IGNORANCE AND INCOMPETENCE would be the charitable explanations of the White House’s intentional decision to omit any mention of the slaughter of 6 million Jews from an annual statement marking International Holocaust Remembrance Day, an event established, on the anniversary of the liberation of the death camp at Auschwitz, to remind the world of a genocide conceived and executed by the Nazis to exterminate European Jewry.
A passing familiarity with Nazi Germany’s history, with Hitler’s Final Solution or with modern manifestations of anti-Semitism would have enlightened the White House that while the Nazis’ victims included Roma, homosexuals, and mentally and physically handicapped people, among others, the Holocaust was, first and foremost, a calculated campaign of mass extermination carried out by a regime for which anti-Semitism was a fixed worldview and an organizing principle.
Another reading of the White House statement, which was a departure from those issued by both the Obama and Bush administrations, is more sinister. By stripping any reference to Jews from its brief statement, the Trump administration engaged in what Deborah Lipstadt, an Emory University historian, calls “soft-core Holocaust denial.”
The hardcore variety is depicted in the 2016 film “Denial,” about Ms. Lipstadt’s and Penguin Books’ legal defense of historical truth in a lawsuit brought 20 years ago by David Irving, a notorious British Holocaust denier who cast doubt on the existence of gas chambers and mass killings. “Soft-core denial is much more insidious and squishier but when you know something is not quite right,” she told us. “When you take out the identity of the victims, when those victims were specifically targeted, that is a form of rewriting history, and that’s what denial is all about.”
Trump administration officials reject any such intent, while doubling down to defend their statement as a purposeful act of inclusion. “I mean, everyone’s suffering [in] the Holocaust including, obviously, all of the Jewish people affected and miserable genocide that occurs,” Chief of Staff Reince Priebus said.
To expand the Holocaust’s meaning to include “everyone” is to obliterate history. By refusing to name the Holocaust’s primary targets — by positing an infinite number of victims — the mass incineration of Europe’s Jews is minimized and diminished. Right-wing governments in present-day Europe have similarly fudged the historical record.
The Nazis perpetrated a staggering number of unspeakable crimes — routine murders; human “medical” experimentation; mass rape — and Hitler’s victims were legion. In the former East Germany or Soviet Union, a visitor to a World War II museum could form the impression that communists were the Nazis’ main victims.
Yet the Holocaust was a unique crime undertaken on a vast scale, impelled by a focused, sustained hatred, specifically of Jews. That hatred, and that crime, must not be conflated with all Nazi hatreds and all crimes, nor gauzily recalled as one of many such atrocities, nor reimagined as a worn-out grievance. In an extraordinary repudiation of the White House on Monday, the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum felt compelled to restate the obvious: “Nazi ideology cast the world as a racial struggle, and the singular focus on the total destruction of every Jewish person was at its racist core. . . . As Elie Wiesel said, ‘Not all victims were Jews, but all Jews were victims.’ ”
Read more on this topic: