Like so many seeking to recognize International Holocaust Remembrance Day, the Harris County Republican Party posted a message to Facebook on Sunday.
It included a somber image of a candle and a star-shaped yellow badge, the symbol the Nazis forced Jewish people to wear during the Holocaust to identify and psychologically isolate them.
The GOP chapter then added its own note: “Leftism kills,” the caption began. “In memory of the 6 million Jews lost to Nazi hatred in the name of National Socialism. We will never forget.”
Many decried the post as offensive and accused the group of politicizing one of history’s greatest atrocities.
“Hijacking the holocaust for political points all while engaging in revisionist history is disgusting,” one Facebook user wrote.
The post echoed attempts in recent years by some conservatives — such as far-right political commentator Dinesh D’Souza — to cast Nazis as leftists because they were sometimes called National Socialists. However, historians widely agree that Hitler and his ethno-nationalist, fascist views fell on the far right of the political spectrum and that the Nazi Party was one of many right-wing extremist political groups born out of post-World War I Germany.
The Harris County Republican Party edited the post to remove “Leftism kills,” before eventually deleting the post entirely, the Houston Chronicle reported. Harris County, which encompasses much of greater Houston, is the largest county in Texas and the third-largest in the United States.
The Anti-Defamation League criticized the Facebook post on Sunday and countered more vehemently on Monday the local GOP’s attempts to tie the Holocaust to leftism.
“The Holocaust was born out of hatred for Jews, pure and simple,” said Jonathan Greenblatt, chief executive of the Anti-Defamation League and the grandson of a Holocaust survivor from Germany. “The notion that political ‘leftism’ led to millions of Jews being killed in the Holocaust is bizarre and false.”
However, the Harris County GOP later doubled down on blaming “Socialism” for the Holocaust, a systematic genocide in which an estimated 6 million Jews were killed by the Nazi regime.
“While the initial wording included the inartful phrase ‘leftism kills,’ it rightly sought to be a reminder of the dangers of Socialism,” Harris County GOP Chairman Paul Simpson said in a statement Monday evening. “A few accused the post of being anti-Semitic. It was nothing of the sort.”
Simpson said the Facebook post “expressed our determination never to forget the horror of the Holocaust.” His follow-up statement, however, omitted any mention of “Nazis” or “Nazism.” Instead, he warned against “socialism in all forms” and noted the GOP office had earlier reported a death threat to police because of its Facebook post.
A Harris County GOP spokesman did not respond to requests for comment or questions sent by email Monday. Later Monday night, another spokesman emailed a reporter saying he would be “happy to talk ... regarding the deaths threats sent in to [us].”
As history professor John Broich wrote for The Washington Post last year, despite historical evidence, conservatives have recently tried to pin Nazism to leftism:
Back in 2007, conservative pundit Jonah Goldberg introduced his “Liberal Fascism” by writing, in essence: I know you are but what am I? He was tired, he wrote, of having the right called “fascist” and promised to turn the tables, to show that fascism “is not a phenomenon of the right at all. It is, and always has been, a phenomenon of the left.” More recently, Dinesh D’Souza made the same argument in his 2017 book “The Big Lie: Exposing the Nazi Roots of the American Left” and again in his forthcoming film “Death of a Nation.”
“These very, very bad histories would hardly be worthy of dignifying with comment if our times weren’t so dangerous, with murderous white supremacists holding fasces-decorated shields in the streets of Charlottesville and neo-Nazi parties winning parliamentary seats in Europe,” Broich wrote.
In fact, many of the people taken prisoner immediately after Hitler rose to power were his political enemies, including “Socialists, Communists, trade union leaders and others who had spoken out against the Nazi Party,” according to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum’s encyclopedia.
"It was widespread anti-Semitism and Adolf Hitler’s obsessive hatred of Jews that led directly to the gas chambers in Europe,” Greenblatt said. “Hitler used Jews as the ultimate scapegoat, blaming them for a host of ills and casting them as disloyal and greedy. His anti-Semitic propaganda found a willing audience across Europe, which had imbibed anti-Semitic views for centuries.”
The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum has cautioned against using the Holocaust — including making Holocaust analogies — to make political points.
“The questions raised by the Holocaust transcend all divides,” historian Edna Friedberg wrote in a post for the museum’s blog last month. “Neither the political right nor left has a monopoly on exploiting the six million Jews murdered in a state-sponsored, systematic campaign of genocide to demonize or intimidate their political opponents.”