Despite how disastrous October 7 was, as International Holocaust Remembrance Day approaches, we should do nothing that would erode the understanding of the uniqueness of the Shoah, even in light of this latest monstrous assault on the Jewish people.
Ever since the tragic day of October 7, there has been a tendency to invoke the Holocaust as point of comparison to the barbaric behavior of Hamas that day. This includes comments by far-right Israeli Minister Bezalel Smotrich, who referred to Gazans as “Nazis”, and the decision by Israeli UN Ambassador Gilad Erdan to wear a yellow star during his UN appearances.
Those of us who have been critical of analogies to the Holocaust both because they inevitably minimize what the Shoah was about and because it is disrespectful to the six million Jews who were murdered, should apply the same logic in the case of October 7.
It is, of course, factual to say that that day was the worst for the Jewish people since the Holocaust.
It is also helpful to point out that some of the logic behind the terrorist attack shared thinking of the Nazis. Like the Germans, Hamas, in their charter, depict Jews as the party responsible for every major evil in the world since the French Revolution. The charter also references the Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion, that fraudulent document which claimed to be Jewish plans to take over the world.
Still, evidence abounds of the diminution of understanding and recognition of what took place under Nazi rule between 1933 and 1945. Polls indicate that very few young people here and abroad have any knowledge of the Shoah. And as most survivors are passing away, not only will it be more challenging to communicate powerfully what the Holocaust was about, it will also open a path for Holocaust deniers.
Moreover, the Holocaust is being diminished right before our eyes as the war in Gaza continues. The assault on Israel at the International Court of Justice, thanks to a submission by South Africa accusing Israel of genocide, is not only a complete distortion of what the current situation is, but also inevitably undermines the understanding of the Shoah.
It does so first by making a mockery of the term genocide and devaluing its meaning by ignoring the basic act of self-defense by Israel in the face of the worst kind of terrorism. And second, by attributing the motive of extermination of a people to Israelis and Jews, when Hamas’s charter contains such a clear intention against Jews.
Beyond that, it is similar to epithets directed at Israel over the years calling them Nazis.
It is a not-so-subtle attempt to even the score and create a moral balance: the Jews suffered genocide from the Nazis, now the Jews are guilty of genocide so everything cancels each other out.
So this Holocaust Remembrance Day, let us reassert what made the Holocaust unique among genocides. Not only was there a systematic plan by the Nazis to exterminate all Jews – and they succeeded in murdering two thirds of European Jews – but Jews were targeted completely independently of the World War that dominated events. It didn’t matter whether Jews lived under Nazi rule or in countries that opposed Nazism; Jews were in peril from the Nazi madness.
Let us reassert the purpose of the day to educate the world about what happened and why it happened in order to prevent anything similar from happening again.
The Holocaust could not have happened without antisemitism inculcated for centuries. All parties to the extermination of European Jewry – the perpetrators, the collaborators and the bystanders – were all affected in their behavior by that history of antisemitism.
And it is now clear that the centuries-long antisemitism has not disappeared, but just paused for some time by the residual shame of the Holocaust.
The massacre of Jews on October 7 set loose a barrage of classic Jew-hatred on a wider scale than anything since World War II. Maybe it was lurking there all the time, and a new sense of Jewish vulnerability has sparked a coming out of antisemitism renewed.
If International Holocaust Remembrance Day is to have meaning post-October 7, there must be a recommitment to understand what it was and why it happened, and a new seriousness in taking a stand against antisemitism resurgent.