the do's and don't's of Holocaust comparisons

DEFINE THE HOLOCAUST 

YES!

The Holocaust can be a powerful learning tool. However, in order for said education to be effective, we must first begin by defining what the Holocaust was and wasn’t. 

The term “Holocaust” describes the genocide of 6 million Jewish People and ~500,000 Roma People at the hands of the Nazis and their collaborators. Jewish People, in particular, were targeted under the Nazi policy known as The Final Solution. The Nazis sought to completely exterminate the Jewish and Roma People. 

Other Nazi policies, such as their involuntary euthanasia program or their treatment of POWs, were not a part of The Final Solution and are thus not considered to be a part of the Holocaust. 

 

TRIGGERING IMAGERY  

NO. 

Placing triggering imagery side-by-side to a current event (for example, posts placing photos of piles of Jewish jewelry during the Holocaust next to images of piles of rosaries in American immigration detainment camps) is not only triggering for Jewish People but also draws false equivalencies (i.e. undocumented immigrants are not only NOT targeted for extermination for being Catholic, but there are Jewish, Muslim, and undocumented immigrants of many other faiths). 

Using Holocaust imagery for shock value is inappropriate, triggering to Jewish People and Roma People, and disrespectful. We can discuss terrible current events and policies without abusing Jewish and Roma trauma. 

 

CONTEXTUALIZING INFLUENCE

YES!

Like everything else in history, the Holocaust did not occur in a vacuum. It was the result of two millennia of European (and North African) antisemitism. 

It’s important to learn of the various events in history that inspired Nazi policy. For example, Nazi racial laws drew heavily on Jim Crow laws in the United States. There are conflicting reports that Hitler may have made reference to the Armenian Genocide, though the veracity of that quote is disputed by historians. Finally, many of Hitler’s campaigns were inspired by the genocide of native peoples in the United States. 

 

COMPARING SUFFERING 

NO.

Comparing the suffering of Jewish and Roma People to the suffering of someone else — whether human or non-human — is absolutely inappropriate. Suffering cannot be mathematically measured and thus should not be compared. 

Politicizing the suffering of Jewish and Roma People to promote a cause is dehumanizing and disrespectful. 

Even more dehumanizing is comparing the suffering of Jewish and Roma People to the suffering of animals. While animals are certainly sentient beings, the slaughter of animals for consumption cannot be compared to the Nazi policy of complete and total extermination of European Jewry and Roma. Dehumanization is a tactic of the oppressor. The Nazis compared Jewish People to vermin — and in drawing false equivalences between Jewish and Roma People to cattle, poultry, etc., you are doing the exact same thing. 

 

UNDERSTANDING POLICY 

YES!

Educating yourself about Nazi policies is a great way to learn from the Holocaust. What led to said policies? In which way were those policies harmful? What can we do to prevent the enactment of similar policies today and in the future?

It’s important to discuss SPECIFIC policies as opposed making generalized overarching statements. For instance, it’s more appropriate to say “X policy was influenced by/mirrors Y Nazi policy” than to say “X event is just like/worse than the Holocaust.”

As discussed in a previous slide, the Nazis were influenced by many horrific policies that came before them. In learning about Nazi policies, we can work to prevent the enactment of harmful policies in the future. 

 

OPPRESSION OLYMPICS 

NO.

Something we often hear is “why do people care about the Holocaust but not X, Y, Z?” (a common example is “why do we learn about Hitler but not King Leopold II?”)

This is problematic because it trivializes and de-centers Jewish and Roma suffering (by implying so and so’s suffering was worse), ignores the reasons WHY we are taught of the Holocaust (i.e. American military propaganda), and completely disregards that ignorance about the Holocaust is a growing and concerning trend. It also makes the implication that Jewish People talk about the Holocaust too much or “cry antisemitism,” a common antisemitic trope. 

And while we’re at it: people don’t “care” about the Holocaust just because “Jews are white.” Such claims are offensive, disregard Jewish identity, and ignore the fact that Black Jews and other Jews of color exist. To Hitler, Jewish People were THE inferior race. 

 

CENTERING JEWS & ROMA

YES!

Discussions of the Holocaust should be led by Jewish People and Roma People only, as we were its victims. Our populations were decimated in the Holocaust — about 2/3s of Europe’s Jews and 25-50% of Roma died in the Holocaust — and a couple of generations later, we still suffer from intergenerational trauma that affects our everyday lives. 

About 1/3 and 25% of Jewish Holocaust survivors in the United States and Israel, respectively, live in poverty. 

When people make Holocaust comparisons, they are divorcing us from our very own trauma without consent. 

 

INFLAMMATORY LANGUAGE  

NO.

 

Believe it or not, words can have meaning outside of their dictionary definitions. That’s because words don’t exist in a social, historical, or cultural vacuum. 

Just because the word holocaust with a lower case “h” has a dictionary definition outside of the Holocaust doesn’t mean that the social, historical, and cultural definition of the term isn’t clear — and what the term describes is the genocide of 6 million Jewish and ~500,000 Roma People.

We know you use the term “holocaust” to refer to issues like animal agriculture to “shock” people into action. Using the word that describes our genocide to be inflammatory is disrespectful to our trauma and memory. We are not a tool for your cause.