Will the Yellow Star Be Worn Again?

December 28th, 2015 16 Comments

Yellow star


History is, or should be, a sort of cicatrix on the psyche of each of us, a pattern of raised scar tissue to remind us of the mistakes and cruelties—and the triumphs and selflessness—of earlier generations. Obviously, the farther back in time we go, the fainter and less meaningful those cicatrices will be: the lessons to be learned from the power struggles (thinly disguised as religious struggles) of the Thirty Years War, for example, (which actually lasted more like fifty years) will not resonate as much today as those events of only thirty years past. But if you are one of those pompous, prancing, prating politicians who pretend to lead us, you shouldn’t be allowed to even run for office without first taking a comprehensive, week-long world history test with varied parts (true or false, multiple choice, long-form essay, and verbal, with the verbal segment to be aired on prime-time television so you can maximize your foolishness and incompetence if you pretend to know more than you really do).

I forget now whether I was ten or eleven when we moved to Germany, but it was the beginning of one of the most enriching and culturally significant periods in my life.

My parents were both eager to expose their children to as much literature, art, music, history, architecture, food, and culture (in a general, contemporary sense) as possible, regardless of where we lived, but being in Germany, my parents did their best to take advantage of the millennium or more of German history and civilization.

My sister and I were sent to a German public school; we went to local German shops; when we went out to eat, it was to German restaurants; and we were not pampered or sheltered when it came to exposing us to both the good and the bad of our new, temporary homeland.

When we first visited the cathedral in Köln, it was in a part of the city where many of the buildings had been reduced to piles of rubble; the piles had been tidied up and the rubble moved out of the streets, but it was still a stark reminder of the effects of war and our parents explained why it was rubble and why it had been necessary.

Nor did our parents make any effort to shield us from the realities and causes of that war. Many, if not most, of our friends there were Germans, good and wonderful people all, many of whom I would dearly love to see again, but we were also told about the Nazis, and the horror of the atrocities they had committed. We were taken to see cathedrals and museums and architectural splendors that had survived the bombing, but we were also taken to two of the concentration camps that were in what was soon, after the building of the Berlin Wall, to be the only part of Germany accessible to us, West Germany.

I forget now which two concentration camps we saw. Isn’t that an odd thing to forget? I’m quite sure one was Dachau, but I wouldn’t swear to anything, other than I remember clearly and vividly the hair-raising, nauseous, repulsion I experienced walking in there, as if the voices of the dead were calling out from the walls. The sensation remains, but the memory, the visual and intellectual memory has been blocked.

One of the books my parents had in our library in Germany was a photographic history of World War Two and one of the photographs in that book that resonated with me was a picture of a middle-aged man and woman hurrying along a street with yellow stars pinned to their heavy woolen overcoats, as other people, some in Nazi uniforms, some in mufti, pointed and laughed. The shame and fear on the faces of the man and woman were indelible.

I think it resonated with me in part because of what it was and in part because I was reaching that age where conformity is a critical form of protective camouflage, the latter coupled with the fact that I was one of only two or three American students in the entire Nicolaus-Cusanus school. In any event, I asked my parents about the significance of the photograph and they explained what that yellow star meant.

So now, more than half a century later, I found myself filling with rage, a palpable sensation, like filling with indigestion or heartburn, when I stumbled across an item in a blog that I follow, discussing the fact that the European Union has re-implemented a modified version of the yellow star. I did some research. To quote the lead paragraph of the United Kingdom’s The Telegraph, back in 2013 when the decision was first made, “The EU will star (sic) labeling products made on Israeli settlements in the West Bank to distinguish them from goods from Israel proper by the end of the year.”

I’m sure the dropping of the “t” to change “start” to “star” was an inadvertent typo, but it had an effect on this reader.

When the Nazis came to power, in part by demonizing an entire people, they first encouraged, later intimidated, ordinary Germans into boycotting Jewish products, Jewish businesses, Jewish stores, Jewish services. After Kristallnacht there was, essentially, nothing left to boycott, so the next step in the process of isolating Jews was to mark them visually with a yellow star. And now, three-quarters of a century later, the lessons of World War Two so conveniently and easily forgotten, the European Union has resurrected an economic version of that labelling system. Baroness Catherine Margaret Ashton (a life peer), the EU foreign affairs representative, was quoted as writing to the EU members, “I hereby call for your commitment toward ensuring the effective implementation of existing EU legislation relevant for the correct labelling of settlement products by adopting EU guidelines and other implementing acts where necessary.”

