The writer was a 52nd District Court judge in Novi and assistant state attorney general. He’s chief financial officer of the Justice Speakers Institute and a Deadline Detroit contributor.
By Brian MacKenzie
Those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it, as Irish philosopher Edmond Burke is credited with saying in the 1700s. A new poll by the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, of 1,350 American adults found that two-thirds of American millennials surveyed had not heard of Auschwitz, the infamous Nazi death camp. Millennial were also twice as likely as other Americans to say that they had not heard of the Holocaust.
A question must be asked: In a country experiencing a rise in Neo-Nazism, how can we not know what was done in its name?
Death camps were the result of a long-term policy to persecute and ultimately kill the Jews of Europe. This policy began in a small way with a yellow star badge to stigmatize, humiliate and segregate Jews.
In September 1941, Reinhard Heydrich the head of the Reich Security Office, issued a decree requiring all Jews over six to wear a badge which consisted of the yellow Star of David on a black field with the word “Jude” inscribed inside the star. That’s the German word for Jews.
This decree applied to all Jews in Germany and its annexed territories which at that time include Austria, Czechoslovakia, and Poland. As Germany conquered more of Europe, This policy continued.
Those who failed or refused to wear the badge were subject severe punishment, including death. For example, the Jewish Council in Bialystok, Poland said: “The authorities have warned that severe punishment – up to and including death by shooting – is in store for Jews who do not wear the yellow badge on back and front.”
At first, the yellow star was used to watch and control Jewish people’s movements. Later it was used to facilitate deportation to death camps.
So why is remembering this small piece of history about a yellow star important? Because three Michigan legislators either didn’t know or don’t remember its history.
Republican Reps. Pamela Hornberger of Chesterfield Township and Beth Griffin of Mattawan propose visually marking noncitizens’ driver’s licenses — the equivalent of a yellow star licensing system.
The bills, which would affect licenses and state identification cards, came before the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. “I expect them to not have a great deal of resistance in committee and come out fairly quickly once we can get the hearing process over,” says Rep. Triston Cole, R-Mancelona, the panel’s chair.
Resistance arose, of course. Anna Hill, an attorney for the Michigan Immigrant Rights Center, argues in a letter to Cole that the bills would lead to profiling:
“Any designation that an individual is a noncitizen or reference to a person’s legal presence, is bound to lead to discrimination, raise the potential for racial profiling, and harm public safety.
“This type of marking on state licenses and identifications would send a message that certain Michigan residents have second-class status that could lead landlords, banks and other businesses, as well as a wide range of public services providers, to treat noncitizen residents differently.” She concluded: “These markings could create confusion for local law enforcement, who may take it as signal that a person lacks immigration status, or otherwise question their identity, which can lead to arrest and, in some cases, deportation.”
Once the outcry started, the two pieces of legislation were quickly changed. The offending wording was removed, and language inserted that clarifies what constitutes legal residence in the U.S. to avoid discrimination against some classes of noncitizens.
I don’t believe any of these legislators intended to impose a Nazi meme on those who are not citizens in Michigan. Since all three legislators appear to be millennials, it is possible that they did not understand what imposing the equivalent of a yellow star on a neighbor meant in a historical context.
Many lessons can be learned from understanding the Holocaust. One is that creating symbols that mark people as different stigmatizes them and may bring much greater harm.