We should make a new rule and enforce it upon ourselves: “In political, historical and ethical debates, almost never compare anything to the Holocaust and the regime of the National Socialists in Germany” We should also gently but clearly remind others who “break” our self-imposed rule the reason we govern our own speech by it: ALMOST NOTHING COMPARES TO THE HOLOCAUST (Shoah.)
It can be instructive to make some comparisons but only to other genocides:
Armenian genocide: Beginning in 1915 Ottoman Turks systematically killed and deported Armenians. When it ended by the early 1920s, between 600,000 and 1.5 million Armenians were dead, with many more forcibly removed from the country.
Cambodian Genocide: Carried out by the Khmer Rouge under dictator Pol Pot, this genocide led to the deaths of between 1.5 and 2 million people from 1975 to 1979.
Rwandan Genocide: This genocide occurred in 1994 amidst a civil war “and was the most deadly genocide in the last decades” [of the 20th century.]”
Bosnian Genocide: From 1992 to 1995, an estimated 100,000 people were killed, 80 percent of whom were Bosnian Muslims at the hands of Bosnian Serbs. In July 1995, they massacred as many as 8,000 Muslim men and boys from the town of Srebrenica. It was the largest massacre in Europe since the Holocaust.
When we compare the Shoah, even to these genocides, we find that none comes close to the scale and systematic mass murder of six million Jews, and millions of others such as the Roma, Slavic peoples (especially Poles and Russians) Jehovah’s Witnesses, homosexuals, Communists, Socialists and those deemed to be biologically or mentally inferior to the Aryan ideal.
Therefore, when some compare a politician, a government or a law to the Nazis, they show a profound ignorance of history and minimize the enormity of the Shoah. Such false analogies also demean the memory of the murdered millions.
I have believed in and followed this rule for many years and often noted when others run afoul of it. Why am I writing about it now? At a recent Howell Board of Education meeting, some in attendance compared mask requirements to conditions in Nazi Germany.
Ira Thor is a member of the Howell BOE and Jewish. When he heard those comments, he reportedly admonished the crowd: “I’ve had family killed in Nazi Germany. Until you’ve had family killed, I don’t want to ever hear that in one of these meetings ever again.”
Good for Mr. Thor! We should never hear such absurd comments anytime, anywhere.
I suspect that when some people invoke the Holocaust, they actually do know that they are exaggerating a hundred times over. So why do some persist in making such ludicrous comparisons? They are angry, and so they invoke the strongest possible example they can, to make their argument.
In the case of the Howell BOE meeting, some residents oppose a statewide mandate to wear masks in school and believe that the government has no right to impose such a mandate. Certainly, they should state their opposition and their reasons, but leave the Shoah out of it.
But when they don’t, we should still seek to understand their opposition and engage in constructive dialogue. Thus, we may come to understand that some people view mask mandates as infringing on their individual liberty. Feeling angry and threatened by slippery slope type arguments, they feel justified in comparing a mask rule to the rule of the National Socialists. I know it will be hard to convince such people who feel so persecuted that their comparison is wrong and offensive. But we should try.
First, we concede, that wearing a mask is uncomfortable, it makes it harder to breath, speak, be heard and understand others. We miss seeing people’s faces. Indeed, facial expressions form part of our communication abilities. So, we agree on something.
Next, we point out that we accept the science that masks block much of virus’ transmission, so when we wear masks, we are protecting each other’s rights to health and life. As such, this critical objective and moral principal override the individual freedom to choose not to mask-up.
Now, those equating mask mandates to Hitler’s regime may argue that they dispute that science. Any further discussion on thatpoint will go nowhere. So, bring the discussion back to the false analogy.
Even if you believe masks don’t really help, they do not have the nefarious purpose, of say, the yellow star that the Nazis forced our people to wear. The analogy completely breaks down. Whereas the purpose of the masks is to preserve life, marking Jews had the opposite purpose. Forcing our people to wear something distinctive to set us apart from the majority has a long and sad history. For the Nazis, it was to make it easy for them to identify us and restrict our ability to make a living, go to school, shop or visit a park. Later, it made it efficient and easy for the Nazis to gather us, place us in ghettoes and eventually transport us to the labor and death camps. So, we ask, is that what face masks do? Do you really believe that their purpose is even a little like the yellow star?
Case closed. In our own discussions, even when we feel strongly that a rule or law is unnecessarily restrictive, let’s follow our own rule about making absurd comparisons. May we encourage others to do the same by sharing important and exceedingly well documented historical facts about the Shoah.
1 History.com, https://www.history.com/topics/world-war-i/armenian-genocide
Our World in Data, online edition: https://ourworldindata.org/genocides
3 United States Holocaust Memorial Museum website, https://www.ushmm.org/genocide-prevention/countries/bosnia-herzegovina/case-study/background/1992-1995
4 Asbury Park Press, online edition, September 27,2021 https://www.app.com/story/news/local/values/2021/09/27/nj-school-mask-fights-why-would-anyone-want-run-school-board/8417323002/?utm_source=app-Daily%20Briefing&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=daily_briefing&utm_term=list_article_thumb&utm_content=1171AP-E-NLETTER65