Thank you, President Trump. Thank you for making Holocaust education even more difficult.
That is the only possible result of the brouhaha over what should have been an anodyne statement commemorating last week’s International Holocaust Remembrance Day.
“It is with a heavy heart and somber mind that we remember and honor the victims, survivors, heroes of the Holocaust. It is impossible to fully fathom the depravity and horror inflicted on innocent people by Nazi terror,” you said last Friday. “As we remember those who died, we are deeply grateful to those who risked their lives to save the innocent.”
Your statement, while truthful, neglected to identify the 6 million Jews among the “innocent people” targeted by the Nazis, a fact which reasonably could have been an oversight by an administration barely a week in office and busy issuing such executive orders as your recent indefinite immigration ban on refugees from Syria. But in the days since the Jan. 27 statement — made on a date specifically chosen by the United Nations for such commemorations, as it is the anniversary of the 1945 liberation of Auschwitz — your spokespeople have doubled down, tripled down, nay, quadrupled down on the statement, explaining it as an attempt to show inclusivity in the realm of Holocaust remembrance.
First came White House Director of Strategic Communications Hope Hicks, who told CNN last Saturday night that despite “what the media reports, we are an incredibly inclusive group and we took into account all of those who suffered.” Next up was White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, who said on Sunday on NBC’s Meet the Press, “I don’t regret the words. … I mean, everyone’s suffering in the Holocaust, including obviously, all of the Jewish people affected and the miserable genocide that occurred — it’s something that we consider to be extraordinarily sad.”
In the coup de grace of the whole affair, White House spokesman Sean Spicer said on Monday that anyone complaining — which by then included not only the left-leaning Anti-Defamation League, but the Republican Jewish Coalition, Zionist Organization of America and Commentary editor and one-time Reagan aide John Podhoretz, as well — was “nitpicking a statement,” which he termed “pathetic.”
“The president went out of his way to recognize the Holocaust and the suffering that went through it, and to make sure America never forgets the people that were affected by it and the loss of life,” which included “Jewish, gypsies, priests, disabled, gays and lesbians,” Spicer said.
More than 15 years ago, as a teacher at a Hebrew school at a synagogue right here in Philadelphia, I noticed a proclivity among young Jewish students forming their own opinions of the world to compare the Holocaust to other atrocities and genocides throughout history. At the time, Rwanda was in the headlines, but their logic also saw equivalence in Stalin’s purges and Pol Pot’s ruthless regime in Cambodia. Such was the natural outgrowth of the combining forces of the disappearance of Holocaust survivors due to age and the laudable desire, in the name of Holocaust remembrance, to fight genocide wherever it occurs.
It was relatively easier then to point out that the Holocaust was singular in its evil and the atrocities committed by those who engineered it. If we merely look at the number of its victims — 12 million — it actually pales in comparison to the between 20 million and 60 million people snuffed out by Stalin. But it was the Holocaust’s 6 million Jewish victims who will forever bear witness to Hitler’s Final Solution, a plan whose evil existed in the goal of exterminating an entire people from a continent and in its justification, that the Jews alone did not have the honor of being a part of humanity.
To deemphasize Jewish suffering in the Holocaust, which your statement and your underlings’ explanations effectively did, is to dishonor their memory and deny them the humanity in death that the Nazis denied them in life. But it also provides ammunition to those who actively seek to cast the Holocaust as just another stain on world history and who misappropriate its remembrance for their own political ends. Worst of all, it allows children everywhere to be unmoved by modern history’s most evil of chapters and thereby fail to learn its lessons.
Nothing less than another presidential statement will set the record straight.
Joshua Runyan is the editor-in-chief of the Jewish Exponent. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.