Whoopi Goldberg, co-host of ABC’s “The View,” was adamant on Jan. 31 that “the Holocaust isn’t about race,” saying “it’s about man’s inhumanity to man.” The Holocaust was only about “white people doing it to white people”—Jews and Gypsies, after all, “are two white groups of people.” Most commentators, though appalled by her claims, assumed that she was simply uninformed or somehow ill-informed. Yet her brief comments that morning and later that night included so much misinformation—about the Holocaust, race, ethnicity, Jews, Gypsies, the Ku Klux Klan—it appears that they reflect more than a lack of knowledge. At least some of her certitudes appear to have been absorbed from a counter-narrative long promoted by black militants.
On a television show in 1966, when the much-honored poet and playwright LeRoi Jones was accused of being an anti-Semite, he shrugged: “I am not a Nazi. The Nazis were white people. That [the Holocaust] was your family quarrel. … I was just a spectator.”
Apparently, Whoopi Goldberg agrees. As she stated, “This is y’all go fight amongst yourselves.” And like her, black militants have long blunted the uniqueness of the Holocaust, which they claim cannot compare with “the Black Holocaust” or “the Real Holocaust.” As Malcolm X, who remains an iconic figure, complained: “Now everybody’s getting wet-eyed over a handful of Jews … these Jews got the audacity to run around here and want you to cry for them.” Like Whoopi Goldberg’s claim over a half-century later, the Holocaust was just another instance of “man’s inhumanity to man”—which, Malcolm X added, only “happened to him [the Jew] in Germany.”
If Whoopi Goldberg had widened “The/Her View,” she would have recognized that at the time of the Third Reich, not only the Nazis but the Society of Jesus identified Jews as a despised, inferior race—not a “white group of people.” From the late 16th century until 1946—notably, after the Holocaust—an applicant to be a Jesuit priest had to prove that his family had no “Jewish blood” for generations. By the 1920s, he only had to show that his father, grandfather and great-grandfather had no drops of the Jewish poison.
On “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert,” Goldberg modified her narrative, allowing that perhaps the Nazis “had issues with ethnicity, not with race.” Even when she thought she was expanding her view, she assumed that the Nazis’ obsession with the “Jewish other” had nothing to do with Judaism. Indeed, the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum counseled, “Jews were not defined by religion, but by race.” To be sure, Nazis were determined to murder the atheist Jew along with the Orthodox Jew. But this, too, misses one of the roots of the drive to annihilate Jewry. It was not fortuitous, as Stephen H. Norwood shows in Prologue to Annihilation (2021), that SS guards in the Oranienburg concentration camp, for example, forced a rabbi and other Jews into a manure pit, ordering him to conduct religious services there—dramatizing the Nazis’ view of Judaism and Jewish prayer. (When he refused, they beat him until he was unconscious.)
Hitler aroused the German masses by enlisting them in a crusade to complete Jesus’s war against the Jews. He informed a Bavarian audience, “In boundless love, as a Christian and a human being, I read the passage which tells us how the Lord at last rose in his might and seized the scourge to drive out of the Temple the brood of vipers and adders. How terrific was his fight against the Jewish poison … .” In Munich, Hitler identified Jesus as a “pioneer” of the Nazi cause: “Christ has been the greatest pioneer in the struggle against the Jewish world enemy. … The struggle against the power of capital was his life’s work and his teaching, for which he was nailed to the cross by his arch-enemy the Jew. The task which Christ began … I will complete.” The Holocaust was never just “white people doing it to white people.”
Similarly, Whoopi Goldberg’s conviction that Jews, unlike blacks, could be safe—“You couldn’t tell who was Jewish. They had to delve deeply to figure it out”—derives not only from historical ignorance but from the militants’ narrative that maintains that unlike blacks, others could readily evade rejection and humiliation. Certainly, the admissions committees of elite American universities from the 1920s through World War II would have strongly disagreed with Goldberg. In their determination to impose strict quotas on Jews—preserving their institutions from their pollution—the universities and professional schools introduced the requirement that applications for admission must include a photo. To be sure, a few Jews might pass through the net, so they also required that applicants provide their “mother’s maiden name.”
And in Europe in the era of the Third Reich, when few Christian males were circumcised, it was not difficult to identify a man or boy as a Jew. In the United States, whenever in doubt, anti-Semitic Irish-American boys hunting for Jews demanded they unbutton their pants to see if they were “cut.” In case the Nazis had overlooked a Jew, the Catholic Church readily supplied them with their records to show who had not been baptized.
Equally uninformed was Goldberg’s assertion that “if the Klan is coming down the street and I’m standing with a Jewish friend, well, I’m gonna run, and they’ll get passed by most times”—again “because you can’t tell who’s Jewish.” That the Jew—any Jew—was in imminent danger from the Klan doesn’t comport with her narrative that only blacks need always fear for their lives. Certainly, those of us who are not confined to her narrative recognize that Jews became a central target with the “rebirth” of the Klan in 1915 when Georgia’s governor commuted Leo Frank’s sentence to life, leading many Jews to flee the state. Unlike Goldberg, they were not convinced that the Klan will pass them by “most times.”
Similarly, during the 1960s civil-rights movement, the Klan was on the hunt for the Jew. Even Malcolm X knew this and egged the Klan on. In 1961, he chose to warn Klansmen with whom he met that “the Jew is behind the integration movement, using the Negro as a tool,” which the Klan already believed. Like Goldberg, Malcolm X peddled misinformation. He explained, “The Jew played these roles [in the civil-rights movement] for a very careful strategic reason: the more prejudice in America could be focused upon the Negro, the more the white Gentiles’ prejudice would be diverted off the Jew.” That is, according to Malcolm X, the crafty Jews (unlike Goldberg) knew that the Klan could identify them, and so they acted to divert the Klan’s attention to the blacks. Of course, Malcolm X and his imagined Jews were wrong; their involvement in the movement intensified the Klan’s hatred and hunt for “the Jew.”
Goldberg’s identification of the Gypsies, along with the Jews, as merely “two white groups of people” once again reveals how ideology obscures historical reality. In the Nazis’ racial paradigm, the Gypsies, originally from North India, were “Aryans.” In 1941, however, the Nazis “determined” that less than 10 percent of the Gypsies within the Reich were “pure Gypsies”—the rest were Mischlinge, of “mixed blood,” mainly of the inferior Slavic type. The Nazis then divided the Mischlinge according to the percentage of “non-Aryan blood.” The Sinti (German Gypsies) were also separated from the Roma. In short, the war the Nazis waged on Gypsies was always about “race.” As a result, “pure Gypsies”—Aryans—were to be left alone. Pure Jews were to be murdered.
Goldberg subsequently apologized—“I’m very upset that people misunderstood what I was saying.” Here, too, she was mistaken. Many understood too well what she was saying. There was white-supremacist racism against black people; anything else was just, as LeRoi Jones taught, “your family quarrel.”
Eunice G. Pollack, Ph.D., is the author of “Racializing Antisemitism: Black Militants, Jews, and Israel, 1950-Present.”