Deputies Learn of Hatred, Propaganda, & Complacency in Holocaust Memorial Center Tour
(Crystal A. Proxmire, March 4, 2020)
Farmington Hills, MI – One thing that has always struck Sheriff Mike Bouchard when learning about the Holocaust, he said, “was how many photos showed German Police officers helping to round up Jewish people.”
Bouchard and about 30 members of his command staff spent several hours Monday at the Holocaust Memorial Center in Farmington Hills to learn about the movement of hate that led to Nazi power and the genocide of over six million Jewish people, as well as other targeted minorities in the 1930s and 40s in Germany, Poland, and other European countries. “We have to remember our role as a protector,” Bouchard said. “This is what hate motivated to action looks like.”
After a brief chat with media and a welcome by the center’s CEO Eli Mayerfeld, the Deputies joined a student group to hear a first-hand account from a Holocaust survivor. Edith Manniker shared her story about escaping Germany via a kindertransport, and a childhood full of constant moving and strangers, and surviving bombs at school and home.
She was eight years old when her parents put her on a train telling her she was going on vacation and they would be joining her soon. But she never saw them again. The story, told in detail here, gave a human touch to the atrocities shared throughout the museum.
Director of Education Ruth Bergman led the tour, catering it to areas that law enforcement in particular should be aware of. One example is the way propaganda and stereotypes are used not only to insult people, but to dehumanize them and to simplify a narrative. “Make it easy. Make it accessible. And make it broad,” she said. “Repeat it over and over again until people think it’s the truth.”
There are stereotypes of the Jewish community that continue to this day. They are so well-recognized that some people may know nothing about Jewish people other than the stereotypes. Graffiti, fliers, internet memes, and other uses of stereotypical imagery can be a sign that hate groups are growing in an area.
Bergman explained the post-war conditions in Germany that helped fear and hatred thrive. Politically there was a democratic system that had been forced upon the country after World War I. The economy had crashed and people were burning money because it was worth more as kindling than tender. Things were bad, people were in despair, and many wanted someone to blame. The Nazi party was the most organized voice of discontent, and became experts at propaganda.
In 1933 there were only about 500,000 Jewish people living in Germany. With a population of 67 million, it meant less than one percent of the population was Jewish. “Pick the most obvious ‘other’ and blame them,” is a common theme in movements of hate.
Another theme that was discussed throughout the tour, was how each small step closer to genocide happened because of the choices of individuals.
A citizen decided to vote a certain way. A shopkeeper decided to hang a “No Jews Allowed” sign in his window. A mother decided to read her children a book that showed little blond children chasing those with dark hair out of the school. A neighbor chose to smash a window. An officer chose to set fire to a house of worship. Or to beat a human being. Or to force a person to dig their own grave before shooting them in the head. A human being chose to watch thousands of people starve to death. Or to be used for painful experiments. Or any number of even worse things that happened over and over. Over six million times, each death was the result of someone’s choice.
“Do you know what happened if an officer refused to shoot someone?” Bergman asked.
It seemed to be an obvious answer. “They were shot?” one of the deputies said.
“No,” Bergman said. “They were transferred.”
In Oakland County instances of antisemitism have included fliers and graffiti, but Bouchard’s approach has been to learn about instances happening nationally and around the globe, and make sure Oakland County is prepared. He serves on the Joint Terrorism Task Force to keep up on the latest threats. And he works locally with houses of worship of many types, as well as schools and other organizations on safety and security training.
In addition to a tour of the Holocaust Memorial Center, the Sheriff’s office trains to best serve diverse communities, and how to best communicate with people with physical and mental challenges. “The first line of response is police and we’ve got to be able to help people,” Bouchard said. He said that in jail, for example, there is training on how to treat inmates. “Because someone is in jail doesn’t make them less worthy of respect and professionalism,” he said.
The Holocaust Memorial Center is designed to carry visitors through the story of the Jewish people, including a stunning display of art, culture, history and faith in the first, and most, inviting of all the rooms. One could spend hours looking at the religious items, art, and the photographs of various Jewish people spanning all levels of income, age, profession and fashion.
This large carpeted room then segues into a hard-floored, dark corridor with a looming image of Adolph Hitler and a pathway of photos and relics that showed the rise of Nazi power. Each subsequent area takes visitors through a timeline that went from simple stereotypes to mass extermination in only a few short years.
At the end of the challenging journey is a bright sunlit room with a view of a tiny courtyard and a wall full of stories of people who risked their lives to help save lives. In the center is young white birch tree in the center of the courtyard, just now stating to get it’s spring buds. The tree was grown from a cutting of the tree that Anne Frank wrote about in her diary. “That tree was her sign of hope,” Bergman said. The Center is one of only a handful of places in the United States that received a cutting of the tree.
For the deputies on the tour she left them with much to think about, as well as a message of hope. “As police you must be empowered knowing that you make a difference every day you go to work,” she said.
Following the tour, Sheriff Bouchard issued a press release, stating “Throughout history, we have seen hatred motivated to action. There is evil in the world and law enforcement will not stand-by and allow hatred to go unchallenged or allow these abhorrent acts to be committed. We must stand in front of evil to protect the targets of any hateful action – whether it be because of religion, race, preference, identity, or any other hate-driven reason. The Sheriff’s Office stands prepared and ready.”
The Holocaust Memorial Center is located at 28123 Orchard Lake Rd, Farmington Hills, MI 48334. Learn more about their speakers program, exhibits and more at https://www.holocaustcenter.org.