The Holocaust is unique. It was the result of a systematic and deliberate effort by Hitler and the Nazis to exterminate an entire people of the Jews. It is important not to diminish its unique horror by comparing it to other events, no matter how terrible those events may have been. The Jews are a proud people with a long history and an enduring faith, who have contributed more than their share to the advancement of civilization. The murder of one-third of all Jews who ever lived has left a permanent scar on the collective Jewish psyche. Survivors and their children continue to report high levels of anxiety, depression, guilt, and post-traumatic stress disorder. Similarly, the Holocaust was not just a Jewish tragedy; it was a crime against humanity. World leaders condemned it as such at the time, but they failed to act in any meaningful way to stop it from happening. Many countries refused to take in Jewish refugees fleeing Nazi persecution.
The Holocaust was also unique in the way in which its victims were selected for murder. All German Jews, not just Communists or Social Democrats, were slated for death. Every Jew under German rule, every person who was born Jewish or had a Jewish parent or grandparent was targeted for annihilation, regardless of whether he or she had converted to Christianity or lived as an atheist. The Nazis murdered people for the simple reason that they existed.
Therefore, The Holocaust has become such a powerful force in our culture that we want to give it a central place in our collective memory. We want to talk about it endlessly and we want to draw lessons from it that can help us deal with other issues. As a result, though, we often run afoul of one of the great dangers of collective memory: appropriating events for our purposes or using them as analogies for other causes that may not be analogous at all.
One latest example of the Holocaust is regarding Donald Trump’s immigration policy. It’s not just pundits and politicians who do this, but ordinary citizens who have taken to social media to compare Trump’s immigration policies to Hitler’s “Final Solution.” The problem with this is that it trivializes the singular horror of the Holocaust. It also shows a profound lack of historical knowledge. There are, of course, people who have equated Trump with Hitler since he became a candidate for president. Sharp-eyed observers will notice that they paint the Republican candidate’s hairline on images of Hitler, or they’ll photoshop his face onto Hitler-era posters. Among Jews, there is no greater insult than comparing someone to Hitler, particularly if you’re talking about an elected official unless you were talking about Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad or Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. But we should not be quick to make this comparison about someone who has just been elected as our new president.
In addition, a recent Times article referred to a “Holocaust-level danger” to the Kurds. The director of the film “Bombshell” compared alleged sexual harassment at Fox News to being Jewish in Nazi Germany. And when President Trump was criticized for using anti-Semitic tropes by representatives of B’nai B’rith International, he said they were the ones guilty of “using a vile anti-Semitic slur against me.”
In conclusion, whether we need to invoke the Holocaust in a debate depends on what our goal is. We should be careful to remember the Holocaust’s uniqueness and not ignore its victims. However, the Holocaust provides an excellent example of the types of dangers that can come from mass intolerance and discrimination, and these types of dangers are not to be ignored. As Frankel says.
Frankel, D. (2021). Nothing is ‘like’ the Holocaust. https://jewishchronicle.timesofisrael.com/nothing-is-like-the-holocaust/