Skip to Content

Opinion: I survived the Holocaust. What I see happening in Berkeley is frightening

Opinion by Susanne DeWitt

(CNN) — In 1957, I moved to Berkeley, California: a bastion of American liberalism that squarely aligns with my progressive values, and a hub of American scholarship that nurtured my academic quest and professional growth. I came here for advanced studies in microbiology and genetics. Since then, I have lived, worked as a scientist and retired in this community.

Over the 65 years that I have called this beautiful area home, I have occasionally encountered antisemitism, but these one-off incidents never succeeded in destroying my spirit. When I was four years old, Nazis burst into my bedroom and sent me and my family to Dachau, the first Nazi concentration camp. We were soon released and I was smuggled out of Germany by a Christian woman. After this harrowing experience, not much in the Bay Area could scare me.

But since the October 7 Hamas attack on Israel, the hatred towards Jews that I have seen in Berkeley terrifies me more than anything I have experienced while living here. I am still reeling from being called a liar at a Berkeley City Council meeting, where I asked for a proclamation to mark Holocaust Remembrance Day and spoke about October 7. The Jews at that meeting were circled and called “Zionist pigs” by menacing protesters.

We are approaching the holiday of Passover, which commemorates the freedom of the Israelites from Egyptian slavery and our formation as a free Jewish people in our own land. But this Passover is like no other in recent history, with scores of hostages still held in Gaza and Jews worldwide fearful for our future — including Jews in the US. We are facing the worst global antisemitism since the Holocaust and while it is not state-sanctioned as Nazism was, it is a threat going unchecked in California’s East Bay.

It is incredibly painful to see my neighbors vilify Jews, tear down posters of Jewish hostages in Gaza and not believe Jewish rape victims. In this hotbed, hatred and hostility have become normalized. Families have moved their children out of public schools. Jewish businesses have been vandalized and boycotted. And lies about Jews and Israel have gone unchecked and unchallenged in our public forums. Our local Jewish community is both horrified and petrified.

This onslaught of Jewish hatred cannot become the new normal. This epidemic must be treated as seriously as all other hatreds that our society is confronting, such as racism and homophobia. We need more education about Judaism and how the long, sordid history of antisemitism ties into other forms of hatred in our public schools.

We need colleges and universities to unequivocally denounce hate speech and actions directed at Jews. We need public officials to urge mutual respect, understanding and civil discourse during city council and town hall meetings.

I have seen where unchecked antisemitism can lead, when people will do nothing — or worse, join the mainstream, such as our German neighbors during Nazism. This Passover, I resolve with whatever time I have left in this world to fight for the safety of the Jewish people, in Berkeley and around the globe.

During Passover, we are commanded to tell the story of the exodus out of Egypt to our children. We believe in the lasting power of sharing this history with younger generations and reflecting on this hopeful new beginning. There is also lasting power in sharing my history as a Jewish refugee — and I invite my Berkeley neighbors to hear my story. Without understanding and acceptance, we are enslaved by our biases.

The hatred, violence and bigotry against the Jewish community cannot continue — for our shared future, we must confront it and root it out.

™ & © 2024 Cable News Network, Inc., a Warner Bros. Discovery Company. All rights reserved.

Article Topic Follows: cnn-opinion

Jump to comments ↓

CNN Newsource


KTVZ NewsChannel 21 is committed to providing a forum for civil and constructive conversation.

Please keep your comments respectful and relevant. You can review our Community Guidelines by clicking here

If you would like to share a story idea, please submit it here.

Skip to content