Trivializing the unbearable

The metaphor of the Holocaust is employed in debates ranging from abortion to ecology.

ingrid newkirk 88 (photo credit: )
ingrid newkirk 88
(photo credit: )
With all the major new information about the Holocaust that has become available over the past decades, it might have been expected that the distortion of that catastrophe would decrease. Instead, Holocaust manipulations have increased steadily over the last few years. The best known distortion, Holocaust denial, has experienced a revival due to the efforts of Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Also growing is Holocaust inversion, in which Israelis and Jews are portrayed as Nazis. Both these distortions aim at demonizing the Jews and/or Israel. But another growing Holocaust distortion is of a very different nature - trivialization. Examples include the use of terms like abortion holocaust, animal holocaust, environmental holocaust, tobacco holocaust and human rights holocaust. This trivialization is a tool for some ideologically motivated activists to metaphorically compare phenomena they oppose to the industrial-scale destruction of the Jews in World War II by the Germans, Austrians and their allies. None of these phenomena bear any fundamental resemblance to the genocide of the 1940s, which included targeting the Jews, demonizing them, excluding them from society, torturing them and ultimately destroying them. Cardinal Joachim Meisner, Archbishop of Cologne, for example, has compared women who have had an abortion to mass murderers like Hitler, Stalin and Herod. Pope John Paul II wrote that both abortion and the murder of six million Jews were the result of humans, under the disguise of democracy, usurping the "law of God." ANOTHER CATEGORY of Holocaust trivialization which has gained much publicity is comparing the slaughter of animals to the genocide of the Jews. Here one finds many of the most perverse abuses of Holocaust history. An extremist animal rights organization - People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) - has shown an exhibition "Holocaust on your Plate" in a number of countries. Some pictures juxtapose images of people in concentration camps with those of animals on farms, and piles of naked human dead with a heap of pig carcasses. The founder and director of PETA, Ingrid Newkirk, an American, wrote back in 1983 that animals were the same as humans, as in "A rat is a pig is a boy" and "Six million people died in concentration camps, but six billion broiler chickens will die this year in slaughter houses." After many protests, Newkirk and PETA ultimately apologized. Sometimes Holocaust trivializers just pick up on one of its specific events. In 1989, Al Gore wrote an op-ed in The New York Times entitled "An Ecological Kristallnacht," warning of an environmental disaster for mankind. In 2007, in a column in the Boston Globe, those who deny global warming were compared to Holocaust deniers. The American talk show host Dennis Prager responded that according to liberals, people must believe whatever the United Nations claims, but not in what any tradition says. Opponents of environmental measures also wield the Holocaust as an instrument. In 2004 Andrei Illarionov, an advisor to Russian President Vladimir Putin, compared the Kyoto Protocol, which calls for diminished carbon dioxide emissions, to Auschwitz. The tobacco holocaust is a less frequent example of Holocaust distortion. Considering that people smoke through their own free will, it doesn't bear the slightest resemblance to any key element of the Holocaust. IN 2005, US Democratic Senator Richard J. Durbin compared the alleged abuse of prisoners at Guantánamo to techniques used by "the Nazis, the Soviets and Khmer Rouge." Under strong Republican attack, he apologized, particularly to Holocaust victims and U.S. troops. Needless to say, if he were right, all the prisoners would be dead by now. Representative Steve King (R-IA) asserted in 2006 that "illegal immigrants are responsible for the deaths of 25 Americans a day through drug trafficking, drunk driving and sex crimes." He added that "this was a slow motion Holocaust." A different method of trivialization is through advertising and merchandising, both in the Western and Muslim worlds. Zara, a Spanish flagship clothing-chain company with over 1,000 stores, including some in Israel, sold in the fall of 2006 a handbag decorated with a swastika design. After complaints, the company removed it. Esprit, an apparel manufacturer headquartered in Germany, carried jackets with swastikas imprinted on the buttons. The company stated that it was an error of production and recalled both the jackets and the catalogs carrying their picture. The further away we get from the Holocaust the more examples of such trivialization are likely to proliferate. They have to be fought one by one, which is a time-consuming activity. There is one minor consolation, however, in that contrary to most other Holocaust manipulations, trivializations do not target the Jews and/or Israel, but rather use elements of the Holocaust for their own ideological, political or commercial agendas. The writer, chairman of the board of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, is currently writing a book on contemporary distortions of the Holocaust.