The Louisville Courier-Journal should be ashamed.
On the day designated by the United Nations as International Holocaust Remembrance Day, the Courier-Journal carried a joint op-ed, penned by five of its opinion writers, stating that, “Jews do not have a monopoly on persecution and atrocities” and that “Hitler was just one of many dictators.”
Amplifying this, the op-ed presumptuously went on to say that, “For one group, for one person, to claim that hate and violence is more important than another’s, only encourages more acts of violence against others.”
What seized these writers to make such an unfounded allegation, and in the case of Hitler, such a superficial reading of history? Have they not read the large canon of Holocaust literature and the work of eminent historians? My guess is that some or all of the writers of this piece have probably never read Elie Wiesel’s Night. Or watched the thousands of testimonies of Holocaust survivors about the barbarity they endured. Or have seen any of the growing number of documentaries and motion pictures which recount the horrors that began in 1933 and ended with the defeat of the Nazis and their allies in 1945.
We are not in competition to win a victimization sweepstakes. We remember the Holocaust because Hitler’s intention was to eliminate every single Jew, period. The industrial scale of the enterprise, with its round-ups, network of concentration camps, crematoria, slave labor camps, and a multiplicity of military and paramilitary units dedicated to carrying out the Nazis’ murderous objectives, nearly 80 years after it happened, remains chilling in its scope.
This happened not in one country in Europe, but in many. There was a carefully executed plan to achieve its evil objectives. And before its victims were killed, they were humiliated, publicly demeaned and dehumanized. The Nazis carried it all out with collaborators in the countries they occupied, who joined in the murderous frenzy to purge the world of the Jews.
Had my parents not emigrated from Russia and Lithuania earlier in the century, I would most likely not be here today to write these words. Or, put another way, had the allies not defeated the Nazis, and had the Third Reich brought its zeal to rid the world of Jews to these shores, I’d surely not be here, either.
As for Hitler, what were these writers thinking? Of course, there have been other dictators. The list is a long one over the past century and more. But Hitler was for many, the model. He set the standard for depravity and for a singular mission to kill millions of people. His obsession with the minute details of barbarism, his use of propaganda to mobilize the masses, and the military machine built not only to defeat external enemies but to play central roles in carrying out this genocide, were all set out by Hitler and his henchmen.
The Courier-Journal writers, by trivializing the immensity of Hitler’s crimes, do history no favors. Over the past couple of decades, we’ve already seen the trivialization of the Holocaust, with references to “Nazi-like behavior,” concentration camps, the Gestapo, and yes, genocide tossed about with abandon for everything or everyone who may not agree with us.
The Jewish people have no reason to apologize for expecting the world to take one day in 365, to commemorate the attempt to destroy our people. At the same time, one will find many from our community that have been and are at the forefront of calling out racism, prejudice, bigotry, violence and genocide, wherever they are manifested. Indeed, listen to the speeches of those delivered on International Holocaust Remembrance Day, and you will hear a similar refrain in each: “Can we not learn the lessons of the Holocaust?” To suggest we don’t care, or look away, or are interested only in pride-of-place is, pure and simple, a calumny.
I fear that the message of the Louisville Courier-Journal article will lead to a further dumbing down of history or—worse—an erasure of it. It took almost 60 years for the international community to recognize the need to remember the attempt to destroy world Jewry. That act was long overdue. Now, along with so many other tropes and canards that come our way, we are told not to be so selfish. And that the dictator who carried all of this out was no better or no worse than many others.
Holocaust education is an urgent priority today, as an escalating number of Holocaust survivors succumb to the biological clock. The editors of the Courier-Journal, and the op-ed writers, ought to begin their education by sitting down with survivors themselves, the people with the tattoos on their arms who experienced and witnessed the degradation and the brutality. Or perhaps a visit to Yad Vashem, Israel’s national Holocaust memorial, or the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Or a guided visit through the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp, or others in what was Nazi-occupied Europe.
Until then, their shocking and facile charges against the Jewish community will remain a stain on the code of responsible journalism.
Daniel S. Mariaschin is the CEO of B’nai B’rith International. As the organization’s top executive officer, Mariaschin directs and supervises B’nai B’rith programs, activities and staff around the world.