SiteMap
To search, type one or more key words below.
Search racematters.org Search the web.
 Page Bottom 

The dark side of sunshine: Hatred in Florida

http://www.sun-sentinel.com/features/religion/search/sfl-lihatred0may29.story

The dark side of sunshine: Hatred in Florida

By James D. Davis
Religion Editor

May 29, 2001

"Aryans Awake!" shouts a poster. "Race mixing is death!" screams a T-shirt. All of them symbols of a seemingly bygone nightmare. But no. They all appeared in South Florida within the past five years. And they're aimed at your kids.

They're among 175 posters, handbills, photos, even an emblem-laden leather jacket in "The Art of Hatred." The exhibit, running until Nov. 24 at the Sanford L. Ziff Jewish Museum of Florida, chronicles how an ugly picture is worth a thousand spiteful words.

Not that the organizers want you to swallow the poison. But maybe you'll learn to recognize the sight and smell.

"We're treating this like polio," says Marcia Zerivitz, director of the museum. "We hope that if people get a little dosage here, they'll be inoculated. They'll be able to tell whether they should believe it, or whether they're being manipulated."

The exhibit -- not so much artistry as visual propaganda from Nazis, Klansmen, skinheads and other bigots -- is assembled from several sources, including the Anti-Defamation League, the Wolfsonian-FIU collection and pioneering Floridian families. The show also has samples of demeaning portrays of blacks and native Americans.

But it's Jews who get the closest look. Over and over, they are painted as crude, devious, hateful. They're variously made out to be Christ haters, financial fat cats or revolutionary communists. They're blamed for the decline of America through integration.

Besides the raw power of images, "The Art of Hatred" reveals what curator Henry Abramson calls the adaptability of anti-Semitism -- leaping from religious to social to racial theories.

During the early Christian era, anti-Jewish feeling took a theological tinge as believers in Jesus argued that their churches supplanted Judaism for God's favor. Several medieval pictures in the exhibit show the "Ecclesia et Synagoga" theme, with Christianity as a beautiful robed lady, Judaism as a bowed, blindfolded maiden. In a couple of horrific pictures, a divine hand drives a sword through Synagoga's head.

Abramson says the exhibit isn't meant to make Christianity the culprit for anti-Semitism. The stereotypes stemmed from the need of early and medieval Christians to prove their faith was better than the parent faith, he says.

"Anti-Semitism does have roots in religious antipathy, but it's not monolithic," says Abramson, also an assistant professor of history and Judaic studies at Florida Atlantic University. "It became really dangerous only when it was freed from any religious moorings. Then you had the possibility of genocide."

As religious influence faded, Jew hatred in Europe simply mutated. Instead of God-killers and unbelievers, Jews were portrayed as conniving money-grubbers who controlled events behind the scenes. Instead of Pharisees, the Jews were seen as Shakespeare's Shylock.

"The Art of Hatred" brings this out with a pair of ceramic figurines depicting stooped, devious-looking Jews. There's also a beautifully wrought 19th century beer stein, showing Germans going about normal business, while hook-nosed Jews swindle them.

Also shown are covers of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, a forgery accusing Jews of following a plan for world domination. Several editions are shown -- from France, Spain, Great Britain, even Sweden and Finland.

As the century wore on, poster after poster posed Jews as crude, domineering, disloyal to their host nations. One picture from late-'30s Germany has a fat, balding, big-nosed broker sitting on a huge bag of gold.

A 1941 poster has a dark, menacing Slavic-type Jew shaking a fist in front of the New York City skyline. On his coat is a red Communist star -- ironically, in the same place where Jews under Nazi rule were being forced to wear yellow Stars of David.

The Third Reich may have been defeated, but its racial views are laced through American bigotry. There were the "restricted covenants" in home deeds, meant to keep Jews out of places like Bal Harbour. There were "restricted clientele" hotels, aimed at the same for resort areas.

There's the Crusader soldier on a 1996 handbill, a battle cry "for Christ, Race and Nation!" The flier came from a Hollywood chapter of the Idaho-based Aryan Nations Strike Force.

There's the newspaper illustration by White Aryan Resistance, accusing Jews of pushing affirmative action. "Diversity = Death to Aryan Culture and People," the caption says.

The warning against race mixing comes from a T-shirt found on Miami Beach in the late 1990s. The shirt, bearing a skull with a Star of David on the forehead, also warns against ZOG -- short for "Zionist Occupied Government."

The leaflet equating blacks with Jews was published in 1996 by the South Miami Skinheads. Another flier from SMASH has a skinhead stomping the head of a bishop, whose miter bears a Star of David -- a likely reaction against closer Jewish-Catholic ties. SMASH disbanded after its founder was arrested, according to the exhibit.

But Florida still seems to have more than its share of such organizations. Zerivitz cites a statistic from the Southern Poverty Law Center saying Florida is home to 39 racist, anti-Semitic and neo-Nazi groups, a little more than 10 percent of the total nationwide.

And a 1999 photo from Fort Pierce is a smorgasbord of racial and anti-Semitic themes: Klansmen and a skinhead displaying a Confederate flag, plus a Christmas tree topped with a red swastika. Says a placard in the photo: "Santa Claus is White!"

The connection is not accidental, Abramson says. "Hate groups think African-Americans are not smart enough to emancipate themselves, so it must be the Jews."

The jacket, hanging in a display case, was confiscated by police from a skinhead raid. The leather garment is loaded with pins and medals from a stew of beliefs. On the collar and lapels are a bat, a pagan pentacle, a yin-yang pin, a medusa head. On the left sleeve, a skull and dagger. On the right, oddly, an armband from The Believers -- a 1987 film about Santeria, an Afro-Cuban religion.

Disturbing as it is, the exhibit will be shown to children. About 60,000 students are scheduled to visit the museum in the next few months, as part of an anti-bigotry curriculum. Abramson says one teacher asked him to take down one picture, showing a group of medieval Jews doing lewd things with a hog. He agreed.

Still, it does raise the question anew. Isn't all this better left under the rocks? Won't it do more harm than good to publicize it?

Abramson hopes not. But he echoes Zerivitz in saying that ignoring the pictures won't make them go away.

"I want to inoculate children against anti-Semitism, but I don't want to give them the disease," he says. "This [exhibit] takes a sophistication to defend yourself against it. It takes training that kids don't have.

"But we're not talking about opening old wounds. This is an abscess that needs to be drained."

James D. Davis can be reached at jdavis@sun-sentinel.com or 954-356-4730.

Copyright © 2001, South Florida Sun-Sentinel

horizontal line
What's New Page to home page e-mail  Page Top