German history shows dangers of electing Trump again

Gerhild Krapf is a longtime resident of Iowa City. She worked as attorney for University hospitals and served in a variety of University of Iowa administrative positions for many years, prior to retiring early. She is now real estate broker of her firm, Homes & Hearth,LLC.

I write as the daughter of German immigrants who survived Nazi Germany and came to America in the early 1950s. My father was conscripted in Germany at age 17, and fought in the German army on the Russian front. At war’s end, he was illegally captured by the Soviets and transported to a Siberian prison camp, where he almost died.

After four years of forced labor, he was sent home to Germany, now weighing only 85 pounds and too weak to labor in coal mines, build bridges and roads, and so on. His return home was a miracle to his family, who believed he was dead.

My mother was the caregiver who was called to my father’s bedside to nurse him back to health. She came from a German Mennonite family, who lived on a Bavarian farm in abject poverty. Her father supported Adolf Hitler until he came to understand the antisemitism and hatred that accompanied that detestable man. Still, many of her family continued to support Hitler.

By contrast, my Dad’s father was a German minister. During the war, he was a member of the confessing church—a group of theologians from across Germany, who worked to bring down Hitler, at great risk to their lives.  

My parents loved America, as it represented the highest human ideals—the “land of the free and home of the brave,” as my mother used to say. Even as a young child of six or seven, I often heard from my parents that our democracy is a precious and fragile gift; that we must be ever vigilant; that we must remain politically active and informed; and that we must do everything in our power to ensure its preservation.  

But they also told of how a duly elected Hitler—enabled by capitulating and self-serving statesmen and esteemed others—gained control over an economically and militarily weakened Germany. He promised to feed them, to rebuild their economy, and to make Germany great again. (Sound familiar?) And yes, he also united some of Germany’s most ignorant and desperate citizens to support him by scapegoating Jews and other minorities.

Many of those who came under Hitler’s sway never imagined the horrors that would follow his election. Once these horrors began to unfold, those former supporters and the opposition were powerless to stop him.  

I fear that many in today’s American electorate who support Trump are similarly desperate and uninformed. Yet they have no comprehension of what could follow were he again elected. Trump has already said many disturbing things about a second term: being a dictator “on day one,” building prison camps for immigrants, replacing civil servants with loyalists, terminating the constitution, executing generals and political enemies—the appalling list goes on and on. If he is re-elected, there might be no stopping him.  

We Americans have never lost our democracy, so we can’t fully envision the atrocities that an unbridled Trump could unleash. But the Nazification of Germany provides a frightening object lesson.

Is it fair to equate Trump and Hitler? Perhaps not. Nonetheless, there are disturbing parallels—history may not repeat itself, but the rhymes are alarming. Trump has even told us that immigrants are poisoning our blood and has served up other quotes from Hitler’s writings and speeches. The roots of the Nazi party in Germany and the MAGA party in America are too similar to ignore. We do so at our peril. This I learned from my own family!  

For in-depth discussions of the process by which Hitler came to power, I recommend two articles at the links below:  

Germany 1933: From Democracy to Dictatorship, from the Anne Frank House website

The Rise of Hitlerism, first published in The Australian Quarterly in June 1933

Top photo of former President Donald Trump was originally published on his political Facebook page on February 8, 2024.

About the Author(s)

Gerhild Krapf

  • Compelling

    I was writing a piece to make similar points, but just deleted it. I won’t find the words to match this compelling story of personal family experience linked to actual and relevant historic events.

    Autocrats will always find someone new to hate and subjugate. When you support a strongman, it’s just a matter of time before they come after you or what you value. They demand loyalty from others but offer none in return.

    That’s why it’s so critical for all people of goodwill to oppose Trump and those GOP elected officials who choose to debase themselves simply to remain politically relevant in his service. We must turn out like never before in 2024 and support Democrats up and down the ballot. That’s our choice to protect our constitutional democracy.

    If this commentary did not resonate with you, you’re not paying close enough attention to events occurring all around us. Read Gerhild’s words again.

  • Trump is populist in a different way than Hitler

    Hitler was scapegoating Jews, while the Trump administration strongly supported Israel and Zionism. Trump was instrumental in relocating Israel’s embassy to Jerusalem, a daring move avoided by former US administrations because of fears of igniting Arab resentment – Jerusalem is seen as holy by the three main religions.

    To understand Trump’s populism, there is an excellent book by Nancy Isenberg “White Tr*sh: The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America” (2016). This book has received multiple awards and explains the origin and story of one of the main groups of Trump supporters. This book is as eye-opening as the excellent 1619 of Hannah-Jones.

  • An opportunistic bully is still a bully

    Trump has done the math and decided he is more likely to obtain support at this time and place by scapegoating immigrants from south of our border, using the most de-humanizing words he can find in his brain.

  • Trump and Biden are both dangerous to elect again

    This Democrat won’t vote either of the clowns from 2020. Am disappointed that Manchin isn’t running but taking a hard look at both RFK Jr, and Jill Stein.

  • A third party vote is a vote for fascism

    The overarching point of my piece is that those of us who prize our democracy must do everything in our power to assure that Trump is not elected. We do not have the luxury of voting for a third party, and risking that not supporting Biden will give the election to Trump.

  • I'm not voting for Trump or Biden

    So Trump’s a fascist? Heck I know Republicans who consider Biden a fascist! I’m not voting for either one this time. Will support mainstream local Democrats in 2024 but not those from the loony left.

  • Thank you, Gerhild

    I will remember your family when I vote this fall.

  • Open Dialogue is Important, say former Rep. Joe Walsh, Fred Guttenberg--united to defeat Trump

    Thank you for the several very kind, supportive comments. See story below about two individuals with many opposing policy views coming together in their effort to defeat Trump and save our democracy. Whether we call it a worry about fascism or authoritarianism, or losing fundamental rights–it matters not…I did not mean to offend anyone by labeling…all I wish to communicate is that we face an existential threat to our democracy if Trump is elected, and must come together to stop him.