The Jerusalem Post published a column last week by Kenneth Bandler bemoaning the “normalization of Holocaust parallels in the COVID era.” The author is upset at people who invoke Nazi Germany when talking about vaccine mandates and what they portend. Bandler takes issue with Washington State Representative Jim Walsh, who actually wore a yellow star and said, “In this context, we are all Jews.”
Oh, the heinousness!
Bandler wants Walsh to know that comparing political actions or leaders to Nazis is strictly verboten: “It is imperative that responsible political, media, business and civil society leaders agree that utilizing Holocaust terms is off limits.”
I hate this sort of thing. My childhood Jewish day-school education was obsessed with the Holocaust. But not from any useful or meaningful perspective: A decent lesson to teach us young Jewish Americans would have been, “This is the sort of thing that happens to a people who lose the means to defend themselves.”
But the lesson my day school wanted me to learn was that we Jews were victims. It was a terrible thing, a permanent status, almost like the mark of Cain, inescapable. A friend of mine reports the same experience: His teachers made it seem as though Judaism was about suffering. It’s lucky (from my perspective) that any Jewish faith—or self-esteem—can survive such a debased education.
This morally inverted perspective, which desires to set the Holocaust on a special podium where it cannot be touched, is elevating the Holocaust into something almost to be revered. Consider this line from Bendler’s article: “Preserving memory of the Holocaust and its victims is sacrosanct to historical integrity and to the Jewish people.” Not just the memory of the victims, the memory of the Holocaust itself has apparently become “sacrosanct.”
Let’s approach this logically. And for the moment, let’s forget that Bendler didn’t write this article when people were comparing George W. Bush or Donald Trump to Hitler, which was when this really became “normalized.” Setting that to one side: At what point does the behavior of a government become Nazi-like?
If Nazi Germany had stopped at the yellow star, had not started a war, had been content simply with dividing Jews from the rest of society—if there had been no death camps—what would we think of those stars now?
It’s conceivable they would still be in use.
It’s tremendously easy to condemn Nazism when you have the luxury of looking backwards to its defeat three-quarters of a century ago. But most people who were stuck in the middle of it found it was easier to follow Nazi orders and wait for better times. This applies both to the Jews who were willing to put on the stars and their neighbors who didn’t stand up for them.
Is behavior only Nazi-like when it is dividing a society along racial or religious lines? I would suggest that dividing citizens along political lines is equally dangerous. Minorities don’t always have to be race-based. For many tyrannies, political distinctions are more convenient precisely because they are fluid and their definition is up to whomever is in charge.
Is behavior only Nazi-like if you’re actually murdering a disfavored class (as they are today in China)? Or is it bad enough just to create separate rules for these people, limit their freedom of movement, and restrict their right to patronize certain establishments?
The Nazis didn’t get around to the full-scale Holocaust until World War II was near its end. They’d already been Nazis for a long time. And before the yellow stars were mandated, they’d already confiscated Jewish property, kicked Jews out of businesses, and barred them from entering public parks and nice restaurants. Is that Nazi-like behavior or not? And, if it is, is it fair to draw comparisons, or not?
People wearing a yellow star to protest vaccine mandates may bother some people. They don’t bother me even one tiny little bit. People accuse them of trivializing the Holocaust. That’s a shallow and backwards interpretation: If anything, these protesters are overestimating the dangers of our current situation. They’ve chosen the Holocaust precisely because they see it as the deepest human catastrophe they can think of. If you ask me, they take the Holocaust very seriously indeed.
The real complaint from people like Bendler has nothing to do with the Holocaust: His objection is that he thinks the current situation isn’t too serious. That’s where the accusation of “trivialization” comes from—from people who see the current encroachments on freedom as trivial.
None of these protesters (as far as I can see) is claiming we’re in the last days of Hitler’s final solution. In their view, they’re warning us that we’re on the same road.
If that sounds ridiculous, I would ask if you’ve encountered anyone who’s said something along the lines of, “If you don’t take the vaccine, you deserve to get sick, and you deserve to die.” Because I’ve seen this a lot, and heard it a lot, even in what you’d call the “mainstream.” Or did you miss Jimmy Kimmel’s monologue where he joked that hospitals shouldn’t treat unvaccinated patients?
The WHO has praised China’s response to COVID, which included literally nailing metal bars over peoples’ doors so they couldn’t leave their apartments. Is that Nazi-like? Or do we think it just couldn’t happen here?
Australia has set up COVID quarantine camps, where people are held against their will. From a Washington Post story: “Nurses rap sharply on the door for random early-morning temperature checks or coronavirus tests. Police and soldiers patrol, occasionally shouting at people to put on masks. And there is a 39-page booklet of rules and procedures.”
Is that Nazi-like? Or could it just not happen here?
The fact-checkers went crazy the other week when it was suggested that New York was considering giving the government the power to detain sick people against their will. No, no, no! cried the fact checkers—the bill just proposed “allowing the state to temporarily detain someone carrying or suspected to be carrying a contagious disease.” (Emphasis mine.) And, after all, the state would be required “to seek a court order if a person was to be held for more than three days.” I’m extremely relieved.
It’s just a bill, and it hasn’t passed. So it couldn’t happen here.
Obviously we’re not living in Germany in 1944. No one is suggesting we are. But some parts of the world (like China) already look like Germany under Hitler. And a lot of the world looks like Germany before Hitler. That is cause for concern, and ample justification for historical comparisons.
Unless you’re absolutely certain it couldn’t happen here.
Mind you, if there is one thing I learned from from my Hebrew day school education, it was that the Jews in Nazi Germany tended to think, “It couldn’t happen here.” And they continued to think that, even while it was happening.