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I blinked and thirty years of politics is behind me now. Fitting then, that I should become the Republican Town Committee Chair with such varied political and community experience. I have had a different path than my predecessors; taking to politics out of necessity rather than want. Many folks remember my years as an Advocate for people with differences and Special Education PTA President. Others as Board of Education Member or Chair of my Community Board. Those who know me of late know that I am the Elections Administrator for Ridgefield and all around campaigner.
My first priority as Chair is to join with others to save our state. Friends are fleeing or talking about moving. This November election can turn the state around or put the final nail in our coffin. It is that simple. No one believes that we can continue the present course of taxation and deficits. No one wants tolls or more taxes. Our only chance now is to vote to change our leadership and the direction of Connecticut. So think now….primaries are certain to come this summer. You want change and know that it is needed. Think carefully about which party you believe can change the freefall spiral in our state.
Know this: The Republican Town Committee will be an inclusive group - the preverbal large tent. It is what I believe in. It is the path that has enabled my life to become so rich. Join us too, if you have a community project or idea in mind and lack the necessary hands to do it. We meet on the third Thursday of the month at town hall conference room at 7:30. Come and meet us. We look forward to a great year!
Let’s not honor a bigot
Although it had been hailed as the crown jewel in the town’s acquisition of the Schlumberger property, the iconic building there is becoming a painful reminder of murderous bigotry.
Impossible? Not really. Not if we continue calling it “the Philip Johnson Building,” labeling it with the name of the man who designed it decades ago.
Mr. Johnson was not just an internationally famous architect. He was a loyal apostle of Adolf Hitler and he preached the abhorrent Nazi gospel in several pre-war tours of Europe. And back home in the United States at the same time, he was an outspoken supporter of political candidates who leaned toward Der Fuhrer’s fascism.
Indeed, his enthusiastic embrace of Hitler’s “ethnic cleansing” and a “master race” attracted the attention of the FBI which suspected Johnson, fluent in the German language, of being a Nazi spy. In a memo on Johnson to Director J. Edgar Hoover, one agent wrote that he could not think “of no more dangerous man” to have in any agency entrusted with military secrets.
In his new book, “Fighting the Shadow War---A Divided America in a World at War,” Marc Wortman reports that in speaking at a Hitler rally during the rise of the Nazis, Johnson warned the French government about a “group that always gains control in a nation’s time of weakness --- the Jews.”
In 1940, after Nazi armies invaded the Polish Corridor, Johnson all but applauded, noting the large Jewish population there. And as the Reich’s “putsch” continued across Europe, millions of people were being “relocated” to the ovens at Auschwitz and Buchenwald.
Johnson never apologized nor recanted his Nazi bent although before he died he did ascribe it all to a “young man’s fancies.” Earlier, Wortman’s book quoted Johnson as saying, “You simply could not fail to be caught up in the excitement of it, the marching songs, by the crescendo and climax of the whole thing as Hitler came on at last to harangue the crowd.”
But the famed architect was not nearly so innocent. Hitler was notoriously and sometimes violently homophobic and he called modern architecture “degenerate.” Johnson was gay and a leading advocate for that architectural style, but he backed off on both to fit more precisely into the Nazi mode.
And there also was a kind of “master race” aura about Johnson. We saw it one spring afternoon as we chatted with him over tea at his famous Glass House in New Canaan. His “husband” flitted obediently about the room and Johnson came off as a bit arrogant that day. Perhaps, some lesser people --- people like Hitler --- equate wealth and fame with power and control, we thought.
And now, in still another bit of bitter irony, we have developed the bad habit of calling one of Ridgefield’s much heralded possessions “The Philip Johnson Building,” perpetuating the memory of a man who was enchanted by the evils of a madman and insulting the memory of his victims.
Giving that haunting memory an extra caustic twinge, plans call for the building to house some of the works of the late Maurice Sendak, famous author/illustrator of children’s book. Mr. Sendak was the son of Polish and Jewish parents.
But all is not lost yet. The building label is not yet official. But we need to head it off before it becomes another painful reminder of the great injury done to millions of families, whose ancestors were persecuted and whose sons had died fighting to save the world from a madman.
For purposes of quick and convenient identification, town officials and development planners, who were uninformed or insensitive, or both, began labeling the structure with the name of the man who designed it decades ago.
The tag became a habit, a habit that is becoming entrenched and threatens to morph into formal dedication, perhaps marked by a permanent plaque to establish what would be memorial to a disciple of Adolf Hitler, an insult to all who had suffered at his hands.
It’s time, right now, to break this hurtful habit before it becomes even more deeply ingrained. Changing a community’s habit will not be easy. It will require more thoughtful leadership at the Town Hall, where the pattern was first set and where the change must now begin.
Even now, Ridgefield already seems guilty of at least hypocrisy. While town officials and the clergy express the community’s outrage at the appearance of swastikas and other hateful graffiti, we are at the same time allowing the identity of a town-owned building to drift inexorably toward permanently memorializing a man who had cheered the Nazis’ bloody march through Europe.
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