Of everything that I have learned about the Holocaust, nothing has struck me more than a line from one of Hitler’s speeches that I first heard in the sixth grade. My Hebrew school teacher, Ms. Adler, quoted the infamous dictator as he prepared his military command for the impending genocide: “Who speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?”
I read two extremely disturbing articles this morning that brought this quote to mind. The first, in Saudi newspaper Al Arabiya, quoted Turkish diplomat Altay Cengizer as saying Turkey was preparing to reiterate its denial of the Armenian genocide (during which one and a half million Armenian civilians were murdered at the command of the ultranationalist Ottoman government), as its 100th anniversary approaches. The second, in Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz, told of American rapper Nicki Minaj’s new music video, a shockingly obvious display of Nazism.
In the video, which debuted on the anniversary of Kristallnacht (as noted by the Anti-Defamation League), Minaj glorifies herself as a Hitler-like military dictator, surrounded by banners, tanks, military airplanes, rows of stoic troops (each wearing a red armband), and other symbols that one might see in a German propaganda film from the 1930s and ‘40s. Moreover, among lyrics that are generally classically misogynistic, the line, “I believe in something; I stand for it” is uttered by none other than Aubrey Drake Graham (commonly known as “Drake”): a Jew.
The two other singers featured in the video are Chris Brown, whose violence (not only in his music, but also in his personal life) is well known but apparently excused by his listeners, and Dwayne Michael Carter, Jr. (Lil Wayne), who has himself been incarcerated for criminal offenses during his musical career.
I am deliberately refraining from including a direct link to the video in this article, although it can be found in Ha’aretz, because I do not want to give it any more viewership than it has already received. Minaj and her cronies should not benefit from this display of hatred. Despite this concern, however, I thought it important to write about this topic because it is still so relevant in today’s world.
The reasons that we remember the Holocaust go far beyond its historical significance, and even beyond the inherent value of mourning human beings (not only Jews, but also people of color, people living with certain medical conditions, members of the LGBTQ community, and others) who have been slaughtered. Rather, the memory of the genocide offers valuable lessons, the importance of which cannot be overstated, so that we can prevent any future attempts at similar crimes. Even as I write, minority ethnic and religious groups are being massacred in Iraq, Syria, Somalia, the Central African Republic, and elsewhere*. Jews, too, are at risk once again, as the Nazi-inspired Jobbik party rises in Hungary and Golden Dawn gains popularity in Greece, and as Iran strives to achieve a nuclear weapon that it has all but pledged to use against Israel. This video invites Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khameini, himself a Holocaust denier, to say to his commanders, “Who speaks today of the annihilation of the European Jews?”
When the Holocaust is trivialized like this, whether in jokes, in cheap propaganda, or in music videos, our ability as a global community to recognize and apply its lessons suffers. We must not glorify the Nazis, we must not joke about them, we must not take advantage of their crimes for commercial gain, and we must not forget what they did. This article should not be read merely as a condemnation of a particular music video; Minaj’s aggressive insensitivity is only one example of a broader, unacceptable trend of failing to treat the lessons of the Holocaust with sufficient respect. I hope that my readers will hear this as a call to preserve and act upon those two crucial words that are so often repeated and yet so frequently disregarded: never again.
*While these situations are not occurring on the same scale as the Holocaust, we still must apply the lessons of the Holocaust to protect the lives of our fellow human beings. That is why it is so important to remember.