A Holocaust survivor wears a yellow star during a ceremony at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Historical events usually receive less and less public attention as time passes. Yet in recent years the Holocaust, its abuse and Second World War issues seem to have gained increasing prominence in public discourse.
Until several years ago it was still possible to summarize public mention of the Holocaust and related issues in an annual overview. This is no longer the case. Now all one can do is highlight several events over the past year or two which stand out from the multitude. This resurgence of references to Holocaust and WWII most probably derives from the rapidly increasing unrest throughout the world.
Holocaust and WWII issues have come up a number of times in the campaigns for the upcoming American presidential elections. Examples include the Republican candidate Mike Huckabee’s accusation that US President Barak Obama was marching Israel to the ovens. In the debate on gun control, another Republican candidate, Ben Carson, claimed that the Jewish people might have stopped the Holocaust if they had guns. This statement incorrectly instrumentalized Jews and the Holocaust in an internal American debate. Well-armed Western governments couldn’t stop the Germans in their early conquests, let alone the dispersed and disenfranchised Jews.
Jewish Newsweek senior writer Alex Nazaryan tweeted, “Ted Cruz has a strong ground game in Iowa,” attaching a Nazi-era photo of people carrying swastika-emblazoned flags. He afterwards half-heartedly apologized – but not to Cruz: “I deleted my tweet calling Ted Cruz a Nazi. Not fair to his totally decent supporters, as much as I dislike the man himself.”
In an American mosque, Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders criticized Trump’s call to bar Muslims from entering the United States, stating, “We must never forget what happened under the racist ideology of the Nazis, which led to the deaths of millions and millions of people, including family members of mine.” Since Trump did not call for the extermination of Muslims, Sanders’ statement became one of many which distort what actually happened in the Holocaust when applied in such contexts.
The autocratic Turkish President Erdogan, an anti-Israel inciter, is known both for positive references to Hitler’s governance and for being compared, himself, to Hitler.
He termed Hitler’s regime an example of effective government.
Several years ago, Israeli foreign minister Avigdor Liberman compared Erdogan to Goebbels.
A 2015 survey by the Bertelsmann foundation found that 41 percent of Germans believe that Israeli behavior toward the Palestinians resembles that of the Nazis toward the Jews.
The massive influx of refugees from the Middle East into Europe has also drawn mention of Holocaust-related issues. Lutz Bachmann, founder and past member of the German anti-Islam Pegida movement, was compared to Hitler. Bachmann in turn compared German Justice Minister Heiko Maas to Goebbels. At a Pegida demonstration in Dresden some participants expressed denial of the Holocaust.
Even British Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis has taken part in the distortion of the Holocaust. He and several other Orthodox rabbis visited a refugee camp in Greece. Mirvis said “being taken into a tent where people are resting I’ve been thinking about bunkers in Auschwitz where there was a very different end....”
In Austria an Iranian-born disc-jockey compared the incitement against minorities by right-wing party leader Heinz-Christian Strache to that of Hitler. Strache took him to court but lost the case.
Holocaust-tinged cursing of Jews continues. In Spain, Margarita Gokun Silver, a Jewish artist, wrote that a classmate told her daughter, the only Jewish child among 1,300 students, to “go to the gas chamber.” Gokun Silver added, “My daughter tells me that in her class’s WhatsApp group students routinely use ‘Heil Hitler’ as a greeting. They say that they’ve been taught – through their religion and communities – that Jews have been and will always be damned.”
Apologies for Holocaust-era misdemeanors are still forthcoming.
In 2015 both Luxembourg and Monaco apologized for their behavior toward the Jews. The Netherlands remains the one West-European country which refuses to address with any honesty its wartime government’s disinterest in the fate of the Jews and the collaboration of its bureaucracy with the German occupiers. At the beginning of 2015 Dutch Premier Mark Rutte once again deflected parliamentary questions asking him to for such an apology.
More than 70 years after the war ended, new Holocaust monuments are still under construction or being inaugurated, for example in the Dutch towns Baarn, Utrecht, Heemstede and The Hague. The monument in the town of Geffen however commemorated a local Dutch soldier who had volunteered for the German army and was killed in the war alongside murdered Jewish citizens. This led to protests.
In Boston, among other towns in various countries, Holocaust monuments were desecrated. Greece has a lengthy track-record for desecration of Holocaust monuments.
The monument commemorating murdered Jewish children in Athens was desecrated twice in 2015. In the Greek town of Kavala after much discussion a Holocaust memorial monument was inaugurated. It was vandalized two weeks later. In the Ukrainian capital Kiev the monument for the many murdered at Babi Jar was vandalized a number of times again last year.
The Anne Frank Foundation in Basel Switzerland commissioned a Dutch writing couple, Jessica Durlacher and Leon de Winter, to write a new theater piece based on Anne’s diary. A special theater was built for it. The piece premiered in Amsterdam and will also be shown in other countries.
The rights for Mein Kampf have expired. An annotated edition has now been published. Translations in many languages have become available over the past years. Hard copies have been sold in many countries, mainly Muslim states, for decades. Already years ago the Turkish translation of Mein Kampf had become a best-seller in the country.
These issues are a few out of many. One occasionally finds Muslims calling other Muslims Nazis. Trivialization of the Holocaust continues in many countries in different forms. At the same time research on the Holocaust period brings much new information to light. At this rate, Holocaust- related items in the public domain will continue to increase rapidly over the coming years.
The author, emeritus chairman of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, published The Abuse of Holocaust Memory: Distortions and Responses in 2009. The book can now be read free of charge on the JCPA website: www.jcpa.org.