Wednesday, April 19th, 2017...12:02 pm

Editorial: We remember victims of the Holocaust

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The annual Twin Cities Yom HaShoah Commemoration will be held 7 p.m. this Sunday, April 23 at Beth El Synagogue in St. Louis Park. I urge all of our readers to attend this somber and moving event, which is sponsored by the Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas.

This year’s remembrance of the destruction of European Jewry by the Nazis and their henchmen takes place in an emotionally fraught time. We have seen an increase in anti-Semitic acts in this country and around the world. Anti-Semitic and xenophobic political movements are growing in Europe, and an ugly racist and bigoted faction — the so-called alt-right — has been emboldened in this country by the reckless rhetoric of the man who is now the U.S. president.

Across Europe, political parties, including some with ties to Nazi collaborationist regimes, are garnering increasing percentages of the vote: Jobbik in Hungary, Golden Dawn in Greece, the Sweden Democrats, the Freedom Party of Austria, etc.

In France, there is widespread concern that Marine Le Pen, of the far-right National Front party, could win the presidential election. Her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen was expelled from the party two years ago, amid controversy over his racist and anti-Semitic comments. The first round of presidential voting begins April 23.

Last week, Le Pen argued that France had no responsibility for the 1942 round-up by French policemen of Parisian Jews in the Vel d’Hiv, the bicycle velodrome and stadium. The Vel d’Hiv Roundup (the basis of the popular novel and film, Sarah’s Key) accounted for more than a quarter of the 42,000 French Jews sent on trains to Auschwitz. Only 811 returned to France after the war.

In contrast to the positions of recent French government leaders, Le Pen argued that the Vichy regime, which “was not France,” bore responsibility for the Vel d’Hiv Roundup.

As reported in the Jewish World in February, Le Pen also favors a ban on wearing of yarmulkes — a sacrifice Jews ostensibly would make for the cause of repressing Islam. “Maybe they will do with just wearing a hat,” commented Le Pen, “but it would be a step in the effort to stamp out radical Islam in France.”

And in this country, we have no moral high ground, as far as the Trump administration being deaf, dumb and blind to issues of racial and religious equity. You might recall that the president issued a Jan. 27 statement for International Holocaust Remembrance Day, which contained no mention of Jews or anti-Semitism.

One can compare that White House statement with President Barack Obama’s 2016 statement on Yom HaShoah, which began: “Today, with heavy hearts, we remember the six million Jews and the millions of other victims of Nazi brutality who were murdered during the Holocaust. With their example to guide us, together we must firmly and forcefully condemn the anti-Semitism that is still far too common today.”

When Jewish groups across the spectrum condemned the omission of Jews from Trump’s Jan. 27 statement, the president’s representatives rushed to defend the benighted proclamation. “Despite what the media reports, we are an incredibly inclusive group and we took into account all of those who suffered,” Hope Hicks, a White House spokesperson, told CNN.

White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus also defended the statement’s wording: “I mean, everyone’s suffering in the Holocaust including obviously all of the Jewish people affected, and the miserable genocide that occurred is something that we consider to be extraordinarily sad and something that can never be forgotten.”

And Press Secretary Sean Spicer, who distinguished himself from day one as a person ready to spew outrageous lies on Trump’s behalf, called Jewish criticism of the statement “ridiculous,” “pathetic” and “nitpicking.” Spicer added, “The president went out of his way to recognize the Holocaust.”

For that, I guess, we should be eternally thankful.

And Spicer stepped into it again recently, with his attempt to compare Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad with Hitler. Such comparisons should be avoided; and you’d think a communications professional would be hip to this. But, no.

In defense of President Trump firing a barrage of Tomahawk cruise missiles into a Syrian air base, following the Assad regime’s poison gas attack on civilians in Idlib province, Spicer declared: “We didn’t use chemical weapons in World War II. You know, you had someone as despicable as Hitler who didn’t even sink to using chemical weapons.”

When a reporter obliquely inquired about the Hitler and “chemical weapons” comment, Spicer seemed to realize that he had forgotten that the Nazis used hydrogen cyanide (Zyklon B) to gas women, children and the elderly at Auschwitz-Birkenau. The industrialized murder system killed some 6,000 Jews per day at the height of the deportations.

When Spicer tried to clarify his remarks, he only made things worse.

“I think when you come to sarin gas, [Hitler] was not using the gas on his own people the same way that Assad is doing,” Spicer said, and then mentioned that the gassing took place in “Holocaust centers,” in reference to the Nazi death camps.

As the New York Times reported, 160,000 to 180,000 Jews killed by the Nazis were from Germany, according to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

Spicer eventually apologized for his inapt comparison.

“Historically, it’s just wrong,” said Deborah Lipstadt, eminent Holocaust historian and a professor at Emory University in Atlanta, regarding Spicer’s comments. She told the New York Times: “It’s, at the best, not thought out, and at the worst, shows a latent anti-Semitism.”

When we look to Washington and around the globe, we must conclude that vile anti-Semitism is still alive in this world. Apart from virulent manifestation of anti-Semitism, along with racism and assorted other bigotry, there is a dangerous obtuseness about the crimes of the past.

The philosopher George Santayana (1863-1952) warned, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

We cannot intellectually encompass the enormity of repression in the Shoah, which continues to ripple through time and space. However, in the stories we hear during the Yom HaShoah commemoration, we can apprehend the pain and loss felt by an individual. And we can rededicate ourselves to oppose contemporary manifestations of hate.

— Mordecai Specktor / editor [at] ajwnews [dot]com

(American Jewish World, 4.21.17)

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