No Coincidence

It’s a good bet that Donald Trump doesn’t know Nicola Sturgeon, but it would do him a world of good to study her example.

On the day he defied mourners by visiting Pittsburgh, the first minister of Scotland, his counterpart, was leading students on a tour of Auschwitz to show them first-hand “what can happen if prejudice and racism become acceptable in a society.”

This was no coincidence.

Donald Trump, who has encouraged political violence at his rallies and seen moral equivalence between white nationalists and anti-racist protestors at the fatal Charlottesville demonstration, was widely blamed for setting the tone that resulted in the massacre of 11 Jews in the Tree of Life Synagogue last week in Pittsburgh.

Ms. Sturgeon had planned her trip before the Pittsburgh events but clearly understood the connection. She had tweeted:

“Later this week, I’ll accompany @HolocaustUK and a group of Scottish school pupils on a visit to Auschwitz. As antisemitism rears its head again—often, as in USA yesterday, with horrific consequences—it is more important than ever that the next generation learns and remembers.”

Trump’s tweet after his Pittsburgh trip was about him:

“Melania and I were treated very nicely yesterday in Pittsburgh. The Office of the President was shown great respect on a very sad & solemn day. We were treated so warmly. Small protest was not seen by us, staged far away. The Fake News stories were just the opposite-Disgraceful! https://t.co/9B9HgCF1G9.”

His maternal ancestors are Scottish and he takes pride in the golf course he put on Scotland’s coast. But it’s unthinkable that he would take time from golf and tweeting to lead a group of students to Auschwitz.

At 48, Nicola Sturgeon is a lawyer and rising political star in her country, somewhat reminiscent of Angela Merkel in Germany. She is the first woman to hold the office of first minister in the government—the equivalent of prime minister—and the first female party leader. Her Scottish National Party is the largest in Scotland and the second largest in the United Kingdom. Politically it is progressive and nationalist, signifying civic—not ethnic—nationalism, i.e. support for eventual Scottish independence.

Notably they are a party and a government that celebrate diversity. While Trump was warning darkly of “an invasion” of immigrants that required him to dispatch 5,000 or more U.S. soldiers to the Mexican border—although their “caravan” was more than a thousand miles away—Ms. Sturgeon was welcoming immigrants. In her speech to the annual party conference last month in Glasgow, she said:

“To everyone who has chosen to make Scotland your home, no matter where you come from, let me say this again today. We value your contribution. Ours is a much better country for having you here and we want you to stay.”

Her government’s justice secretary is a Scottish Muslim named Humza Yousaf, whose Kenyan and Pakistani parents arrived in the UK in 1960. On Sunday he told a Jewish audience in Edinburgh that “we will continue to work together to tackle prejudice and build the society we want to be—a safer, stronger and fairer nation where equality and human rights are fully respected and each person, every family and all communities can flourish.”

The Holocaust Educational Trust, a UK charity, has sponsored the Lessons from Auschwitz Project for eighteen years, sending more than 4,500 Scottish students, teachers and local authorities to Auschwitz and Birkenau in the belief that “hearing is not like seeing.”

But this visit had a surprise ending. The rabbi conducting the memorial service presented a family heirloom to Ms. Sturgeon saying that without a Scottish minister he would “not exist.”

Rabbi Daniel Epstein said he had never told this story. His grandmother, then 24 and living in Berlin, sought to escape growing persecution by sending advertisements to foreign newspapers, including Glasgow’s Daily Record, seeking work as an au pair.

A sympathetic German postal clerk agreed to place the ad although it was illegal to send German currency abroad. And a Presbyterian minister named White hired her to work in his home in Perth. She later met and married a widower who had lost his wife and daughter at Treblinka. One of their daughters was Rabbi Epstein’s mother.

At Auschwitz Rabbi Epstein gave Ms. Sturgeon his grandmother’s enemy alien authorization certificate that established her refugee status and protected her from internment.

“Because, you see, for the kindness of a clerk in Nazi Germany who sent an advert without taking payment and for the kindness of Reverend White . . . my family now exists . . . My grandmother had a chance for a life in England, in fact in Scotland to start with. So I want to present this to you First Minister to say thank you on behalf of my family for the kindness that you on behalf of an entire country showed to us and to the Jews.”

Poor Donald Trump! He should get to know Rabbi Epstein and Nicola Sturgeon.

Postscript: Yesterday The Scotsman published an Op-Ed piece by Ms. Sturgeon about her Auschwitz visit. You can read it here or on my Facebook page In Dissent.  

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