Another year of Holocaust abuse

Comparing anything and everything to the Holocaust has become the norm, trivializing it with false moral comparisons.

Dr. Manfred Gerstenfeld ,

OpEds Manfred Gerstenfeld
Manfred Gerstenfeld
Manfred Gerstenfeld

In an increasingly chaotic world, the abuse of the Holocaust and related issues has continued to increase over the past twelve months. False moral comparisons of events and issues to Auschwitz, Hitler, Nazis or the suffering of the Jews have become so common that unlike a few years ago, writing a fairly accurate overview is no longer possible. 

These comparisons are phenomena of degeneration. Those who make them are trying to draw public attention, to boost egos or personal causes. This can be seen most clearly with the Hitler comparisons. The election of Donald Trump as the American president has led to a series of such insults. “Comparing Trump to Hitler is the worst type of hate speech,” is the title of an article by columnist and author James Marshall Crotty. He writes: “These comparisons to Hitler and the Holocaust are grossly irresponsible.”  

This is in fact an understatement. These comparisons are evil.

The president of Mexico, Enrique Pena Nieto, compared Trump, before he was elected, to Hitler and Mussolini. A few months later Nieto said that he only [sic] drew the comparison as a reminder of the devastation wreaked in the past. Two former presidents of Mexico also compared Trump to Hitler. Felipe Calderon, who was president from 2006 to 2012, said that Trump is “exploiting feelings like Hitler did in his time." His predecessor Vicente Fox told CNN that Trump “reminds me of Hitler.”  

During his election campaign to become the Republican presidential candidate the Governor of Ohio, John Kasich, published an ad that compared Trump’s rhetoric and Nazism. If his claim that Trump demonizes Muslims and Mexicans like Hitler demonized the Jews were true, these two groups of the U.S. population would by now have lost a significant part of their civil rights.

A member of the Trump administration raised an outcry with yet another Hitler comparison. The White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer suggested that Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad acted worse than Hitler when he used chemical weapons. Spicer claimed Hitler did no such thing. He thus ignored the massive use of chemicals in murdering mainly Jews in the German concentration camps. Spicer later apologized.

On Twitter, Trump has compared American intelligence to Nazis: “Intelligence agencies should never have allowed this fake news to ‘leak’ into the public. One last shot at me. Are we living in Nazi Germany?” 

Turkish President Tayyip Recep Erdogan is a sizable producer of Holocaust and Nazi distortions. In November 2016, Erdogan told Israeli television that he could not decide whether the Holocaust or the Israeli military offensives in Gaza were “more barbarous.” He has since expanded his insulting statements to other countries calling Turkey’s NATO ally, the Netherlands, “remnants of Nazis.”  

Germany, another Turkish NATO ally, did not escape Erdogan’s comparisons with Nazis. In March the German government blocked Turkish political rallies ahead of the referendum on the extension of the powers of the Turkish president. Erdogan said “Your practices are not different from the Nazi practices of the past.” 

The Holocaust was a complex and sophisticated industrialized extermination program that primarily targeted Jews.
About the European Union, Erdogan said “Without any shame, ignoring their own blood-stained hands and without considering their own callous hearts, they draw comparisons between us and the Nazis. If there are any Nazis, it is you who are the Nazis.” This was a reaction to a statement by Luxembourg’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Jean Asselborn, who compared Erdogan’s actions against the Turkish media and the opposition to events in Nazi Germany. Erdogan’s abuse of the Holocaust and distorted comparisons with Nazism did not go unchallenged Artists projected him as Hitler on to the walls of the Turkish embassy in Berlin. 

There are also false comparisons to Nazi victims. Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff compared attempts to impeach her over corruption scandals to the Nazi persecution of Jews.

The Holocaust was a complex and sophisticated industrialized extermination program that primarily targeted Jews.

One strain of frequent abuse of the Holocaust is criticizing a specific issue and then comparing it to Nazi methods. The comparison itself may already be wrong, but beyond that, involving the Nazis in the issue creates a further distortion.

One example of this was when Christina McKelvie, the Scottish National Party spokesman for Human Rights, said that a proposal of the British government to have UK companies list foreign workers were reminiscent of the Nazi policies of the 1930s. Another SNP, MP Mhairi Black, wrote a newspaper column in which she also claimed that the Conservative Party’s immigration policies were “reminiscent of early 1930s Nazi Germany.”

After a visit to Auschwitz, Pope Francis headed down a slippery slope when he equated general cruelty and violence in the world with that of the Holocaust. He said: “Looking at the cruelty of the concentration camp, I thought about today’s cruelty, which is similar; not as concentrated in that place, but around the world.” This was a major example of using the Holocaust as a tool for a message while ignoring the fact that it was a systematic extermination program. Most contemporary cruelty is not comparable.

Trivialization of the Holocaust is a recurring issue and not only restricted to false moral equivalence by leaders and politicians. In March 2017, eleven people undressed at Auschwitz and slaughtered a sheep. A spokesman for the Auschwitz memorial said their motives were not clear as they briefly stood and then sat down by the notorious Arbeit Macht Frei (“Work sets you free”) gate in the southern Polish city of Oswiecim. 

The above is only a small selection of a subject that could be expanded easily into an essay. What is most worrying is the rapid multiplication of false moral equivalence using the Holocaust and related issues as tools.