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My last name is Collins because the English Army made my grandfather, David, change his family name, Gliergivert, before he shipped off to the continent in 1940. If he were captured, they didn’t want the Nazis realizing that they could use his family members—who were in concentration camps—as leverage to get him to reveal secrets. He was a Kohen, a member of the priestly line of Aaron, so people in the East London Orthodox community already called him Cohen, which he anglicized to Collins.
My grandfather’s parents Morris and Sarah, I think, immigrated to England from Poland in the years of the escalating pogroms. Morris died in 1923 and my grandfather left school shortly thereafter to support the family. He became a fur cutter and a boxer. He was injured when a cat fell off a roof and landed on his head. The war came.
This is where, as far as history can trace it, my family begins.
With my grandfather and his brother, Archie, changing their names and heading off to war. All the other Gliergiverts remained, and vanished as far as I can tell, on the continent.
In 1954, my grandfather immigrated to America on the QEI and moved his family to Scranton, PA where he got his start as a traveling salesman selling underwear to the Amish and eventually built a successful business. My father became an American citizen in 1965 and was the first person in his family to go to college, to go to grad school, to become a professor of European History. He met my mother, a Presbyterian from Louisiana, in a library, in grad school, in Georgia. This is certainly one of the versions of the American Dream, and in its simplicity, it is beautiful.
Donald Trump’s candidacy, with its thousand exhortations of all that is ugly in our society, all that is blunt and craven and deformed by hatred, is antithetical to the possibilities that drew my family to these shores where a Jew sold underwear to the Amish and made a home for his family among Poles, Italians, and Irish.
Donald Trump and his surrogates routinely post materials from Neo-Nazi and White Supremacist groups. Images that reproduce, and trade on, and legitimize the vision of Jews used in Nazi Propaganda.
Donald Trump wants us to fear and hate and close our borders to refugees of war.
Donald Trump calls for a registry of American Muslims. The only place the name Gliergivert might still exist is on a similar registry.
When Oswald Mosely’s fascist Blackshirts, decrying Jews as an ‘alien menace’, would march through Jewish quarters of London in support of Hitler, my grandfather and other East End Jews would meet them in the road with cut-down snooker cues under their coats.
Trump is on the ballot; we don’t need weapons to repudiate him, but the Blackshirts are marching in our streets. My snooker cue is my No-Trump Vote and I cast it for my grandfather, David Collins.