David James

Klaus Stern came to Northwest Montana twenty years ago to remind my students of the lure and dangers of fascism. Klaus was a dear friend and a Holocaust survivor. He reinforced in me the importance of history and my responsibility to teach its lessons.

In my classroom, in my community, in the towns of Lincoln and Flathead counties, his message haunts me to this day. His camp number 1-1-7-0-3-3 on his forearm brought deathly silence and tears to those present. A stark reminder of fascism. He talked about cruelty and how neighbors became enemies of each other.

About how a fascist cult leader promised to restore the nation to its former greatness by preventing immigrants, liberals, minorities, homosexuals, and women from taking over cultural institutions. His country, Germany, was enamored with a macho leader that promised to solve the country’s problems.

Hitler constantly reminded people of the country’s mythic past when a dominant group ruled over women and minorities. Klaus explained Hitler’s plan was for Germany to return to greatness. His Brown Shirts flooded the body politic with propaganda by capturing newspapers and holding extravagant mass rallies organized by Josef Geobbels to convince people of the oppressive threat.

Klaus said truth was a threat which Goebbels described as ‘the enemy of the state’. Fascist (Hitler’s) regimes constantly perpetuate the idea that there is one religion, one gender, and one race superior to others. Once people are convinced they are superior, it’s easy to convince them they are victims of equality. Christians were victims of Jews, white Americans are victims of black equality, men are victims of feminism, children are victims of homosexuals.

Sexual anxiety is prevalent because women and children are perceived to be under threat and only a strong male leader can protect them. This anxiety creates a fear of homosexuality and transsexual who are perceived to be a danger trying to destroy lives while coming for your children.

As Klaus entered the gates of Auschwitz he read a sign, “arbeit macht frei”, or work makes you free. Since liberals and minorities are “lazy” and labor unions are controlled by communists, Klaus learned firsthand that detainees were forced to work to death because they have no value.

Taken individually, each characteristic does not define fascism, but put together, when honest conservatives are lured into fascism, they are convinced that their families are under threat without the ruling party.

Unfortunately for Klaus and his wife Paula (also a survivor), they endured horrific treatment in Auschwitz because they were not Christian. Is this story relevant? Do Republicans believe they are victims of sinister liberal attacks? Does the Republican party support democracy? Human rights? I’m confident what Klaus would say.