On Sunday, Jan. 28 - a day after International Holocaust Remembrance Day - the creators of The Cure for Hate: Bearing Witness to Auschwitz will bring the 85-minute documentary, released last month, to the Latchis for a screening and discussion.
The film features former neo-Nazi Tony McAleer and depicts, according to a media release, his "journey from a troubled teen drawn into white supremacist ideology to a man trying to make amends for his hate-filled past."
McAleer, the film's subject, spent 15 years in the white supremacist and neo-Nazi movements, moving from a rank-and-file skinhead to leadership in the White Aryan Resistance. The spine of the film is McAleer's pilgrimage to Auschwitz-Birkenau, the largest extermination camp run by Nazi Germany during the Holocaust.
The Windham World Affairs Council (WWAC), in partnership with Brattleboro Union High School's PeaceJam, joins the Brattleboro Area Jewish Community and the Latchis Theater in bringing the film to the region.
WWAC Administrator Susan Healy and the film's maker, Peter Hutchison, grew up together in Oneonta, New York. Knowing the Cure for Hate creators are touring the country with the film - supported by a U.S. Department of Homeland Security grant - Healy contacted Hutchison, who was able to tag the Brattleboro stop onto the filmmakers' itinerary.
The Cure for Hate exposes conditions that nurtured the rise of fascism in 1930s Europe - notably, under a democratically elected German government - while mining the horrors of the Holocaust and the persistence of white supremacist/neo-Nazi ideology today.
An award-winning filmmaker, a bestselling author, an educator, and an activist, Hutchison adds: "The program sheds unique light upon the present-day social conditions that lead young men to join violent extremist groups and, more generally, [to] stoke the fires of polarization and 'othering.'"
Narratives like that of McAleer, who was instrumental in ushering in the internet as a tool for recruitment and propaganda are "a powerful tool, [one that] can play a crucial role in helping to turn the tide of racism and intolerance," explains Hutchison.
To which McAleer adds, "In this time of rising anti-Semitism, this film serves as both a memory and a warning of what hate can lead to if left unchecked."
Healy adds that a 2018 New York Times survey found that 66% of U.S. millennials could not say what Auschwitz was, "giving credence to the importance of using the [Jan. 28 event] to demonstrate where hate left unchecked can lead."
"The point of the film," she says, "is to use the facts of history to counter the normalizing of hate" that has proliferated through dangerous language in voices of hate and disinformation amplified through the media - conventional and social.
Comparisons and contrasts
Understanding that there could be pushback given the current situation in Gaza, Healy explains that the event was planned before the conflict ensued there in October.
At the same time, she stresses the danger of seeing the current situation in Gaza in black and white.
Countering disinformation and the disinterest in history are essential, she adds, and using the Holocaust as a way to teach what can happen when polarization and othering take over is the focus of filmmaker Hutchison's work.
In response to concerns that the event could become politicized as favoring Israel vis-à-vis the Gaza crisis, WWAC board member Clare Gillis says, "This is a film that discusses the horrors of the Holocaust and the persistence of white supremacist/neo-Nazi ideas today, not a film which supports the actions of Israel today in prosecuting its war in Gaza.
"It is not to be understood as pro-Israel [...], but rather as anti-genocide and anti-extremism," she continued.
"The concerns about diverting attention from the humanitarian disaster in Gaza largely of [Israel Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu's making are valid," said Rev. Canon Nicholas Porter, president and founding executive director of Jerusalem Peacebuilders, a program with local ties.
"The reason to show the film is not about privileging Jewish suffering," he said. "It is about calling to mind that the same moral outrage and compassion that we feel when remembering the horrors of the Auschwitz death camp is why we speak out against the current horrors of Gaza. Remembering Auschwitz gives moral clarity to the current siege of Gaza."
Antisemitism 'alive and well'
Rabbi Amita Jarmon of the Brattleboro Area Jewish Community stresses that it is important "to understand that antisemitism is alive and well" and that many in her congregation have experienced it.
The film, she underscores, is about white nationalism and not about "anti-Israelism" - two different concerns, says Jarmon, adding that the focus of her work with her congregation is on communicating the beauty, joy, and wisdom of Judaism.
Jarmon is quick to add that while her grandparents were born in the United States, some in her congregation have direct ties to Holocaust survivors and thus this film is essential and timely.
"I'm hoping this event will be well-attended," she said, adding that she is eager to learn from McAleer's experience and trajectory.
The film is cosponsored by PeaceJam, an active program of the WWAC at Brattleboro Union High School. Sam Stine, BUHS academic support teacher and PeaceJam advisor, described the program as "an international organization that connects students with the work of Nobel Peace Laureates to inspire peace in our local and global communities through action."
This is PeaceJam's second year at BUHS and, in that time, Stine said the group led two successful initiatives - a community bike drive and a holiday fundraiser for the Women's Freedom Center in Brattleboro.
"The PeaceJam students are exceptional young people who are inspired by leaders of peace and are becoming leaders of peace themselves," Stine continued. "They are dedicated to studying past and current events in the pursuit of taking action towards a more peaceful future."
Current events "warrant a truthful investigation of history, and PeaceJam aims to do just that through their studies and their initiatives that they develop and implement," Stine said.
The Latchis screening will be followed by a question-and-answer session with McAleer and Hutchison.
McAleer, described in the event's publicity as "a sought-after expert in the field of violent extremism" and a consultant to government and law enforcement, is author of The Cure for Hate: A Former White Supremacist's Journey from Violent Extremism to Radical Compassion. He is featured in another award-winning documentary, Healing from Hate: Battle for the Soul of a Nation.
Hutchison's canon also includes the films Requiem for the American Dream featuring Noam Chomsky and Devil Put the Coal in the Ground, a holistic look at the ravages of extractive industry and corporate power in West Virginia.
BUHS students will see a screening of the film at the high school and will pose questions to McAleer and Hutchison at a forum at the high school the next day.
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The screening of The Cure for Hate: Bearing Witness to Auschwitz on Sunday, Jan. 28 starts at 5 p.m. in Theatre 1 at the Latchis, 50 Main St., Brattleboro. A $10 donation is suggested, but no one will be turned away for a lack of funds.
This News item by Annie Landenberger was written for The Commons.