My name is Naomi Greenfield and I'm the Co-Chair of the Arlington Human Rights Commission. I'm also a mom, a member of the Jewish Community, a granddaughter of Holocaust survivors and one of the people who first found and reported the hate graffiti at the high school.
I grew up in Newton, Massachusetts amidst a large Jewish community and attended a Jewish day school. As part of my Jewish Education, from an early age we were taught about the Holocaust. For me, this education was supplemental to what I knew from a young age. From the numbers tattooed on my grandfather’s arm from when he was in the Auschwitz Concentration Camp, I knew I had a personal connection to this horrible time in the world and in the Jewish community. The most important lesson from my Holocaust education in school and at home was summed up in the simple phrase "Never Again." This meant we--as Jews, as survivors, and as human beings--must never let something like the Holocaust happen again. We must be vigilant at any of the clear signs that led up to this atrocity.
Understanding history is an incredibly important part of understanding why we are here today. In practical terms, you painted something with spray paint on school property. But the symbol you painted has a long history and carries weight and emotions, fear and panic. “Symbolization” is in fact the second stage in the eight stages of genocide as outlined by the Department of State in 1996. Although we are not currently in Nazi Germany in 1938, when I see a swastika, I am reminded that there are people out there who hate me for who I am and who think highly of people who were responsible for the deaths of my grandparents’ parents, brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles, cousins and grandparents. And when I see that swastika in Arlington, I am overwhelmed by the fear that those people are my neighbors.
To be totally honest, even though I have seen swastikas in the news and in pictures and in person more times in the past 2 years than I have in my entire life, I am not desensitized to them. Every time I see one, I feel my heart sink into my stomach and my chest tighten. It is a visceral, physical, anguished response.
Today, we will likely talk about the concept of intent vs. impact. It is a powerful dichotomy as both are intertwined in an incident like this and yet also independent of one another. My understanding from many conversations about this incident is that you did not have malicious intent in drawing the Swastika at the high school last month. But it's important for us to recognize, regardless of intent, that there was tremendous negative impact on the community as a result of it, specifically community members, like myself, who understand deeply the meaning of a swastika and who, like I did, respond so strongly to the image of it.
I believe that I am here today, as a leader of the AHRC, in large part because of my family history. I have a deeply ingrained desire to devote my time and energy into the goal of “Never Again.” I want people to feel safe, loved, included and supported here in Arlington no matter what their backgrounds are. As painful and traumatic as this has been to the community and to you, I hope that this incident will be something that inspires you to learn more and to do good in your community and in the world. I hope that you will one day look back on this as a terrible time that made you a stronger and better person. I am honored to be part of this process and look forward to working with you to create light out of darkness.