International Holocaust Remembrance Day was created by the United Nations in 2005 to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the Red Army’s liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau extermination camp on January 27, 1945. But on a deeper level, this solemn day is supposed to memorialize the Holocaust and combat Holocaust denial and antisemitism.
It’s painfully true that Europeans like Polish Catholics, German communists, captured Red Army soldiers and Romas were also victims of Adolf Hitler’s fascist regime, but the chief targets of Nazi Germany’s industrial scale genocide were primarily Jews. During the course of World War II, six million Jews perished, having been shot, gassed and starved to death in multiple locales around Nazi-occupied Europe.
It was therefore surprising and troubling that the new Trump administration chose to observe this day by issuing a 117-word statement that omitted any mention whatsoever of Jews and avoided the issue of antisemitism, which underpinned the Holocaust. The statement from the White House, drafted by Boris Epshteyn, a Jewish member of Trump’s staff, was appropriate and well-meaning up to a point. It honored the “victims, survivors and heroes” of the Holocaust. It denounced “the depravity and horror inflicted on innocent people by Nazi terror.” And it promised “to ensure that the forces of evil never again defeat the powers of good.”
These were fine, upstanding sentiments, but they missed the mark by virtue of this glaring omission.
Nazi ideologues, in their zeal to dominate Europe and eliminate “inferior” Europeans, singled out Jews for special maltreatment. German Jews were the first to feel the horrible effects of Hitler’s master plan for a Judenrein Germany. With the outbreak of the war and the swift and brutal German occupation of countries like Poland, France and Greece, Jews found themselves in immediate jeopardy. Jews were deprived of their civic and property rights, demonized, marginalized, terrorized, ghettoized and, in the final phase, sent to their deaths in concentration camps like Auschwitz, Treblinka and Sobibor.
Yet the Nazi onslaught also affected Christians. Three million Catholics in Poland were killed by the Nazis and their collaborators. Millions of Russian civilians died at the hands of the German invaders. And in the rest of Europe, where the Nazi jackboot could be heard loud and clear, civilian populations were murdered en masse.
Europe was indeed a charnel house from 1939 to 1945.
In the final analysis, however, Jews were the ones who most keenly felt the brunt of Nazi cruelty and oppression. Jews were humiliated, tortured and murdered simply because of their religious faith. They were not persecuted because of their political beliefs. They were hounded and killed because they were Jews. Period.
This is something that previous American presidents instinctively understood. George W. Bush, in 2007, said: “We must continue to condemn the resurgence of antisemitism, that same virulent intolerance that led to the Holocaust …” Barack Obama, Trump’s predecessor, noted that “six million Jews and millions of other people” fell victim to the Nazis.
Regrettably, the inexperienced Trump administration failed to grasp this inescapable fact when it issued its statement in support of International Holocaust Remembrance Day. As the pundit John Podhoretz correctly wrote, “The Final Solution was aimed solely at Jews. The Holocaust was about Jews.”
Donald Trump’s chief of staff, Reince Priebus, only aggravated matters by stubbornly sticking to a lame White House script. “I don’t regret the words,” he said in a reference to the obvious omission. “Everyone suffered (in) the Holocaust, including all of the Jewish people …”
Trump’s spokesperson, Hope Hicks, committed the same mistake, claiming the White House had taken “into account all of those who suffered.”
The Holocaust cannot be universalized. It was clearly a Jewish tragedy. The Nazis murdered Christians by the millions, but not because they were Christians per se. Jews, on the other hand, were held to far different standards. It would appear that the Trump administration was oblivious to this distinction. By airbrushing out the integral Jewish dimension of the Holocaust, the White House engaged in a dishonest practice that was all too common in the now-defunct Soviet Union and among its compliant allies in Eastern and Central Europe.
It’s puzzling how such a blatant and egregious oversight could have occurred when two of Trump’s closest advisors, Jared Kushner and Stephen Miller, are Jewish.
Tags: Holocaust omission