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In the Attic

A writer wonders which neighbor will hide him when the next genocide happens

Shalom Auslander
April 08, 2010
The number of extremist groups in the United States exploded in 2009 as militias and other groups steeped in wild, antigovernment conspiracy theories exploited populist anger across the country and infiltrated the mainstream, according to a report issued today by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC). The SPLC documented a 244 percent increase in the number of active Patriot groups in 2009. Their numbers grew from 149 groups in 2008 to 512 groups in 2009, an astonishing addition of 363 new groups in a single year. Militias—the paramilitary arm of the Patriot movement—were a major part of the increase, growing from 42 militias in 2008 to 127 in 2009.

The population of the town in which I live is roughly 2,400 people. Of those people, I know approximately 50 or so by name, and of those 50, there are only 17 who I think will let me hide with my wife and children in their attic during the next genocide. This is assuming those 17 people haven’t already promised their attics to other Jews, blacks, homosexuals, Asians, Europeans, immigrants, etc., which I’m fairly sure at least six of them already have.

First come, first saved.


The trouble is, I have a wife, two small children, and two large dogs; realistically, we’ll probably need a whole attic to ourselves. My oldest son is 5, he can sleep on the floor with us, but my youngest is only 9 months, so we’ll need the portable crib and possibly the walker (there are locks on the walker’s wheels, so we can keep him from moving around if the authorities arrive and question the family below). I’m not being greedy, just pragmatic, and, of course, if the attic is big enough, we would be more than willing to share it with another young couple, or maybe some children whose parents have been arrested by the authorities. (They’ll need constant reassuring, which I’ll be happy to give them in the early days, but as the genocide drags on, they’re going to get on my nerves, I know that now; man up, kids, this isn’t easy for anyone.) My infant, though, has a very sensitive stomach (he gets it from me), so whoever shares the attic with us, if that’s the only situation we can arrange, ought to know straight away that we’re not sharing his baby food, I don’t care how grim the situation becomes; he pretty much eats only strained carrots and the occasional jar of pears, so forget about it. I’ll bring an extra loaf of bread, they can have some of that. (The truth is, if we really do end up sharing the attic with two small children whose parents have been arrested by the authorities, I’ll probably change my mind and share with them even though I’m saying now that I won’t; I’ll bring extra jars of the strained carrots, just in case.) If you fail to plan, the saying goes, you plan to have your windows shattered and your family arrested, their heads shaved and thrown into gas chambers.


The radical right caught fire last year, as broad-based populist anger at political, demographic and economic changes in America ignited an explosion of new extremist groups and activism across the nation. Hate groups stayed at record levels—almost 1,000—despite the total collapse of the second largest neo-Nazi group in America.

I don’t actually believe there will be gas chambers this time around. Genocidaires (and we’re all genocidaires eventually) are nothing if not proud, and they hate to repeat the extermination methods of others. Concentration camps, yes, there’ll definitely be camps. Some things are just basic. I used to think that there would be another Jewish Holocaust, but now I’m just sure there’ll be another Holocaust, Jewish or otherwise; when I was younger, the only genocide I knew about was the Jewish one. It was the only one I was taught about, the only one that mattered. Since shouting “Never again” about the genocide 60 years ago, there have been at least a couple more, and it soon becomes depressingly clear: As bad as the world seems if you’re standing in the Jewish part of town, it’s really no picnic anywhere else.

It would be nice if the attic we hide in is somewhere close to our home, not just so that we can get something if we forget it (I’ll definitely forget my iPod, I always do), but so that when the genocide is over, we don’t have too far to travel. We won’t be in the mood for it, I can tell you that. (This is assuming we all live, which we probably won’t, and that our house hasn’t been burned down, which it probably will be; to be totally honest, given the choice between the house being burned down and some high-level genocidaire taking it over and using it as some upstate New York command center, I’d go with the burning down—I don’t like having people in my house even when I’m there, let alone when I’m not.) That’s why, of the 11 people I think would let me and my family hide in their attic that haven’t already promised their attic to someone else, my first choice would be my neighbors, the Andersons. Unfortunately, their dog died recently, and they now have a puppy (Lab-Bernese mix); even if the damn thing doesn’t spend all day barking at the attic (dead giveaway), she’ll drive my own dogs crazy, and they’ll want to go down and play with her. I’ll feel bad about keeping them locked up there with me (Did the Germans kill the dogs of Jews, too, or just the Jews? I assume that they did, but I don’t know for sure; maybe they just killed the dogs that seemed Jewish, like beagles), and it will only get worse when the puppy goes outside to play.

The anger seething across the American political landscape—over racial changes in the population, soaring public debt and the terrible economy, the bailouts of bankers and other elites, and an array of initiatives by the relatively liberal Obama Administration that are seen as “socialist” or even “fascist”— goes beyond the radical right. The “tea parties” and similar groups that have sprung up in recent months cannot fairly be considered extremist groups, but they are shot through with rich veins of radical ideas, conspiracy theories and racism.

Jason, my other neighbor, would definitely let my family and me hide in his attic, except that he has no attic, and, like the Andersons, he also has dogs. He would no doubt ask his friend Amanda if she would hide us instead, but she is going through a separation at the moment and may not be in her house by the time the genocide starts. (Even if she is, and even if she had an attic we can stay in, I think it’d be best if we found somewhere else; I like her soon-to-be-ex-husband, but people going through break-ups can be erratic, and he might report us to the authorities just to get her in trouble.) That leaves our nanny Elsa, who is from Eritrea, and I can only assume would be a target of whatever round-ups the rounder-uppers were rounding up, or Erin, our other nanny; Erin’s mother is white and her father is African, so I assume they would be rounded up as well, Erin along with them. All that leaves is Mike and Rose, friends of ours a few miles away. I’m sure that Mike would let us stay in his attic, but Rose is a devout Christian and though she has never said so, I suspect she silently resents my writings about God. And so that will be the big ironic ending—after years of worrying that God will kill me for the things that I write, a genocide (at last—you were right, Mom) will start here in America and, with nowhere left to turn, I’ll pack up my wife, my children, and my dogs, and we’ll run under the cover of darkness to the only friends we have who might be able to hide us in their attic, and they’ll turn us away, because of what I wrote about God.


Oh well: praemonitus praemunitus as the saying goes—forewarned is forearmed, which is not just a good idea, it’s also the title of the second American edition of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.


No, really.

Shalom Auslander is the author of Foreskin’s Lament and the novel Hope: A Tragedy. He is also a frequent contributor to This American Life.

Shalom Auslander is the author of Foreskin’s Lament and the novel Hope: A Tragedy. He is also a frequent contributor to This American Life. His new novel, Mother for Dinner, will be published by Riverhead this September.