Holocaust Comparisons: The Conceit of Ignorance
Douglas Murray is one of many public intellectuals who has noticed the deplorable tendency of those arguing against his positions, and those of other conservative proponents, to call him a Nazi. This is problematic for several reasons, not least of which is that Douglas is not a Nazi, nor does he espouse anything that could be remotely regarded as a National Socialist position. These accusations have become throw-away lines, along with fascist, racist, bigot, sexist, and other labels that should have considerable hitting power if well-aimed. This is a problem that doesn’t transcend political distinctions, primarily because those labelled communists and anarchists are proud to embrace that identity and they are perceived to carry less baggage than Nazism. This flagrant misuse of words must end. If we want our discourse around controversial political and social issues to progress towards solutions, we must be more scrupulous in our choice of vernacular and tactics.
Labelling someone a Nazi is a fallacy because it attempts to substitute an epithet for an argument. Even if one’s opponent actually were a Nazi, it would still be prudent to attack the root of their argument rather than dismiss it out of hand. This sort of argumentation might be perceived as a waste of time, but it builds the sinews of the dialectic that are crucial to the engagement of any citizenry with political topics.
In the same vein, many are quick to draw analogies between the Holocaust and other human tragedies. Like the Nazi comparison, comparisons to the Holocaust have become another throw-away, with little thought to the implications of what the comparison means. I will leave the Nazi label to one side now, because the Holocaust analogy is of more contemporaneous interest.
There really is no comparison to be made between the Final Solution and almost any other genocide you can think of. Unless you’ve studied the cataclysmic events that took place in Eastern Europe between 1939 and 1945, you really can’t have an appreciation for the uniqueness of the Holocaust.
Earlier this month in Poland, the Israeli representative on the UNESCO World Heritage Committee gave a speech and requested a minute’s silence for the victims of the Holocaust. The committee was sitting in Krakow and given its proximity to the most notorious Nazi extermination camp and World Heritage site, Auschwitz-Birkenau, (a distance of less than 70 kilometres separates the locations) the minute’s silence requested by the Israeli delegate was less political posturing and more sincerely expressed sentiment. The Palestinian Authority delegate refused to stand for the memorial (which, of course, is their right) and following this display, the Cuban representative requested a minute’s silence for the Palestinian civilians murdered by Israelis in the ongoing territorial dispute. The message was clear: the actions of the Israelis are comparable to those of the Nazis over 7 decades ago.
This comparison is grotesquely misleading and factually bankrupt.
The facts of the Israel-Palestine conflict are of consequence. I can’t resist saying that I think that if the religious element were removed, it would turn into a rather banal and soluble dispute over uninteresting sand, but I digress. The Palestinians are not the Jews of 20th Century Europe. Many are civilians attempting to live their lives in peace. But a significant number are supportive of anti-Semitic ideology. 33% of Gazans and 29% of West Bank residents support Hamas, according to a recent poll conducted by the Palestinian Centre for Policy and Survey Research. Hamas, the governing body of the Gaza Strip, is an overtly Islamist and anti-Semitic organisation. The Hamas Charter contains articles that Hitler would have had no problem endorsing. Article 7 contends that the Jews were behind every global conflagration from the French Revolution to, heinously, the Second World War. Article 22 endorses The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, a well-known Russian fabrication, as a real document and wholly indicative of the aims of perfidious Jews. Hamas denies that the Holocaust occurred and has regularly issued press releases to that effect.
If one is determined to view the situation as a dichotomy between the Nazis and their Jewish victims, Hamas resembles the former in Islamic garb. The violence that has been more or less continuous between Israel and Palestine is not one-sided. For the analogy drawn by the Cuban UNESCO representative to be even slightly persuasive, the Palestinians would have to be entirely innocent people, going about their lives and not provoking Israel in any way. Jews in Europe were broadly indistinguishable from their non-Jewish counterparts. They shared the same values, they participated in the same political institutions, they went to the same schools. The Israel-Palestine conflict is just that – a conflict. Both sides have sins for which to atone and both sides have legitimate grievances to be aired. This bears no relation to the attitude of Nazis towards Jews in the 20th Century.
The Holocaust is the very subject matter of the analogy and thus, I would be negligent not to examine it in great detail. To co-opt the words of Winston Churchill, “there is no doubt this is the most horrible crime ever committed in the history of the world.” Worse than slavery, worse than the religious wars of the 15th and 16th Centuries, worse than colonisation, worse than the Rwandan genocide. There is no event that approaches the cynical and self-aware process of this (what the Nazis considered to be) racial extermination. The Jews were not the only victims, of course. In a scarcely less distasteful display, the Nazis also exterminated tens of thousands of people with mental and physical disabilities in the T4 action, only halted after killing over 70,000 people because of public outcry in Germany. Homosexuals, Roma and Sinti (colloquially known as gypsies), communists, socialists, and anyone who didn’t conform to the model of the Volk were pitilessly annihilated. The Jews were, however, the single largest group of victims. The Nazis created special SS units called Einsatzgruppen (rough translation “task force”) for the specific purpose of killing Jews and other undesirables. These death squads trailed the German armies as they advanced across the Soviet Union, shooting hundreds of thousands of Jews and dumping their corpses in mass graves. Men, women, and children were all subject to the same fate. If you can stomach it, I highly recommend the Einsatzgruppen documentary on Netflix. It adequately captures the desolation of that time and place.
The transition from organised mass shootings to static extermination camps was consciously finalised at the Wannsee Conference in January 1942. This was a conference, chaired by the insidious Reinhard Heydrich, of the heads of Reich government departments to coordinate various processes for the “final solution to the Jewish question in Europe.” As a result of this meeting, the transition from shooting to gassing was solidified and fully implemented. The extermination camps of Auschwitz-Birkenau, Chelmno, Treblinka, Sobibor, Majdanek, and Belzec were all constructed as a result of this conference and began their ghoulish work in early 1942. Operating with hideous efficiency, these extermination camps killed Jews and other prisoners in incomprehensible numbers: 80,000 at Majdanek, 250,000 at Sobibor, 320,000 at Chelmno, 600,000 at Belzec, 800,000 at Treblinka, and 1.1 million at Auschwitz-Birkenau. Let those numbers sink in. Know that these people were transported from all over Europe. From France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Denmark, Norway, Germany, Austria, Czechoslovakia, and Hungary. Some countries, such as Denmark, were uncooperative and their Jewish populations were spared the wholesale deportations seen in places like Hungary. However, almost no European country’s Jews were untouched by the scourge of systematic expulsion and extirpation. Families were torn from their homes and loaded into cattle wagons. They died in their thousands on their way to the camps. If you’re starting to grasp the enormity of the human tragedy that was the Holocaust, then I hope you are also realising what an inaccurate, terrible and repulsive thing it is when someone compares it to literally any other instance of genocide or oppression. The Jews of Europe were unilaterally and systematically exterminated for the crime of existing. There is no analogy to be drawn between their sickening ordeal and the, no doubt hellish, existence of Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank.
I should state at this point that people can make whatever comparisons they want. It would be hypocritical as a free speech advocate to say otherwise. Furthermore, I think that the laws in Western Europe that criminalise Holocaust denial are moronic and counter-productive. People should be free to deny the Holocaust. Which is to say, they should be free to destroy their credibility in public. People can compare the Holocaust to any event they wish. However, they should remember that there are people who are more cognisant of the facts. I humbly submit that I am one such, and I will oppose, contradict and deconstruct these analogies to show them for the disgusting posturing that they are.