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We Asked a WWII Refugee If There Really Are Any Parallels Between Hitler and Trump

"I think that democracy in the US today is in a much better shape than it was in Germany back then."

by Paul Donnerbauer
Feb 7 2017, 3:34pm

This article originally appeared on VICE Alps

Image: Dora Schimanko at a 2012 protest in Vienna against the Academics' Ball, a prom organised by Austria's right-wing party FPÖ.

Dora Schimanko is an 84-year-old Austrian former refugee. After the Anschluss in 1938, when Austria was annexed by Nazi Germany, she and her Jewish family fled to the UK to escape persecution by the Nazis. "They could have persecuted us for being lefties or being Jewish – either case, we'd be damned," she writes in her 2011 book Warum So Und Nicht Anders (Why it's Like This and Not Any Other Way).

After returning to Vienna in 1946, Schimanko got involved with Austria's communist party and started speaking at public events against fascism and far-right extremism. She also speaks as a witness of WWII in Austrian schools.

The rise of far-right parties in Europe, Donald Trump's presidential win and his actions during his first few weeks in office have given way to a lot of talk about the return of fascism to mainstream politics. Comparisons with Adolf Hitler are never far away when we talk about authoritarian world leaders – or any world leaders, in fact: Republicans often compared Obama to the head of the Nazi party – but the analogy has been made often since Trump came to power.

We spoke to Schimanko to get her take.

(Hitler photo: German Federal Archive, via; Trump photo: The White House, via)

VICE: Hello Dora. What do you make of Donald Trump?
Dora Schimanko: Well, Donald Trump is quite an actor and entertainer. I think that makes him a populist icon – the perfect candidate to represent the ruling class in the United States: profit-driven multinational corporations.

So you're saying he's basically some kind of capitalist saviour?
Yes.

How did you find out that Trump had won the election?
A friend of mine told me about it after she heard it on the morning news. I couldn't believe it at first; it just didn't seem possible to me. But soon after finding out I started reading up on the American electoral system. I think Trump's victory was only made possible because of that system. Clinton actually had the majority of votes.

After Trump got elected, many urged the public not to panic and just wait to see what he would be like as president. Within his first week of office he scaled back the Affordable Care Act and tried to keep people from seven Muslim countries from entering the US, among other things. Did you see that coming?
God, yes. Trump is a profit-hungry representative of the ruling class – I didn't expect anything less, to be honest.

Those seven countries included Syria, where so many refugees are fleeing from. You yourself fled Nazi Austria in 1938. What do you think would have happened to you if England had closed its borders for refugees at the time, like what happened in the US last week?
Oh, I would most certainly not be alive right now. I would be long dead. But the policies in England back then were so different from the current policies in the US. In those days in England there were international conventions regarding taking in refugees, but the country also had another system for immigration, where English people who were willing to support you and cover your costs for coming over could invite you. Some aristocrats and Quakers, for example, financed many refugee children's passage to the UK.

There's a lot of talk about Trump and his team having fascist tendencies. Do you see parallels between Germany in 1933 and the United States in 2017?
No. We really do live in a different millennium. I don't think that a system of forced labour would work in America as it did in Nazi-Germany, for example. And I think that democracy in the US today is in a much better shape than it was in Germany back then.

So you're not worried that fascism will make a comeback and settle in the US, then?
Oh yes, I'm very worried about that. I think that if Trump saw a chance for profit in the concept he would turn the United States into a fascist state the first chance he got. But I really do hope that the American democracy is stronger than anything Trump can do to the country in four years.

So you'd say that people are way off when they compare Trump to Hitler?
Sure. Trump is rich – Hitler definitely wasn't that rich. Trump is dangerous in a different way – he stands for very dangerous interests. He doesn't have to actively persecute minorities in his country, but he's a representative for large, greedy corporations that endanger the whole planet in their search for profit.

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