Such as yellow stars, possibly?

Germany, Hungary, and Greece have apparently refused to fall into goose step with the rest of the EU, and deserve credit for remembering their history, but one does wonder how much history the rest of the EU leaders remember, or if their fear of radical Islamic backlash is greater than their fear of repeating some of the most appalling mistakes in all history.

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  1. Anonymous says:

    Good article! You wrote of people running for office being required to pass a history test. Great idea! I just read that CA will have a new law in 2016 that will not require students to pass their courses in order to graduate high school! Wow. Just wow! How much more can we dumb our kids down…Nothing will be required now. Hopefully other states will not follow this absurdity!


  2. Anonymous says:

    Clearly fear of the Islamic invasion they have allowed to happen and latent anti-Semitism. Yes, not all Islamists are evil, but even 1% means there is still a large enough number to pose a threat when they dedicate their lives to the destruction of Western Civilization. Therefore how can it be unreasonable to screen and even monitor those that enter this country or anywhere else?

    Now Israel is not without stain when it comes to the current situation (both sides are culpable), but given the past you well remind us of they can’t afford to blink and we CANNOT tolerate the haters in Europe that quake in fear of the mess they have created for themselves. We have to find a way to separate the good from the Evil. But how and if we don’t will it lead to our destruction? Of course only time will tell but the lobby power of those who refuse to address it and are already in the same fear mode as the EU aren’t giving us a reason to believe, support or vote for them. I’m more worried about them using this problem in the near term to push for disarmament and succeeding though and then the destruction can commence.

  3. Anonymous says:

    As the European Union has singled out a country in a such a manner, but not other countries with comparable policies, it is difficult not to compare that to the Nazi persecution of Jews leading up to WWII. And as this involves Israel, whether it’s a knee-jerk reaction or not, it’s difficult not to see a parallel and not to be disturbed by it.

    I know the label is supposed to reflect the EU’s position that the Israeli settlements in the occupied territory are not legal settlements, and is not supposed to be anti-Israel. It seems kind of superfluous to me, as anyone opposed to the settlements won’t be buying anything they are selling anyway – which is what the BDS movement seeks to do, if I am not mistaken, a complete boycott of anything Israeli. So the EU makes a statement, and gives the movement a small amount of validation, intentional or not.

    This is troubling.

    My father was at Dachau when it was liberated, so I’ve studied the layout, history, and photographs of that camp while piecing together a history of my father’s WWII unit. He was a man of few words, and like most veterans did not talk about the difficult things, but at my urging he shared his memories of Dachau with me. Even more than the photos I studied, the images his words created in my mind are vivid and unforgettable. I’ve never been to Dachau, but I can see it, in my mind’s eye, very clearly.

    My father passed away in September, so I am now the keeper of those memories. And in light of this topic, that seems more important than ever.

    • Just in case I am overreacting, does anyone know of any other country the EU has singled out in this manner? Are products from, let’s say Tibet, required to be labeled as such for purely political reasons?

      • Anonymous says:

        Western Sahara is an issue, although I think the EU’s stand is that it isn’t occupied territory.

        Last I read, the EU does a great deal of trade with China, and that includes items from Tibet, but there is no distinction made for items from Tibet.

  4. Anonymous says:


    I have heard and read about universities and colleges that have had anti-Semitic incidents on them.

  5. Anonymous says:

    The problems associated with the West Bank/Gaza/Palestinians seems to have made anti-semitism fashionable for many of the political left in the EU. Is it not fair to say the left in the EU is using that as an excuse for such bias against Israel? Sure looks that way to me.


  6. Anonymous says:

    I am not surprised that you felt the evil of that place. I have been a few places where I wanted to leave as soon as I got there. One time we visited the Detroit Institute of Art and went into the Egyptian section. As soon as I got in there the hair on my arm stood up and I felt that the whole atmosphere was creepy.

    One problem we have as Americans is that we learn very little about the history of Europe. I remember one student who didn’t know who won World War II. I am sure that it is worse now. I think we spent half a semester on World history. Those classes were on hour a day. The only reason I remember more history is because I took a class in Humanities. We studied the Greek, Romans and some of the Classical Musicians.

    Also, I spent time learning some of these things on my own.

    A lot of students in the United States don’t even know American history.

  7. Anonymous says:

    Hmm? A typo? Have you ever heard of a Freudian slip. Usually, it is when someone says something wrong except it is what they are really thinking. I guess this could work in typing or writing too.

