Recently a friend visited Germany with her grown son, and they joined a “Nazi Resistance Tour” of Munich. Vicki was struck by the guide’s repeatedly stating that Hitler was Austrian, not German. I’ve always admired Vicki for her courage in speaking up when faced with social injustice, and this was no exception. The tour guide answered that many Germans disagreed with the Nazi regime, but were afraid to take a stand. Finally, the guide admitted that even today, decades later, German citizens remain uncomfortable fully owning their country’s role in the holocaust.
I grew up with a father who enlisted in the United States Marines, during World War II. As a commanding officer, he pulled men out of the brig, who were “caught” with another man. He fought against Hitler, and he fought for “Gay Rights” before the term existed. Many years after the war, as a screenwriter in Hollywood, my father fought Joseph McCarthy and the House UnAmerican Activities Committee. Of course, this meant putting a target on his own back, and The Committee tried to blacklist him. Through sheer luck, their efforts failed. They accused him of having a communist father, which meant Dad was a Red Menace. It turned out my supposed paternal grandfather was African American. Since Dad was blond, blue-eyed, and so fair-skinned that he could get a sunburn in a thunderstorm, The Committee dropped the charges. My father went on to “front” for Dalton Trumbo, at great personal risk, because Mr. Trumbo wasn’t so lucky and had been blacklisted.
I like to think I would have fought the Nazi Regime and Joe McCarthy. But I grew up in the post-Blacklist era of Hollywood, and I know that good intentions aren’t enough. Some people supported the Nazi Regime or supported Joe McCarthy, because they were immoral people. But not all. It takes a certain kind of courage, a rare and strange type of bravery, to fight when your life and livelihood are at risk. My father had that odd brand of courage, and so does my friend Vicki.
I’ve thought about this many times – how to bring forward our best selves in times of danger. I think we need to admit that until we’re actually in that situation, we really don’t know how we’ll handle it. Admitting that I don’t know allows me to prepare to be scared, and choose how to handle my fear. I know that if that moment ever arrives, my first response will be the only-human impulse to survive, the self-protective instinct hard-wired into my core.
Then I’ll think of my father and my friend Vicki – and even if I’m frightened and shaking, even if I have a running series of arguments in my head telling me to retreat, I hope I’ll step forward and do the right thing.
*This post was inspired by Vicki Clewes. Thank you, Vicki, for giving me permission to write this essay.
Novels By Amy Kaufman Burk
Hollywood High: Achieve The Honorable
Caroline Black, 15 years old, leaves her college prep academy for the local public high school, which opens her world. Written in reaction to witnessing gay students bullied in high school.
Caroline Black, a rookie psychology intern, goes through one year of training, working with her first patient – a young man who is stormy, seductive, complex and troubled. Written in support of healthy sex and sexuality, in support of same-sex parents, and as a voice against the stigma of therapy.