Is it fair to compare things like the pandemic to the Holocaust? Maybe not.
Antisemitism occurs in subtle ways. One of the most common examples? Comparing everything to the Holocaust.
Over the past year, I have seen many posts on social media about humanitarian crises such as the pandemic, the Black Lives Matter movement, and natural disasters such as the Australian bushfires and the hurricanes in Central America. All of these issues are extremely important and deserve as much attention as we can give them. However, one thing needs to be said: stop comparing life-taking events to the Holocaust.
The Holocaust is often used as a metaphor for a tragic event or used in place of the word “genocide”, which is inappropriate as the Holocaust was a specific, actual genocide and shouldn’t be used as a mere label. Comparisons to the Holocaust may be okay when discussing it as a preventative measure for current or future genocides (i.e with reference to the Xinjiang internment camps, an issue that has many parallels to the Holocaust), but many other comparisons are highly offensive; comparison often infers that one situation is worse than the other, and genocides should not be compared to each other as doing so minimises the deaths of those involved.
The Holocaust was a genocide that occurred only 80 years ago and targeted the Jewish religion and ethnicity (along with those who were queer or disabled). It took the lives of over six million people – the exact number is uncertain, as records were not precisely kept, which is an indication of how little people cared about the lives that were taken. The Holocaust had litte awareness drawn to it when it was happening, and even today people deny its occurrence. Antisemitism is one of the largest causes of religious hate crime in the world, proving that the effects of the Holocaust are still affecting Jews today.
So, comparing humanitarian issues to the Holocaust is damaging and offensive, regardless of what the issue is. In issues of natural disasters, this comparison reflects ignorance on what the Holocaust actually was and minimises the hateful genocide that caused the murder of millions of Jews. A natural disaster does not discriminate by religion or ethnicity, doesn’t stem from hate, doesn’t willingly torture its victims because it doesn’t believe they deserve to live, and has never come close to killing even one million people, let alone six million. The bushfires, hurricanes, and earthquakes that occurred over the last year were horrendous tragedies; however, the deaths of these people were caused by issues relating to the climate crisis, which is why they should be talked about in their own right instead of in comparison to the Holocaust. By comparing natural events to genocide, you are refusing to acknowledge the actual causes of both.
As for comparing the coronavirus to the Holocaust, my previous points hold true; the deaths from the virus are not directly caused by discrimination and hate, as the virus does not choose those it affects. While the death toll of Covid-19 has reached over two million, the deaths are not mainly from one race, religion, or ethnicity, proving that the coronavirus is not a genocide. Moreover, the tragedy of the coronavirus is something that is being acknowledged and worked on at a global level, whereas the Holocaust persisted for four years without global acknowledgement. Comparing a virus to genocide is beyond inappropriate as it diminishes the hatred behind the deaths of those in the Holocaust, as well as ignoring the oppression and hate that descendants of the victims still face today. I do not believe that hate crimes will be committed against descendants of Covid-19 sufferers 80 years from now, which is the case for most Jews.
The BLM movement might seem more applicable to the Holocaust as it is a human rights issue that stems from systematic and institutional racism; however, it still shouldn’t be compared to the Holocaust in terms of severity. Many Black people have died at the hands of racism, often from police brutality, hate crimes, and the prison system (to mention a few). This issue has persisted for centuries and has only been addressed recently at a global level. Many argue that racism towards Black people is a genocide due to the number of deaths that have occurred due to the history of America. However, I still think that this issue is one that should not be compared to the Holocaust. Firstly, this is an issue of racism, whereas the Holocaust targetting religious and ethnic identities; the discrimination in both scenarios is different. Secondly, the genocide against Black people in the U.S. is an institutional issue that has been ongoing for centuries; racism is rooted in American history, making it a different form of oppression than the kind that blossomed during the Holocaust. The effects of antisemitism and racism affect Jews and POC differently as Jews today do not face the same kind of discrimination that Black people face. Both issues are valid and important, and both situations have taken the lives of millions; however, they should not be compared to each other since saying that one genocide is worse than the other reduces the severity and tragedy of the “lesser” one. Both should be talked about in their own light.
The genocide currently happening in the Xinjiang interment camps is an example of something that could be talked about with reference to the Holocaust as many of the tortuing and murdering methods used are ones that are being repeated from the Holocaust. When studying the Holocaust in school, many people would say “I can’t imagine being alive during the Holocaust. I don’t know how people just sat around and did nothing while millions died”; discussing the parallels between the Holocaust and the Xinjiang camps allows for people to realise that another genocide is currently happening. However, when making these comparisons, it is important to discuss the Xinjiang genocide as its own tragedy and avoid comparing the severity of the two (e.g. “this is worse than…” or “this is almost as bad as…”) as these statements are unnecessary and diminishing.
The Holocaust is often used lightly in conversation as an event by which other life-taking events can be compared to, and it needs to stop. Jews face enough antisemitism as it is, and hearing about how a natural disaster is “almost as bad as the Holocaust” is hurtful and diminishing. The comparisons become so frequent that the events of the Holocaust seem unimportant; the Holocaust is talked about so much without people doing research to understand what actually happened during it. So please stop using the Holocaust as a mere label to put things into perspective, and take the time to research and fully understand the severity of the current events around us.
Editorial note: The number six million was implied to mean six million Jewish people, the writer acknowledges that many non-Jewish people were killed along homophobic, ableist, and racial lines.