Comparing coronavirus vaccines to the Holocaust

It seemed like such a preposterous notion that I did not want to go anywhere near this unseemly marriage of Holocaust and coronavirus deniers. But no one should remain silent when a German activist like Stefan Bauer compares coronavirus vaccines to Zyklon B, a cyanide-based pesticide used by the Nazis to exterminate 1.1 million Jews and others during the Holocaust: “Sometimes I see parallels between the Third Reich – and now this time. And I even see it when I look at the Holocaust…They used Zyklon B – now it’s the vaccine. Former[ly] they said, ‘You have to go to the shower.’ Now we have to go [to] the vaccine.”

We should all be shocked when Israeli activist Moran Eden Bergman responds in an interview to Bauer’s loathsome comparison: “Unfortunately the people in Israel – every time I try to do the parallel between what it was – they all jump and say, ‘Don’t compare, because what it was…Like you can’t touch it. It’s some holy cow that you can’t touch it.’”

No, Herr Bauer, they didn’t say that YOU had to go to the shower. They said that WE – including hundreds of members of my extended family – had to go to the shower.

And G’veret Bergman, you should be ashamed of yourself for echoing his loathsome screed. As should your parents and teachers. And I am ashamed as well. Because the education system in my country failed to educate you in the grim realities that are your history, and those of your nation and mine.

I take this exchange at a demonstration in Berlin on Sunday against Angela Merkel’s latest coronavirus restrictions very, very personally. I am not only a child of Holocaust survivors, but I am a public health and former Israel Health Ministry official, and I have personally, proudly and safely vaccinated thousands of children – generations of Israelis of all religions, races, and creeds. I did not tell them to GO get vaccinated. I invited them to COME get vaccinated. I sat on top of a sand dune in searing sun in an un-airconditioned semi-trailer waiting for the dozens of Bedouin parents and children who waited for hours in line outside to receive the shot that I gave them to save – not end – their lives. And I answered the call when our government sent me during the Gulf War to vaccinate hundreds of haredi children on Vizhnitz Boulevard in Bnei Brak. And I did not leave my own daughter, a granddaughter of Holocaust survivors, behind in a missile crisis to do that because I was trying to end anyone’s life.

How dare you imply that?!

Like all health professionals I know, I will gratefully stand in line for hours to get the coronavirus vaccine when it is deemed safe and effective, and I will urge my children to do the same for themselves and their children. Meanwhile, I am wearing my mask, social-distancing and following all other restrictions religiously. Because as Jews, you and I are commanded to save lives. Pikuah nefesh is a mitzva that takes precedent over all others, and one that you, Mx. Bergman, may have breached by trying to dissuade people from following coronavirus restrictions.

I do not know what it is like to die alone. But I do know what it is like to imagine one’s grandparents dying while gasping for breath and to know that no one lifted a finger to help them. Now I can help someone else’s grandparents by doing something as simple as wearing a mask, social-distancing and getting a vaccine. That is a privilege and an answer to my childhood prayers – one that we must all embrace to prevent the trauma and suffering that millions have already experienced while losing their family members to coronavirus.

I could go on and on about your description of the Holocaust – an unsurpassed deliberate extermination of millions – as a “holy cow.” But I will end with this. When my father returned to his childhood farm from Theresienstadt and Majdanek, his family’s cow was still there – grazing as it always had in a field that now belonged to his Christian neighbors. His parents and his brother Israel z”l and sister Sarah z”l, both toddlers, were not there. Nor would they ever be.

Never again!

About the Author
Varda Spiegel was Nurse-Director of the Bedouin Mobile Unit of the Negev, later serving as Maternal-Child Health Director for the Ministry of Health Jerusalem District. I am a grandmother, mother, and beachbum.
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