Can It Happen Here?


“Can it happen here?” asks a July 1983 Jewish Times column, referring to the Holocaust and anti-Jewish sentiment. In light of growing anti-Semitic acts, including last month’s shooting in Poway, California, this 36-year-old article seems prescient.

In 1964, the article explains, a study found that 48 percent of non-Jews answered “yes” to the statement “Jews use shady practices.” The author of the article citing this fact, Dr. Irving Greenberg, cited a more recent 1981 study that found that only 33 percent answered yes, indicating that anti-Semitism had declined in the intervening two decades.

A quick Google search reveals that a 2011 Anti-Defamation League survey found that 15 percent of Americans hold deeply anti-Semitic views, an increase of 3 percent from a similar poll in 2009 and equal to levels of anti-Semitism in 2005 and 2007.

Similarly worrying, a recent study found that 10 percent of American adults couldn’t say whether they’d ever heard of the Holocaust. For millennials, that number becomes one in five. Fifty percent of millennials could not name a single concentration camp and 45 percent of all American adults could not do so.

Greenberg’s article goes on to give statistics that Jewish perception of anti-Semitism is higher than actual anti-Semitism. That is, that while 55 percent of Jews believed that the majority of non-Jews felt that Jews “are trying to push themselves where they are not wanted.” Only 16 percent of non-Jews actually expressed that belief.

What would these numbers look like today? It seems that perceptions of anti-Semitism have increased, but so have actual acts of anti-Semitic violence.

“Still, so far, the correct answer is that it is not happening here now,” Greenberg writes, reminding readers that while things might look dire, we need to be cautious not to jump too quickly to fears of the Holocaust recurring in America.

Greenberg writes, “The appropriate Jewish response on this July Fourth is: ‘God Bless America.’ ”

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