  8. Anonymous says:

    Hello Mr. Parker,

    I disagree with the analogy you have made in this article, and I believe this has caused the incorrect lesson to be drawn.

    The businesses, goods and services boycotted by the Nazis were owned by hardworking German citizens living in Germany who had every moral right to them, if not legal right, since the Nazis were the ones writing the laws in Germany. This was done as the first step in what we all know is the Holocaust.

    The businesses, goods and services under consideration for labelling by the European Union are owned by hardworking Israeli citizens who are living in Palestinian territory occupied by the Israeli Defense Force since 1967, almost 50 years ago. By way of comparison, the armies of UK, France, and USA stopped occupying Germany after 8 years when West Germany was created. These three countries did not move their citizens to German territory during the occupation period.

    These businesses goods and services are legal under Israeli law but illegal according to international law and immoral. I agree with the labelling as a first step to encourage Israel to stop occupying Palestine, and believe it should be extended to other occupation zones like Tibet (China), Kashmir (India and Pakistan), and no doubt many others.

    • Very good points. I could counter by saying that the German citizens under Allied occupation never made any attempt to murder Allied soldiers, nor did they try to bomb any neighboring Allied country, unlike the Palestinians, which is why, of course, the Israelis–right or wrong–try to use that territory as a buffer. But let’s say that is not a valid argument, I still find it interesting that Israel should be singled out by the EU and not, as you point out, China, India, or Pakistan. My point is that I suspect this high moral ground on the part of the EU is intended more as a sop to a rapidly increasing Muslim population in Europe, rather than as a moral judgement on occupation as an issue unto itself. I haven’t done the research, but I’ll bet you dollars to donuts that the EU imports far more goods from China than it does from Israel, but moral outrage against a nation that has huge economic influence and a non-existent population presence in Europe seems to be curiously lacking.

  9. Anonymous says:


    I like and applaud your thought of someone who might be trying for public office to take a history test to show what they might actually know.
    The idea that history such as the time of the Nazis could repeat itself more than a bit scary whether it be over in Europe or over here in the states. I know it could be possible any day or any time you just never know what will happen.
    It must have been a bit overpowering to visit the concentration camps as you were able to although I imagine it was more overpowering for the ones that were forced there that could never leave. Your experience getting to see them though is one that although you don’t recall the other camp’s name for sure and one camp’s name you think you recall but aren’t totally positive of would be an unforgettable experience for ones who didn’t have to live or die through it.

    Nancy Darlene

    Nancy Darlene

  10. Anonymous says:

    I agree with JP that the whole labeling thing is surely a sop by the EU. This whole situation scares me so. It’s a repeat performance of 80 years ago and I don’t see anyone there with the testicular fortitude to do otherwise. It’s interesting that many Europeans are quick to chastise us Americans for our so-called quaint notions of morality, yet they roll over and play dead in the face of losing their entire patrimony.

    Until recently I had very certain ideas about the Israeli/Palestinian issue: Jews vs. Muslims. Then a group of Palestinian Catholics from Bethlehem came to our parish on a fundraising effort. They travel annually to all the parishes in SF selling religious artwork and gifts. Due to Israel’s approach to national security (and they are completely in the right to guard their borders as they see fit) there are so many Christians in those occupied lands who are caught between the upper and nether millstones. Left without a livelihood, there’s a whole segment of the Palestinian population that’s ignored.

    That’s the part that bothers me – in all the squawking about punishing Israel for doing what she has a right to do, no one in the EU is thinking about those marginalized Christians who are eking out a living in any way they can. As JP said, I’ll bet you dollars to donuts that most of those making a fuss don’t even know or care that the Christian population is caught in the middle. And before you accuse me of looking at this through rose colored glasses, I realize that the Palestinian Christians made a woeful mistake by throwing their lot in with their Arab brethren on the basis of ethnicity rather than clinging to their Jewish brethren on the the basis of a common faith as they should have done. I suspect the situation with the occupied lands would have been much different had it happened like that.

  11. Anonymous says:

    Since nobody in the Middle East will EVER get along, I would like to see EVERYONE(to be fair) REMOVED, and the entire region made into a National Park/Wilderness area where only primitive camping(by strict permit), and travel by camel allowed. All the relocated peoples will be sent to Antarctica, where they will be too busy trying to keep warm to fight with one another. But just in case, on opposite sides of Antarctica. Am I being cold here? You bet, Antarctica is purty dang COLD!…..L.B.

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