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Humanitarians Standing Up And Speaking Out


BY JACK LEVINE

“Humanitarians standing up and speaking out against not only antisemitism but against all forms of hate.”

Over the past few weeks, I have been soul-searching for a theme to compose an essay that conveys the deep fear and anxiety so many of us are experiencing in the wake of the horrific conflict in the Middle East.

I’m sure all of us are filled with anxiety, wondering and worrying about what will come next as the armed conflict unfolds day and night.

I was wondering how to add my advocacy voice to share a relevant message with members of my 4Generations Network.

My search for inspiration was sparked when I attended a community gathering in Tallahassee sponsored by the Holocaust Education Research Council (HERC) recognizing a dear friend, Ken Boutwell, as the recipient of the Humanitarian Award recognizing his life-long leadership in the fields of education, health care access and his valiant opposition to hate and racism in all of its forms.

Attending the ceremony was a gift to all 500-plus attendees as Ken provided a substantive view of the perils of hatred and discrimination that plague our world.

It is my honor to share the substance of Ken’s acceptance address….with full confidence that his words will ring true in light of the conflicts so many nations are facing that are deeply rooted in venomous hatred and racism.

Holocaust Education Resources Council

Humanitarian Award Acceptance

Ken Boutwell – October 24, 2023

“I am deeply humbled by this recognition and accept it, not just for myself but on behalf of all of us gathered here this evening because, by being here, we are all being humanitarians. Humanitarians standing up and speaking out against not only antisemitism but against all forms of hate.

I normally like to include a joke or at least, some funny stories when I give a talk.   But given our subject this evening and what has happened over the past few weeks, there is no room in my heart, and I am sure no room in your heart for laughter.

“Our standing up and speaking out now and continuing to do so for years to come may very well save millions of future lives.”

We must acknowledge only room for shock, pain, and sadness as we see and hear the news of the cruel and horrible deaths of innocent people. In Israel and Gaza. People are suffering, as is true of the people of Ukraine, who are suffering for two years in the grip of Russian aggression.

So, could I ask that we honor those whose lives have been so cruelly taken by having a moment of silence while we close our eyes and think only of them and their families?

Please join me in this moment of reverent silence.

Unfortunately, while we owe it to those who have lost their lives, a moment of silence is not enough.  Every one of us has got to do more to stop this historical generation after generation of world conflict.  We must stand up and speak out against hate in all its cruel forms.  It is our responsibility at this point in our world history.

I am worried, however, and I am sure that you are equally worried.  Maybe even more worried than I am if you have family and/or friends who have been victims during the past few weeks or if you remember family who were victims during the 1940s Holocaust.

I am worried that hatred of others seems to be becoming an acceptable behavior again. It is becoming a behavior that more and more people openly and proudly display, as we saw with the murder of several thousand souls these past few weeks in Israel and Gaza.  But this plague of hate is not just in the Middle East. It is also showing up right here in our own nation.

A few years ago, we saw the hate-inspired murders at the synagogue in Pittsburgh, at the African-American church in Charleston, South Carolina and the supermarket massacre in Buffalo, New York.

The shooter at the Pulse Nightclub, Omar Mir Seddique Mateen, was born in 1986 in New York.

And I cannot forget the murder of several dozen young people at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando who were slaughtered, victims of sexual preference hatred.

 

 

Wadea Al-Fayoume, the 6-year-old Palestinian boy, was a victim of hatred.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Just this year, we saw people boast of their hate with the Nazi banner displays in Jacksonville and Orlando.   Just this last week, we saw it in Chicago when a six-year-old Muslim boy was viciously stabbed to death.

So, what does hate give us?  Distinguished civil rights activist and author Maya Angelou tells us, “Hate has caused a lot of problems in the world, but has not solved one yet.” we can add, “and hate never will solve one.”

Hate does nothing but cause problems and, left uncontested, breeds even more hate and produces even more innocent victims.  Hence, we cannot defeat hate with our own hate.  That only breeds even more hate.  We defeat hate by never letting it become a significant part of our society.

We defeat it by stopping it before it finds a home in the minds of our people…especially our young, impressionable children.  We defeat it by never letting it find a home in the minds of our people.

When we look at the hate trends in our own nation, however, we see that those trends are worsening.  In fact, they are terrible.  Hate is finding a home in the minds of more and more of our people. Just ten years ago, in 2013, the anti-defamation league recorded an average of two antisemitic acts per day in the United States.

“We cannot stand by and say and do nothing.   Dietrich Bonhoeffer said it more bluntly when he wrote: ‘Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless.  Not to speak is to speak.  Not to act is to act.'”

Last year, in 2022, just ten years later, that number increased by a multiple of 5 to an average of 10 per day.  Think about that!  In just ten years, the average number of antiseptic acts per day in our beloved country has not only doubled or tripled or even quadrupled, it has increased fivefold from an average of two per day to an average of 10 per day!

If we look at all hate crimes in the United States, including antisemitism, there was an average of 17 per day in 2011; ten years later, in 2021, there was an average of 30 per day.

Keeping in mind the disturbing trend in our country, may I now ask that you travel back in time with me to 1923, a hundred years ago, and look at what was happening in Europe and especially in Germany at that time.

