The world will soon pause to mark the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II and the Nazi Holocaust. The man whose vision of a thousand-year Reich, Adolf Hitler, brought about the death of more than 70 million people and the suffering and dislocation of hundreds of millions more across Europe and around the globe. Hitler’s genocidal anti-Semitism led to the “Final Solution,” the mass murder of 6 million Jews by Nazi Germany and its eager anti-Semitic European allies.
This week is Yom Hashoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day. Because of the coronavirus pandemic, most of us are left to reflect on lessons learned and unlearned from those horrific times.
Here is one question we are forced to ponder: What have our elected officials and other elites learned?
For some, it is that Hitler’s name still grabs headlines. So Hitler and the ultimate symbol of evil—the swastika—are used and abused, even in our time of global crisis.
In the midst of COVID-19, one protester on the steps of Michigan’s State Capitol Building held up a sign comparing the Democratic governor to Hitler. A car circulated with a poster depicting Gov. Gretchen Whitmer as Hitler.
The growing frustrations of many Americans had led U.S. President Donald Trump to tweet his support for the grassroots protest by Michiganders. Indeed, organizers disavowed that these few neo-Nazis had anything to do with their event, which they launched against what they said were unjustified draconian measures taken by the governor to blunt the pandemic and keep people safe.
Still, it’s important for the administration and leaders on all levels of governance, during this crisis, to take note that white supremacists are using the social-media outlet Telegram to link other governors from Washington, Oregon and Idaho with Hitler as well.
The president, who is trying to balance the protection of the American people with the desire to get the U.S. economy up and running, is regularly depicted as Hitlerian.
Just five days ago, a California mayor resigned after comparing the president to Hitler and the KKK.
Author Dr. Justin Frank, who also made the comparison, said of that Trump “could see dead bodies” from coronavirus “and step over them … .”
A German news magazine, Stern, featured a cover of Trump wrapped in an American flag, giving the Nazi salute.
The powerful, Democratic Congressman James Clyburn (D-S.C.) said, “Adolf Hitler was elected chancellor of Germany. And he went about the business of discrediting institutions. . . . Nobody would have believed it now. But swastikas hung in churches throughout Germany. We had better be very careful.”
And, last year, CNN reported that both Clyburn and Congressman Gerald Nadler (D-N.Y.) invoked these comparisons as well. While a respected New York Times op-ed writer opined he wasn’t comparing Trump “to Hitler the murderer, but to Hitler the liar.”
Others have invoked the comparison in the context of the immigration debate. From historians to civil-rights lawyers, to former presidents of our neighbor, Mexico, to pundits left and right.
It is a small wonder why younger generations here and around the world are confused about what was so special about Hitler or the Nazis, and why bother going back to the ancient times of the 20th century to study the Holocaust?
Because Adolf Hitler was not just “different,” he was the personification of unique evil. He was the ultimate icon of malignance that still packs a wallop—that still has the power to rally extremists to the cause of genocidal Nazism.
Every depiction of the “sins” of other “evil-doers” loosens our historical memory of World War II to the moral lessons of the Holocaust, and dilutes the staying power of the social, political and education vaccination that has immunized the world against a repeat of those total horrors.
But if the American people continue to swallow such poisonous rhetorical overkill, they may become inured to true evil lurking in the dark corners of our future.
Rabbi Marvin Hier is the dean and founder of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, its Museum of Tolerance and of Moriah, the Center’s film division. Rabbi Abraham Cooper is associate dean and director of Global Social Action at the Simon Wiesenthal Center.
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