Here is a recent, and revolting, development in Elkins Park.
The Inquirer is reporting on a memorial to the Nazi SS, specifically the 14th Waffen Grenadier Division of the Schutzstaffel, on the grounds of St. Mary’s Ukrainian Catholic Cemetery.
The SS was the worst of the worst, and the worst part of this story is that the monument was erected in the 1990’s, when the misdeeds of the SS were well known. It is a monument to tone-deafness.
It is disgusting, but it is on private ground, and there is another side to the story.
In an abundance of fairness, I will report that to some of its supporters, the 14th Waffen Grenadiers was organized to fight Russia and communism, which sought to dominate Ukraine. Similarly, Finland aligned with Germany in World War II not because it supported the Nazis, but because the Axis was fighting Russia, Finland’s traditional bully and enemy.
But to revise history to present the 14th Waffen SS as freedom fighters is an unnatural stretch.
The memorial resembles the German Iron Cross, and in English says, “In Memory of Ukrainian Soldiers.” Ukrainian, not German or SS. The monument notes 1943-45, which seems to be the life span of the unit.
The monument may have escaped notice until now because of the English inscription, and the German Cross, rather than a swastika.
OK — so I have been fair with them.
Now, why aren’t they fair with the overwhelming majority of Americans who see Nazis as evil incarnate? Can’t they see how utterly offensive this monument is to all Americans, but most especially Jewish Americans?
Not surprisingly, Jewish groups have deep reservations about the monument.
“We don’t feel good that there is a memorial to any SS unit in our area,” said Jason Holtzman, an official with the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia.
Andrew Goretsky, regional director of the Anti-Defamation League said, “We do object to monuments dedicated to Waffen SS soldiers.”
So do I, but what do we do about it?
This is different from the controversy over monuments to Confederates in the Civil War, because most of those were on public land. Such placement could be understood as public approval of men who took up arms against their own country.
If the statues are on private land, they should be left alone, protected, in my view, under free speech.
21st Century cancel culture is more like attacks on American leaders, whose statues were removed or vandalized. These include Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Francis Scott Key, Theodore Roosevelt, Ulysses A. Grant, and Frank Rizzo. Not to mention Christopher Columbus.
Some Americans have problems with each of the above, and that’s OK. Free speech, again.
But their free speech should not veto the free speech of those who support the leaders mentioned.
Here’s how reasonable people should address whoever is behind the Waffen SS memorial.
“We find the memorial offensive, but recognize your freedom of speech. We ask you to recognize our serious concerns by adding a plaque to the memorial explaining the totality of the role of the Waffen SS in World War II.”
They can do the right thing, or they can suffer being shunned by their neighbors.
That is up to them. But it is not up to us to destroy the memorial.