By noon on Wednesday, Eastern time, I knew. Knew that two Canadian Armed Forces members had been killed in just three days, taking me back to the distressing place of hearing of war dead and casualties in Afghanistan. Knew that they were murdered in Canada, by Canadians, taking me to a place I had never even imagined.
Later on Wednesday, Canadian Armed Forces members were ordered not to wear their uniforms unnecessarily outside their workplaces. In the uncertainty about the extent of the attack, it made sense as a Force protection measure.
What made less sense, perhaps, was my reaction. I didn’t want them to stop wearing their uniforms: I wanted to put one on too. If they were a target, I wanted to be one too. Fight my gang, fight me.
I trace this reaction to a story that has inspired me for years. When Germany occupied Denmark in 1940, they issued an edict requiring all Danish Jews to wear an armband emblazoned with the Star of David. But the Germans were unprepared for the reaction they got: the King and a significant proportion of the population started wearing the armbands, too.
It’s a great story. There’s just one thing. It never happened.
At least, it didn’t happen exactly like that. Never mind that the story’s been told many times, by Victor Borge, Hannah Arendt, Leon Uris, and Joan Baez, among others. I’ve told the story, too, just as it was told to me. And why not? It’s a great story.
“An incident of nonviolent, but dramatic, triumph of good over grossest evil is universally appealing.”
The truth is more complex. Although the Germans never issued the edict, and Denmark’s King never wore a yellow star, he did put himself at personal risk to make arrangements with Sweden to accept Danish Jews as refugees. Although some were deported, apparently none died in concentration camps. And there were other places in Europe where non-Jews stepped up.
“There were documented cases of non-Jews wearing yellow stars to protest Nazi anti-Semitism in Belgium, France, the Netherlands, Poland, and even Germany itself, but not in Denmark, where the Yellow Star was never instituted, perhaps for fear of raising too much anti-German feeling.”
Of course, it took horrific force to defeat the Nazis. A non-Jew wearing a yellow star wasn’t sufficient. But it may have been part of what was necessary.
And, of course, I can’t put on a uniform to share this new danger that Canadian Armed Forces members are facing, be it temporary or part of their “new normal.” Standing in solidarity will be a little more complex than that. And exactly what it looks like, I don’t know yet.
But at least I have something to aspire to: that 70 years from now, people will be inspired by our non-violent, but dramatic, triumph over evil.
Even if I know it can’t happen exactly like that.