The Way to Stop Bad Holocaust Analogies Is Through Education | Opinion

It's no surprise that a global event of the magnitude of the pandemic has had a tremendous impact on our society, but it is concerning to see some of the ways in which that impact has extended beyond our physical health. For example, last year, we experienced an outbreak of blatant racist acts against individuals of Asian descent—misplaced anger stemming from questions of the coronavirus' origins. Later, debates regarding health precautions and restrictions further deepened the country's divide, as a public health conversation quickly escalated into a cultural clash.

Recently, we've witnessed a new, troubling development in a similar vein: the use of specious analogies equating our current public health crisis with the events of the Holocaust.

Holocaust vaccine
NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 28: Detail of an anti-vaccination patch resembling a holocaust badge as people protest the Covid-19 vaccine mandate for municipal workers during a protest at Gracie Mansion on October 28, 2021 in New York City. All city workers, excluding uniformed correction officers, are required to have at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine by 5pm on October 29th. David Dee Delgado/Getty Images

This practice is not new but it is increasingly prevalent and alarming. In the political arena specifically, people on both sides of the aisle have made comparisons to the Holocaust in growing numbers in debates and across social media. Typically, the goal is less to discuss the Holocaust and more to grab attention, using charged language to make a point about the matter at hand.

Too many are struggling with the simple truth that inaccurate analogies to the Holocaust simply distort and minimize the Holocaust. And whether this behavior is intentional or not, such comparisons are antisemitic.

The most recent examples involve conversations surrounding mask and vaccine mandates. In one recent incident, an anti-masker in Alaska protested by standing outside the Anchorage Assembly meeting doling out yellow Stars of David, a reference to the yellow stars required for Jews under Nazi rule. Another recent anti-vax event in Milwaukee included protesters equating the employee vaccine mandates of local health institutions to the plight of Jews during WWII.

In Kansas, anti-vaxxers are showing up to municipal meetings wearing yellow stars, portraying themselves as having equal footing with Jewish victims of the Holocaust. pic.twitter.com/buXTibFON8

— Chad Loder (they/them) (@chadloder) November 12, 2021

And a few weeks ago, this concept hit even closer to home: Our organization, the Philadelphia Holocaust Remembrance Foundation, received a call from someone asking us, an organization that memorializes victims of totalitarianism, to host an event protesting vaccine and mask mandates.

The person making this request was not seeking to offend us; they reached out in earnest, genuinely looking to create connections between the descendants of the Holocaust survivor community and antivaxxers, based on the flawed idea of shared persecution. Of course, we were taken aback and declined.

Unless they are truly ignorant of Holocaust history, even the most ardent anti-vaxxers and anti-maskers should understand the drastic differences between the Holocaust, which involved the murder of millions, and the public effort to mandate anti-COVID measures.

When people become passionate about any cause, they often feel compelled to convey their suffering, and that is the source of many of these Holocaust comparisons. But these analogies ignore the reality of what the Holocaust was: a decade-plus terror that featured progressively more brutal human rights violations and resulted in unprecedented mass murder.

The notion that the Nazis' ethnic cleansing of Jews and other minority groups is in any way similar to COVID health regulations is ludicrous. Cherry-picking portions of a genocide to compare to one's own plight only diminishes the horrors that actually occurred. Whether intentionally manipulative or born out of ignorance, these comparisons are incorrect, offensive, and qualify as Holocaust distortion.

So what can we do to fix this?

On the most basic level, the key is responding in real time. In today's fractured climate, the path of least resistance is to overlook offensive rhetoric, so as not to further escalate tensions. But problems are rarely solved by avoiding them, and the more appropriate response is to call nonsense out for what it is.

Beyond that, it's also important to remember that whenever ignorance is a driving force, education is the most powerful response.

And there's a lot of ignorance to go around. According to Time Magazine, 49 percent of U.S. Millennials and Gen Zers have seen Holocaust denial or distortion posts on social media or elsewhere online. With that in mind, resources to better public education surrounding the Holocaust must be made available to promote swift implementation in the classroom and beyond. Whether through training sessions with local teachers or community events, educational institutions and civic leaders must work together to bolster Holocaust education.

Holocaust study can be powerful, combining history and critical thinking skills—by studying Nazi propaganda, for example—and teaching students about the dangers of staying silent in the face of injustice. When done right, it should contribute significantly to the molding of informed, thoughtful American citizens who understand the importance of democracy, the power of ideas and the danger of tyranny.

Along with these benefits, better knowledge of what the Holocaust actually was will certainly limit the number of foolish comparisons that are made to it.

Eszter Kutas is the Executive Director of the Philadelphia Holocaust Remembrance Foundation.

The views in this article are the writer's own.