Antisemitic acts were happening all over that part of the world.  But, for the most part, Jews were able to live reasonable lives, attending schools, getting jobs, owning their own businesses, and being members of social clubs. Living, for the most part, like everybody else in spite of the antisemitic acts, which were mostly verbal.

That was in 1923.  Now, let’s look at what happened over the following 17 years…just 17 years…leading up to 1940! Like our own nation today, antisemitic acts were increasing every year during those 17 years.  In fact, acts of hatred against Jews were becoming so frequent that such acts had moved from being acceptable to being expected of good non-Jews.

Hitler inspected troops in front of the Prague Castle in late 1939. Photo courtesy of the Weiner Holocaust Library collections.

It was in this environment that the Nazi party was coming into power and latched onto antisemitism as a way of building that power.  Over just a few short years, antisemitic went from being a small part of the culture to dominating the culture in Germany, and then, under the new Nazi government,  the hate was passed into laws enforced by the police and the courts. And the opportunity to voice objection without dire consequences had been lost.

If we had had this meeting that we are having here this evening, in Germany in 1940, we would almost certainly have been arrested and executed.

Martin  Niemoeller, a German theologian, captured the environment during those 17 years with the following quote that you will, no doubt, recall:

First, they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out —

Because I was not a socialist.

Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out —

Because I was not a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out —

Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me — and there was no one left to speak for me.

Most of us know that the antisemitic environment in Germany in the 1930s and 40s resulted in more than six million Jews being murdered by the Nazis. What fewer of us know is that an estimated five million non-Jews were also murdered.

Once released, hatred has no bounds. Let me repeat that: “Once released, hatred has no bounds.”

Once hatred is released, none of us is safe, as we have seen in Israel and Gaza these past few weeks, and we saw in Jacksonville a few weeks ago when three people were murdered by a man with a Nazi symbol emblazoned on his gun and last week when the six-year-old boy was murdered in Chicago.

Looking back on those early 20th century years, let’s now ask ourselves: What would have happened in the 1920s and early 1930s if there had been the equivalent of organizations like HERC in every German community who were standing up and speaking out loudly against antisemitism and other forms of hate?

But the sad, sad fact is that almost no one did.   There were almost no groups like us here this evening who had the courage to stand up and speak out against hatred in those days.

But, let’s ask ourselves the question again: What would have happened if there had been groups like like you and me this evening, back in those days? Groups of people who had had the courage and audacity to speak out against all of the hate in both Germany and the rest of Europe in those days?

  • Would the Holocaust have never happened?
  • Would the six million Jews have never been murdered?
  • Would the five million other people not have been murdered?
  • Would World War II, with its estimated 80 million deaths, have never happened?
  • Would the cruel deaths in Israel and Gaza these past few weeks have never happened?

These questions emphasize the critical importance of what you and I are doing by being here this evening and what you and I do throughout the year in supporting the Holocaust Education Resource Council. By our support, we are standing up and courageously speaking out against not only antisemitism but against all forms of cultural hate.

Hopefully, we, along with other groups like us around the nation, by acting and speaking out often, loudly, and continuously, can prevent another Holocaust.

The yearly increase in the number of antisemitic acts and other hate crimes in our nation sends us a clear and urgent message…We must not keep silent.  We cannot sit back and let these acts of hatred grow un-contested.  Albert Einstein said: “The world will not be destroyed by those who do evil, but by those who watch without doing anything.”

humanitarianWe cannot stand by and say and do nothing.   Dietrich Bonhoeffer said it more bluntly when he wrote: “Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless.  Not to speak is to speak.  Not to act is to act.”

Every single one of us here this evening is critical to this mission because we, together and individually, are not remaining silent.  We are speaking out.

Our standing up and speaking out now and continuing to do so for years to come may very well save millions of future lives.

I leave you with this sobering quote from author Zadie Smith: “Progress is never permanent, will always be threatened, must be redoubled, restated, and reimagined if it is to survive.”

So, we can never stop standing up and speaking out against hate as you and I are doing tonight, and we all need to do every year, every month, every week, and every day.

Thank You.”

ABOUT KEN BOUTWELL

Ken Boutwell didn’t expect to be the Holocaust Education Resource Council 2023 Humanitarian Award nominee in his early years on his family’s dairy farm in Mississippi.

Boutwell planned to stay in the family business, but he changed his major from dairy husbandry to agricultural economics once he and Jean, his wife-to-be, decided to make a life together. Throughout the decades to come, the work ethic born on the dairy farm would stay strong.

Boutwell worked in the Defense Secretary’s office at the Pentagon at the start of his career.

After his military service, he taught at the University of Florida, where he then became the university’s budgeting director. From there, he moved to Tallahassee to become the Florida State University System’s vice chancellor for administration.

Survivor stories: Children of Auschwitz survivors bring stories to Challenger Center

Boutwell, who loves to start new things, built MGT of America after serving Florida’s State University System. The firm, which specializes in educational and government consulting, grew into a leading national concern.

 

Read more from Jack Levine here.

jack levine

About the author

Jack Levine is a child and family advocate; founder, 4Generations Institute; former president, Voices For Florida’s Children, Tallahassee.

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