It All Begins With The Word – We Must Protect The Word

Forbidden speech is something we are taught as youngsters and is emphasized in grade school and high school. As adults-much of it falls by the waste-side because seemingly, as educated adults, most would know how to use and not abuse. Additionally, adult talk is more permissive than child talk, but simply different rules.

It has been said that actions speak louder than words. But, is that always the case?

Not all words should be allowed to be used out of their historical and factual content.  The usage of certain unacceptable words need to be deemed forbidden speech.

When it comes to speech -there seems to be some leeway, as speech seems to be a protected right of freedom and liberty, assuming one does not live in a dictatorship and communist society.

For those of us who are lucky enough to live in the lands of the free and the brave, wherever those places may be, there are still certainly certain types of speech that need to be forbidden.

There is a fine line between exercising our God given right of freedom of speech and saying something that encroaches and infringes on another’s right to their freedom.

The third of the Ten Commandments is the commandment of not using God’s name in vain.  It is deemed forbidden speech and violating this commandment would be a desecration of God’s name.

By comparison, but certainly not on the same level, there are certain terms of speech whose usage can certainly be deemed  a desecration onto others.

Using the term Nazi to describe someone whom one does not agree with or to whom one is angered by, or even as a joke to describe certain behaviors, certainly falls under this very category and should be put in the list of forbidden speech with grave consequences

The definition of the word Nazi is: a member of the National Socialist German Workers’ Party, which controlled Germany from 1933 to 1945 under Adolf Hitler and advocated totalitarian government, territorial expansion, anti-Semitism, and Aryan supremacy, all these leading directly to World War II and the Holocaust.

Along with this description we know that those who were Nazis, in order to accomplish their goals, engaged in despotic, autocratic, oppressive, barbaric, evil, subhuman behavior, so much so that the term Nazi has become synonymous with just those adjectives.

Shockingly there is another definition found to the word Nazi:

(often lowercase) Sometimes Offensive. a person who is fanatically dedicated to or seeks to regulate a specified activity, practice, etc.: a jazz nazi who disdains other forms of music; health nazis trying to ban junk food.

11 million people were murdered by the Nazis- 6 million were Jews-and they were my people. For those who survived – and their descendants, the usage of the term Nazi for other than a historical factual term is so repulsively, repugnant, abhorrent, creepy, distasteful, hateful, hideous, nasty, objectionable, odious, off-putting, revolting ,ugly, unpleasant, vile, abominable, animal ,disagreeable, forbidding, foul, gross, horrid, loathsome, nauseating, noisome, obnoxious, pugnacious, repellent, sickening, sleazy, undesirable, unsightly, and an absolute desecration of the memory of those victims who perished.

I firmly believe that there is a special place in Hell- for the Nazis. 

How can one then use that very word to demean or describe anybody? But not just anybody. It has been used by:

People who have broken the law and disagree with the law enforcers,

Protestors to describe those they are protesting against,

Presidential candidates describing opposing senators,

Students describing teachers,

Comedy shows using to describe neurotic people as the dictionary usage permits,

And so much more.

I would like to suggest the ban of the usage of the term Nazi, as a derogatory, or complimentary, or humorous term with there being severe consequences for going against this ban.

Those consequences should be: 

1.a fine equivalent to the price of a plane ticket to Poland for the perpetrator of the offense to engage in a week-long Massah to walk around the Nazi death camps and other sites to catch a glimpse of what a Nazi really was. One should see and imagine- and experience by envisioning and walking some of the walk where so many millions suffered the sheer brutality and evil of the Nazis.

  1. Mandatory educational classes about the topic with mandatory assignments and tests, in which failure would require repetition.
  2. Community service to add to remembering and never forgetting what the perpetrators of the greatest crime in humanity has ever done.

Perhaps then, the one who used this epithet would feel great remorse  even thinking twice that this is forbidden territory and word usage.

One needs to internalize that in certain countries around the world, where there was no death penalty for extreme crimes, but  the exception was for Nazis.

The famous Hasidic Kotzker Rebbe-Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Kosk  said: “Not all that is thought need be said, not all that is said need be written, not all that is written needs be published, and not all that is published needs be read.”

This certainly is the case with so much abhorrent and revolting speech that has been penned and even published and produced.

We need to draw the limit and begin with just one word. Even though it is such a small word, the power is so great as is the offense.  Many of us will wince in disdain at the very usage, but is that enough? 

We need to verbalize and pay forward the very idea of banning this usage.

The Holocaust itself has its very own language.  Among it terms that although apparent  and known to the many who have learned about it and know about it. The meaning is far different to those who experienced it. Ignoring improper usage of the word Nazi and all its forms, only paves the way to start making comparisons like equating  people who are less than stellar in our eyes as kapos, circumstances to aktions and death marches, or violent protests to Kristallnacht. Needless to say how despicable  these colorations are. These associations should be well beyond the scope of acceptable societal speech  and yet societies allow it to happen and be expressed, written and published.

My own sensitivity is not due to being a relative of a survivor- but simply from my Holocaust education- which began  from early films that I viewed in grade school to stories and poetry that I learned in Junior high  and high school courses, to receiving a masters degree in Holocaust studies and doing a bit of teaching. But mostly the sensitivity has come about from becoming a lifelong learner, by reading and continuously trying to learn more and still fathom the evil. Adding huge weight to my sensitivity was going on a  Massah to Poland last year.

This week marks my one year anniversary of the Massa Poland trip that I was fortunate to ‘get ‘in’ with an amazing group and a sensational guide- with us being the last group before Covid 19  hit the world.

And throughout all I saw, learned, felt and experienced in that jam packed highly emotional week,  I still remember vividly the parting words of our Auschwitz  guide.

He said that it all begins with the word. We must protect the word!

And so, if that is the case, how do we let that word go and be used flippantly, angrily and even comically.

This is so outrageous and must be stopped for the dual purpose of preserving and  sanctifying the  memory of  the victims who perished and as a future step in protecting humanity. On this upcoming International Holocaust Day, It behooves us all to commit to make a change in the very usage of the word Nazi and even ban all non historical factual usage.

About the Author
Phyllis Hecht is living in Chashmonaim with her family since their Aliyah- in 2002 from Queens, NY. She is a Judaic studies teacher with an MA in Judaic studies specializing in Holocaust studies. Phyllis has a Teudat Horaah in teaching English and a license in special education reading recovery. She is also a licensed debating teacher. She has taught business English in Israel and abroad and has taught Holocaust and Judaic studies classes in Israel. Phyllis is currently a High school English teacher and Debating coach at the Zeitlin High school in Tel Aviv.