It was sometime in 2020 when I noticed a writer friend of mine had unfriended me on Facebook. It had been a while since he appeared on my timeline, but I thought nothing of it. I rarely got on Facebook anymore, only signing on when work required me to gather up writers of all sorts of readings. In the midst of the pandemic, however, all our in-person activities were canceled.
I can’t remember what caused me to look. Maybe I saw him comment on a mutual friend and I clicked his profile to see what he was up to. Or maybe it was curiosity that had me search him up. Maybe still, he appeared on my “People You May Know” list. Either way, it was clear that he had removed me as a friend.
We were never on the same side politically, and it was something I long ago accepted. His religion drove his political beliefs just as my anti-religion drove mine. Still we were civil with each other. We may have had disagreements, but nothing to quietly end a friendship over.
At least, so I thought.
Now I can’t tell you when our friendship derailed, but I can guess when it started to get off track. And the reason why.
In 2016, something happened in US history that I can’t begin to explain or fathom despite it happening before my eyes. On November 9, 2016, Donald J. Trump became president-elect, winning the electoral college vote while still losing the popular vote across the nation. While many true-Republicans stood at uncertainty, several more saw this as a success.
They had beaten Hiliary Clinton and that is all that mattered.
I, like anyone liberal-minded person, knew this meant certain doom to our country, to the freedoms so many disenfranchised and marginalized communities. We would see the overturning of Roe v. Wade. We would see that the LGBTQIA demographic would no longer be allowed to be open in the military, and, worse still, lose their right to marry the people they loved.
Things voters like my former-friend cheered for.
I thought about my friend as I thumbed through Kathrine Kressmann Taylor’s Address Unknown. The book, published in 1938 as a warning to Americans across the country about Hitler’s rise in power overseas, could be mistaken for something contemporary. I made the mistake when I first picked it up at Barnes and Noble and skimmed through its pages. Despite it being called a novel, the book is under a hundred pages long. I wouldn’t even consider it a novelette had it not been for the heaviness of its subject.
The epistolary story follows two former business partners: Max Eisenstein, a Jewish art dealer, and Martin Schulse, who has returned to Germany, just as Hitler comes into power.
The letters begin as correspondence between two friends. Max catches his friend up with the art gallery they both ran, while Martin updates on the going on in his household. Like a sledgehammer to the heart, things get dark.
Martin writes, “I think in many ways Hitler is good for Germany, but I am not sure.” He describes the pillaging and Jew-baiting that takes place, calling them “minor things, the little surface scum when a big movement boils up.”
As their letters continue, we see Martin’s descent into a twisted ideology that pits the two friends against each other. When Max begs his old friend to reason, Martin responds by stating that Max is “a Jew first,” while he is “a German patriot.”
It begins to feel a little too reminiscent of current events. Where we can excuse a couple of “mean tweets” if it means prosperity for the country. In fact, throughout Martin’s letters, I underlined phrases that rang eerily familiar:
“A liberal is a man who does not believe in doing anything. He is a talker about rights of man, but just a talker. […] But let a powerful man arise, let an active man start to make change, then where is your liberal? He is against it. To the liberal any change is the wrong one.”
“You have never known a Hitler. He is a drawn sword. He is white light, but hot as the sun of a new day.”
“A new Germany is being shaped here. We will soon show the world great things under our Glorious Leader.”
It’s hard not to see the dangerous parallels between Hitler’s movement and that of the MAGA Republicans. They have singled out a marginalized community and made them the villains. They spread misinformation and made the new media the enemy of the state. They push for free speech while holding censorship rallies across libraries. They call themselves patriots while ignoring the values this country once stood for.
Kathrine Kressmann Taylor’s book rings true to this day, sending chills down the reader’s spine. If there is one book to gift this coming holiday season, this would be it.
In a conversation with a friend, I pondered how someone can be swayed into believing in something so hateful. Even remarking how it was wrong, but stating it was for a better cause. Part of me wanted to blame religion, but that seemed too easy.
Instead, we agreed that people are swayed by a sense of superiority. Take the QAnon movement: a group of people who saw themselves as disenfranchised began to believe they had the “inside scoop” on politics. Even when things didn’t turn out a certain way, they would not give up that sense of knowing more than the rest of us.
And maybe Martin understood that persecuting Jewish people was wrong, but it wasn’t him. Just like I hope my friend understood that everything Trump spouted went against his beliefs, but it wasn’t his rights being taken away.
It wasn’t his people up on the chopping block.