One of the most insidious, and perhaps ultimately one of the most dangerous, manifestations of neo-Nazi resurgence may well be its steady subversive infiltration of contemporary popular and consumer culture.
Rabidly bigoted, modern-day neo-Nazi parties and movements such as Jobbik in Hungary and Golden Dawn in Greece are relatively easy to identify and fight through political, judicial, and legislative means. Modern-day fascists such as Marine Le Pen’s Front National in France, who combine reactionary views with a calculated strategic effort to make themselves appear more palatable to the political mainstream, are also relatively easy to identify and expose for what they are: anti-Semitic, anti-Roma, and generally xenophobic.
But below the radar screen, there are nefarious attempts to legitimize Nazism and all that Nazism stood for in the popular psyche under the guise of cutting-edge fashion, perverse home decoration, and even crass, prurient sexual exploitation. Consider:
• The peddling of silver “Swastika Rings” on Sears’ on-line marketplace. Faced with consumer outrage, Sears quickly yanked this example of what had been described as “gothic jewelry” and removed the offending vendor from its site.
• The sale on the Walmart, Sears, and Amazon websites of a “home decoration” poster featuring the “Arbeit Macht Frei” (“Work makes you free”) gate of the Dachau concentration camp. All three retailers pulled this item after their attention was called to it.
• The Spanish retail clothing chain Zara was forced to apologize for marketing a striped concentration-camp-like tee shirt complete with a six-pointed yellow star.
The latest, and possibly the most nausea-inducing, example of this particular fad is an ever-so-sexy beauty pageant out of the former Soviet Union. Before it was apparently suspended by the Russian social media site Vkontakte, a page on that website solicited women who consider themselves Nazis to submit photos of themselves and statements on precisely why they admire Hitler.
The winner of this revolting pageant was to be crowned Miss Ostland — the name given by the Nazis to the German-occupied territory covering Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, and part of what is today western Belarus. She was to receive a piece of jewelry featuring one of the Nordic runes that were popular with Heinrich Himmler and his SS.
Granted, there is no indication that this particular beauty contest ever had a mass or even large-scale following. Nevertheless, it is a timely and potent reminder that neo-Nazism in its vilest form is enjoying a significant revival among at least some segments of society. The Vkontakte page in question purportedly had more than 7,000 Russian and Ukrainian followers.
In Kentucky, a white supremacist write-in candidate for Senate named Robert Edward Ransdell posted signs proclaiming “With Jews We Lose.” Ransdell also took advantage of his participation in the University of Kentucky’s Constitution Week to spew his anti-Semitic bile to college and high school students.
And in Sydney, Australia, a neo-Nazi group is sending out flyers declaring that “It’s time for all White Australians to stop being blinded by political correctness and Jewish lies about equality, multiculturalism, and the need for so-called diversity.”
To be sure, much of the virulent present-day anti-Semitism emanates from radical Islamic and leftist pro-Palestinian sources. But these are increasingly finding disturbing common ground with the extreme right.
Cries of “Gas the Jews” are suddenly being heard once more in demonstrations in Germany and elsewhere. “The fear is that now things are blatantly being said openly, and no one is batting an eyelid,” Jessica Frommer, who works for a nonprofit organization in Brussels, told The New York Times.
“Anti-Semitism has always been, historically, the inability to make space for differences among people, which is the essential foundation of a free society,” Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, Britian’s emeritus chief rabbi, wrote in The Wall Street Journal. “That is why the politics of hate now assaults Christians, Bahai, Yazidis, and many others, including Muslims on the wrong side of the Sunni/Shia divide, as well as Jews. To fight it, we must stand together, people of all faiths and of none. The future of freedom is at stake, and it will be the defining battle of the 21st century.”
As we approach the 70th anniversary of the end of the Holocaust and the liberation of the Nazi death and concentration camps by Allied troops, we must bear in mind that while the Third Reich was defeated at the end of World War II, the ideology that made possible the genocide of European Jewry is very much alive throughout much of the supposedly civilized world. We ignore or dismiss its presence in our midst at our peril.