Don’t compare coronavirus policies to the Holocaust
Blake Ziegler | Thursday, September 2, 2021
In case you missed it, Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) found herself in another antisemitic controversy over the summer. In multiple tweets and an interview, she compared proof of vaccination and mask mandates to the yellow stars Jews were forced to wear in Nazi Germany. Fortunately, her comments were widely criticized by Republicans and Democrats.
However, Holocaust comparisons have been a common feature in protests against COVID-19 policies across the United States. The yellow star analogy is a popular one, invoked by an Oklahoma GOP chairman, protestors in New Mexico, a hat shop in Nashville, TN, and many others. That’s only the beginning of a long list of allusions to the Holocaust among the protests against pandemic measures.
Such acts demonstrate a severe lack of competency on the significance of the Holocaust. Comparing the Holocaust to coronavirus regulations serves to undermine the tragic experience of its victims. The Holocaust was a systematic, racially driven effort to eradicate a group of people from existence. Having to wear a mask or provide proof of vaccination to engage in nonessential activities is in no way similar to the Jewish ghettos, discrimination and disenfranchisement, concentration camps or indescribable suffering endured by Jews in Nazi Germany. It is an uneducated opinion that has no basis in reality.
Not only that, likening events to the Holocaust perpetuates antisemitism. The global Jewish population has only recently reached its pre-Holocaust levels. It took over 70 years to overcome the devastation Hitler did to the world’s Jews. Being asked to wear a mask on an airplane or provide proof of vaccination to attend a concert is not the same. In fact, these comparisons trivialize the deaths and intense persecution of Holocaust victims, diminishing the significance of the event. If I accept the claim that wearing a mask is equivalent to wearing a yellow star used by Nazis to indicate who would be sent to death camps, I’m lessening the severity of the Holocaust. Such a thought now distorts our perception of the Holocaust and its damage to Jews and the world, cheapening the lessons it can teach us about combating persecution and injustice.
The widespread nature of Holocaust perceptions can be explained by two factors. The first factor is that the United States has a deeply troubling lack of adequate Holocaust education. Out of fifty states, only nineteen require Holocaust education in high school. The result is a public very uninformed on the most well-documented event in history. According to a 2020 survey by the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, 11% of Americans nationally were unaware the Holocaust happened, 45% could not name a single concentration camp, and 51% did not know that six million Jews were killed. When breaking the data down state-by-state, the highest scoring state, Wisconsin, only demonstrated a 42% competency in Holocaust awareness. The takeaway is clear: Holocaust education is dismal in the United States, even where it’s codified in law. When your populace doesn’t even know the facts about the event, false equivalencies become much easier to spread.
When a public is uninformed on the Holocaust, it easily lends itself to taking misinformation as fact. The survey above also found that 7% of U.S. adults demonstrate some level of Holocaust denial, the belief that the Holocaust did not happen or at least in the way it is presented. For millennials and Gen Z, that number rises to 33%. Holocaust denial is often used to spread antisemitic beliefs veiled as truth-seeking, when in reality it seeks to persecute Jews. The significant presence of Holocaust denial is troubling, especially when considering the recent spike in antisemitism over the last few years.
The second factor is that politicians manipulate lack of Holocaust education for their own advantage. Whether it is media attention, developing a household name or energizing voters, politicians on the right and left utilize Holocaust comparison to improve their political capital. It is true that Rep. Greene apologized for her Holocaust comparison, but it only took her three weeks to invoke the imagery again. Popular conservative commentator Glenn Beck equated conservative silencing on social media to a “digital ghetto.” The left also engages in this type of exploitation. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) compared migrant detention centers under the Trump administration to concentration camps. There’s also the frequent comparison of former President Trump to Hitler.
Far-right groups online frequently used antisemitic tropes in messages against coronavirus measures. Such attacks were eventually aimed at Israel, where antisemitic conspiracy theories accused the nation of manufacturing the virus for the benefit of Jews, repeating a similar line of antisemitic logic that Jews are evil and control the world. Regardless of one’s opinion on Israel, it can be agreed that applying antisemitic tropes to the Jewish State is itself antisemitic.
The solution to overcoming Holocaust misinformation and exploitation on Americans is more education on the Holocaust. Schools across the nation should adopt more robust curriculum to demonstrate the horrors experienced by Jews during the Holocaust. Such an understanding is necessary to recognize the broader role of antisemitism in world history and the world today. I’m not here to argue about COVID-19 measures or whether one political party is more antisemitic than the other. My purpose in this column is to denounce the lack of Holocaust education by Americans and how that infects our politics. I implore readers to educate themselves and become better advocates for the Jewish community.
Blake Ziegler is a junior at Notre Dame from New Orleans, Louisiana, with double majors in political science and philosophy. He enjoys writing about politics, Judaism and the occasional philosophical rant. For inquiries, he can be reached at [email protected] or followed at @NewsWithZig on Twitter if you want to see more of his opinions.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.