Joanne Palmer
Joanne Palmer

The Holocaust and the Jews

We find the idea that President Donald J. Trump’s White House, just a week after he was sworn in, when his presidency still was new, saw fit to issue a statement acknowledging Holocaust Remembrance Day that did not mention Jews to be profoundly disturbing.

At first, the omission was met with the hope that it was a mistake. All presidential transitions are chaotic, we are told, even the ones that had been prepared painstakingly. This is not one of those careful transitions.

The Jewish world hoped for an apology. There certainly are mixed reactions to Mr. Trump and his presidency in this world, but even his most ardent foes thought this was more likely a mistake than a tactic.

But very soon the president’s staff doubled, tripled, quadrupled down on the statement. “Despite what the media reports, we are an incredibly inclusive group and we took into account all of those who suffered,” Hope Hicks, a Trump spokeswoman, said.

The chief of staff, Reince Pribus, soon weighed in. “I mean, everyone’s suffering in the Holocaust including obviously all of the Jewish people affected, and the miserable genocide that occurred is something that we consider to be extraordinarily sad and something that can never be forgotten,” he said. But he did not want to say that the Jews’ suffering during the “miserable genocide” — an odd qualifier, given that it is hard to imagine genocide being light-hearted — was any greater than anyone else’s, much less that it was aimed in particular at Jews.

Next, Mr. Trump’s press secretary, Sean Spicer, whose relationship with the press has been spicy, went further. The president’s critics are “pathetic,” he said; Mr. Trump “went out of his way to recognize the Holocaust.

“Well, I think he’s aware of what people have been saying,” Mr. Spicer continued. “But I think, by and large, he’s been praised for it. The president recognized the tremendous loss of life that came from the Holocaust.” He went to laud the president’s support of Israel. “But I think with respect to Israel and the Jewish people specifically, there’s been no better friend than Donald Trump when it comes to protecting Israel, building a better friendship with Israel,” he said. “You look at what Prime Minister Netanyahu has talked about — he welcomes this administration. He appreciates the friendship and respect he has shown to Israel and the Jewish people.”

It is important to point out that Mr. Trump’s theoretical support of Israel — as unproven as it is at this point, with no crises yet having arisen since he has taken office — has nothing to do with his recognition of what happened during the Holocaust.

It is also important to point out that this is how classic Holocaust denial is shaped. First we are told that Jews are one group among many; next we are likely to hear that fewer Jews were killed than we have been led to believe. Eventually, we will be told that if Jews died, it was incidental to the war effort, and nothing to do with their ethnicity. In fact, that line goes, those annoying Jews just want the world’s sympathy. Why? Because nobody likes them.

Meanwhile, the Jews who survived the Holocaust — the ones with the tattoos, a little faded now but still indelible, still clear on their arms — are growing old. Every year, there are fewer of them left. And the Jews who managed to escape the camps, the ones who got out earlier, or who were hidden in basements, or in convents, or in other people’s homes, either for love or for money — they too are growing older, and their ranks, too, are thinning. Once we lose the last of them, it will be harder to tell their stories, the stories that even the stoniest-hearted of us cannot listen to without crying.

It is no coincidence that Stephen Bannon, Mr. Trump’s advisor and chief strategist, who now sits on the National Security Council, has close ties to the anti-Semitic white supremacist world. Yes, we know that Mr. Trump also has a Jewish daughter, a Jewish son-in-law, and Jewish grandchildren. We are told that constantly; we are in no danger of forgetting. But it also seems that Bannon trumps second- and third-generation Trumps.

We also note that Mr. Trump’s Holocaust Day statement came out the same day that he signed his executive orders about refugees. Perhaps that is coincidental, but it is terrifying.

We hope that he changes course. But we doubt it. Realism trumps hope.

About the Author
Joanne is the editor of the Jewish Standard and lives in Manhattan with her husband and two dogs, so she has firsthand knowledge of two thriving and idiosyncratic Jewish communities. (Actually that's three communities, if you also count the dog people.)
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