By Tom Travis
Two weeks after Flint City Councilperson Eric Mays (1st Ward) gave a Nazi salute, clicked his heels in Nazi soldier style and called Council President Monica Galloway (7th Ward) Hitler, the community continues to try to make sense of what happened in that moment. Social media lit up with comments both in outrage and in support of the incident.
Galloway was chided for what to some seemed her lack of response. A member of the community notified both the Jewish Federation of Flint and the Anti-Defamation League of Michigan following the January council meeting. Both organizations have had conversations with Mays and Galloway in the days following the incident.
EVM spoke with Carolyn Normandin, regional director of the Anti-Defamation League of Michigan (ADL), michigan.adl.org, by phone on Sunday, Jan. 26. She said the Nazi salute incident was reported to her by someone in the Flint community who wanted the ADL to investigate it as an act of anti-semitism.
Normandin said she watched the video and said “she was disturbed by the incident and so I reached out to Mr. Mays.” Normandin stated that The ADL fights against behavior like this with people trivializing the holocaust. Normandin said about Galloway’s lack of response in the moment is understood. She [Galloway] was trying her best to not ignite the situation and move on with the meeting.
“I tried to help Mr. Mays understand when you make comments that evoke the name of Hitler and call someone a gestapo agent you’re minimalizing genocide and state sponsored murder.” Normandin said Mays did not know that people other than Jews were killed in the Holocaust. “He learned that in our conversation,” she said.
Normandin explained she thinks there is a big disconnect in society–an inability for people to learn from their mistakes. Mays and so many others are like this.
“I would like him and all people to educate themselves on the dangers of trivializing the Holocaust. It’s the normalization of this type of behavior that is a great danger to our society,” she said.
Normandin continued there is something called the “Oppression Olympics,” which sets slavery and the Holocaust against each other — asking, which was worse?
“For certain, slavery was an absolute dark time in American history and so tragic,” she said.
Details to support that assessment of both the Holocaust and the history of slavery have been exhaustively documented over the years; it is estimated that more than 12 million people were murdered in the Holocaust (Some sources say up to 17 million). And author Ronald Segal in his book The Black Diaspora: Five Centuries of the Black Experience Outside of Africa estimates that nearly 13 million Africans were shipped in the slave trade over a period of 400 years from the 1600s into the 1900s–not to mention the inhumane and cruel treatment they received over the years.
Unfortunately there are people who say “we should just get over the Holocaust” or “we should just get over slavery,” Normandin pleaded, “Let’s stop fighting about which was worse. We have so much in common.”
She added that one way to move forward is to ask, “How do we stop trivializng slavery and how do we stop trivializing the Holocaust?” The beginning step in moving forward in these issues is to educate ourselves about these tragic and dark times in our society, she said.
Finally, Normandin said Mays was polite to her and they had a good lengthy conversation. Normandin invites all people to visit the ADL website, Michigan.adl.org. The ADL is not just a Jewish organziation fighting against anti-semitic behavior but fights for equal treatment of all people of all races, she said.
Normandin offered education opportunities at the Holocaust Museum and the Charles H. Wright Museum where Normandin was formerly vice president. She said she ended the conversation with Mays by stating, “I hope you’ll think twice before you make a statement or gesture like this again.”
Editor: This story is being posted on what is the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz death camp, Jan 27, 1945. Auschwitz was not just a concentration camp but often referred to as a death camp or death center. As the trains of innocent people unloaded at Auschwitz most were herded directly into gas chambers to their deaths. New arrivals to Auschwitz did not remain alive for very long.
For further education opportunities on the racial atrocities of slavery and the Holocaust, EVM offers these websites for more information:
The Charles H. Wright Museum of African-American History
Located on the Wayne State University Campus
315 E Warren Ave, Detroit, MI 48201
The Holocaust Remembrance Center
28123 Orchard Lake Rd, Farmington Hills MI 48334
The Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia
Located on the Ferris State University Campus
1010 Campus Drive, Big Rapids MI 49307
The Anti-Defamation League of Michigan
EVM Staff Writer Tom Travis can be reached at email@example.com.