- Anti-vaccine activists are comparing the Holocaust to COVID-19 vaccine mandates and pandemic restrictions.
- Holocaust survivors say they want the “trivialization” of the their suffering to stop.
- Three survivors spoke to Insider in advance of Holocaust Remembrance Day on Thursday.
Just days before Holocaust Remembrance Day, which is on Thursday, Robert F Kennedy Jr. told a Washington, DC rally that Anne Frank had it easier than those living under the US’s COVID-19 restrictions.
“Even in Hitler’s Germany, you could cross the Alps into Switzerland,” Kennedy, who has spoken out against life-saving vaccinations for years, said on Sunday. “You could hide in an attic like Anne Frank did.”
Frank’s poignant diary documented the teenager’s thoughts and fears and she hid with her family in an Amsterdam attic before she later died in a Nazi concentration camp.
With his comment on the most widely read book of Holocaust literature, Kennedy drew widespread criticism — even from his wife, the actress Cheryl Hines.
—Cheryl Hines (@CherylHines) January 25, 2022
On Sunday, the Defeat the Mandates rally also saw protesters donning yellow stars — forcibly worn by Jews during the Holocaust to identify them to the Nazis. It is just one example of the torrent of Holocaust imagery being debased by anti-vaccination campaigners and lockdown skeptics.
Days before that, Tucker Carlson likened vaccine mandates to Nazi medical experiments on human subjects in Hitler’s concentration camps. The Fox News host followed Republican congressman Warren Davidson of Ohio, who compared COVID-19 public health measures to the Holocaust.
These examples are from the past couple of weeks alone. The list is not exhaustive but demonstrates how frequently the opponents of the public health response to the COVID-19 pandemic have constructed a false equivalence to Nazi persecution and genocide.
And Holocaust survivors, speaking to Insider, said they are desperate for these sinister comparisons to stop.
‘It’s extremely disturbing to those of us who survived’
Joan Salter, a Holocaust survivor who lives in London, told Insider that the “complete lack of understanding” of those comparing the atrocities of the genocide to COVID-19 disturbs and upsets her.
“These people may well have heard of the Holocaust but clearly have absolutely no idea of what the suffering of the victims entailed,” she said.
Salter was born in February 1940 in Belgium, three months before the Nazis invaded the country, and moved to France as a baby. She narrowly avoided deportation to a concentration camp in 1942, when French Resistance fighters snuck her out of Paris in a laundry van under cover of darkness.
Her grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins did not survive and were among the six million Jews murdered during the Holocaust.
As a survivor, Salter said, seeing anti-vaccine activists wearing concentration camp uniforms and yellow stars makes her “blood boil.”
Yellow stars, or Judenstern, are frequently worn by militant unvaccinated Americans to falsely equate themselves with the Jews of Europe who were slaughtered by Hitler’s Third Reich.
—Sergio Olmos (@MrOlmos) January 23, 2022
“It is not just an insult to the memory of the six million dead but is extremely disturbing to those of us who survived,” Salter said.
‘How dare people make comparisons’
Estelle Nadel, an 87-year-old survivor who lives in Colorado, clearly remembers being forced to wear a yellow star during her youth in Nazi-occupied Poland.
Seeing the resurgence of this anti-Jewish symbol at political protests, she told Insider, is “very frightening” to her and makes her worried about how people are denigrating her suffering.
The Nazis murdered Nadel’s father, sister, and mother. Only she and her brother survived.
Those appropriating traumatic imagery for political reasons “really, really don’t understand” what happened, she said, and Nadel wants those doing it to learn more and appropriate less.
“How dare people make comparisons between the Holocaust and the pandemic,” she said.
‘You have to understand that we are still here’
“Seeing the Holocaust being trivialized and denied fills me with anger,” said Gabriella Karin, a Holocaust survivor from Slovakia who now works as a sculptor.
“You have to understand that we are still here,” she told Insider.
Karin spent nine months as a teenager hiding in a tiny apartment with her family during the Nazi occupation of Czechoslovakia, every day fearing that they would be killed.
Now, living in Los Angeles, she said she finds it “extremely, extremely disturbing” that lawmakers, anti-vaccine activists, and TV personalities are so often comparing the Holocaust to COVID-19 vaccine mandates.
“These people do not have an understanding of what actually happened during the Holocaust,” she said.
—Dennis Kosuth (@Dennis_Kosuth) May 1, 2020
60m online engagements linked the Holocaust and the pandemic
It’s “highly offensive, lazy and inaccurate” to try and equate central elements of the Holocaust to the pandemic, said Karen Pollock, the chief executive of the UK’s Holocaust Educational Trust, in a statement to Insider.
“Jews were marked out, rounded up to ghettos, and sent to their deaths in purpose-built extermination centers,” Pollock continued. “There is no comparison to be made.”
These comparisons, loaded with shock value, are becoming increasingly mainstream, according to the Combat Antisemitism Movement (CAM). The group’s chief executive officer Sacha Roytman Dratwa told Insider the situation is particularly concerning online.
Insider reviewed a study conducted by CAM and the online monitoring agency Buzzilla which scanned content across Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, news sites, and forums over two years between January 2020 and December 2021.
By isolating specific word combinations, the scanning identified more than 60 million online engagements (posts, comments, reactions, shares) in which the Holocaust and the COVID-19 pandemic were linked.
The research, part of CAM’s “CantBeCompared” campaign, in partnership with the International March of the Living, aims to end the minimizing comparisons.
The group said that the campaign urges international, national, and local authorities and social media companies to treat Holocaust trivialization as hate speech.
“The trivialization of the Holocaust and the appropriation and abuse of its memory has become so widespread during the COVID-19 pandemic that outright Holocaust denial is receiving a tailwind, the likes of which we have not seen in generations,” Sacha Roytman Dratwa said. “It needs to stop now.”
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