“When I try to think about how I came to the views that I hold, there are two major factors,” the senator from Vermont said. “No. 1, I grew up in a family that didn’t have a whole lot of money .… The second one is being Jewish.”
Sanders was responding to a question from an audience member who’d asked whether his Jewish heritage was a “help or hindrance” to his campaign for president.
In his response, Sanders recalled seeing Holocaust survivors in his Brooklyn neighborhood as a child and, later, visiting the town in Poland where most of his father’s family was massacred by the Nazis.
“I remember, as a kid, looking at these big picture books of World War II, and tears would roll down my cheeks when I saw what happened to the Jewish people. Six million people were killed by Hitler,” Sanders said. “I think at a very early age, before my political thoughts were developed, I was aware of the horrible things that human beings can do to other people in the name of racism or white nationalism, in this case Nazism.”
Sanders said these earlier life experiences have shaped his politics.
“That is why I will do everything I can to end the kind of divisiveness that Trump is fomenting in this country,” he said. “We are one people. I don’t care if you’re Black, you’re white, Latino, Native American, Asian American, you’re gay or straight, that’s not what it’s about. We’re human beings, and we share common dreams and aspirations.”
As CNN noted, Sanders has spoken only rarely about his Jewish identity ― but he has opened up in more recent years about how his faith has influenced him.
Last Hanukkah, Sanders took part in a menorah-lighting ceremony in Iowa and reflected on how his family had fled religious persecution during the Holocaust.
“What makes our country great is that people have come from every corner of the world to live in peace and with justice here in the United States of America,” he said.