse at Hitler’s protection of these two men? Yesterday an Israeli reporter questioned Trump about the sharp rise in anti-Semitic incidents in the United States and asked what he had to say regarding concerns in Jewish communities internationally that his administration was playing with xenophobic and racist tones. Trump’s response was:
“Well, I just want to say that we are, you know, very honored by the victory that we had — 316 electoral college votes. We were not supposed to crack 220. You know that, right? There was no way to 221, but then they said there’s no way to 270. And there’s tremendous enthusiasm out there.
I will say that we are going to have peace in this country. We are going to stop crime in this country. We are going to do everything within our power to stop long simmering racism and every other thing that’s going on. There’s a lot of bad things that have been taking place over a long period of time.
I think one of the reasons I won the election is we have a very, very divided nation, very divided. And hopefully, I’ll be able to do something about that. And I, you know, it was something that was very important to me.
As far as people, Jewish people, so many friends; a daughter who happens to be here right now; a son-in-law, and three beautiful grandchildren. I think that you’re going to see a lot different United States of America over the next three, four or eight years. I think a lot of good things are happening.
And you’re going to see a lot of love. You’re going to see a lot of love.”
Trump first words were to revisit and relive, once again, his electoral college victory, as if to validate himself as president, because he was good enough, he was smart enough and, doggone it, people liked him. He then segued into generic comments about crime, long simmering racism, and a deeply divided nation, as if to wash his hands of the nationalistic, racist and anti-Semitic activity that has been emboldened since his candidacy and election. When Trump finally got to the “Jewish question”, he talked about his Jewish friends, daughter, son-in-law and grandchildren, then rambled on about how the United States will be very different in the next several years, but a lot of good things and love will be happening. He couldn’t even bring himself to say the word “anti-Semitism.”
The point is even Hitler had Jewish friends whom he protected from his own policies. But Hitler rose to power promising the German people how different Germany would be under his leadership, how he would make Germany great again, after the humiliation of the First World War. He showed just how much love he had for those who fit the mold, who were shining examples of Aryan ideals and ancestry. As for the rest, especially those who were Jewish, it was off to the concentration camps and crematoriums.
The Holocaust didn’t happen in spite of these promises and policies. It happened because of them. Hitler created carveouts to shield his nearest and dearest, but it didn’t alter the Nazi agenda one whit. Likewise, Trump’s showcasing of his Jewish friends and family members is not reassuring in the slightest. His failure to indict anti-Semitism unequivocally indicates either an unwillingness or inability to quash the hateful forces his rhetoric has unleashed, or a desire to use those forces to bend the arc of American history towards racism again. Both possibilities are horrifying.