The Racism of the Holocaust

I hate to say it, but fighting antisemitism, and the misinformation that is so often the root cause of it, can feel like a never ending game of whack-a-mole. We must tackle it swiftly, decisively, and when necessary, forcefully. Just when we think we’ve achieved progress on one front, more antisemitism rears its ugly head.

Last month, I penned my thoughts in reaction to the nightmarish hostage crisis at a Colleyville synagogue. As I wrote then, in exploring the why of antisemitism, we see that many people think Jews hold some secret control, perhaps over the media, or even the weather. Or perhaps it’s because people think Jews are responsible for the complexities of conflict in the Middle East. For some it is just because. Antisemitism doesn’t truly depend on a rationale. 

Those who minimize or misunderstand the Holocaust need better education about the historical facts on the ground. 

Now, just weeks later, here we are again: This time, because of Whoopi Goldberg’s misinformed comments about the Holocaust that “It’s not about race. It’s about man’s inhumanity to man. That’s what it’s about.” No, the Holocaust was not simply about “man’s inhumanity against man.” 

Watering down the truth of the Holocaust is no better than Holocaust denial. Doing so feeds the perpetuation of antisemitism and antisemitic tropes. Those who minimize or misunderstand the Holocaust need better education about the historical facts on the ground. 

Yes, racism in 2022 America holds different meaning than the German Nazi construct. Ms. Goldberg’s understanding of racism is predicated on the American experience. That said, despite perceptions of Jewish “Whiteness,” it is not a matter of debate that the Holocaust was designed to cleanse the world of a purportedly inferior “Jewish race.” This racial cleansing effort was unleashed with the passage of the 1935 Nuremberg Race Laws legalizing the exclusion of Jews. According to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, the Nazis enacted the Nuremberg Laws “to put their ideas about race into law. They believed in the false theory that the world is divided into distinct races that are not equally strong and valuable. The Nazis considered Germans to be members of the supposedly superior… Aryan German race as the strongest, and most valuable race of all.” 

Implementing these laws forced Jews to list specific Jewish names on their identity cards, invalidated German Jewry’s citizenship, and mandated that Jewish people wear yellow stars on the outside of their garments, to make them more easily identifiable. These dehumanizing steps, coupled with the confiscation of Jewish property and forced ghettoization, were the beginning of the annihilation of Europe’s Jews. 

The 1942 Wannsee Conference convened with 15 high-ranking Nazi and government officials to plan a coordinated effort euphemistically called “The Final Solution of the Jewish Question.” These were the plans to rid the world – starting with areas under German control – of its Jewish population. Jews under German occupation would be rounded up, deported and murdered en masse in concentration and extermination “camps.” 

The Holocaust was indisputably about race. 

By 1945, six million Jews had been murdered and millions more displaced. To be sure, the Nazi machine also targeted people who were gay, people with disabilities, and the Roma, all of whom allegedly “threatened” to taint the “purity” of the Aryan race. It also targeted anyone who dared to challenge the Third Reich’s policies. 

This history makes abundantly clear that the Nazis’ primary focus on exterminating what they considered the inferior Jewish race cannot not be ignored or minimized. We know this not just through numerous witness testimonies — although that should be enough – but also because the Nazis kept meticulous records: files, photos and films, mass graves, and the physical structures of the concentration camps at Auschwitz-Birkenau, Belzec, Chelmno, Majdanek, Sobibor, and Treblinka. The Nazis and their enablers sought to exterminate Europe’s “inferior  Jewish race” with sickening pride and impunity. Nazi Aryanism was an undeniable campaign for global White Nationalism. The Holocaust was indisputably about race. 

Make no mistake, throughout history, Jews have served as the proverbial canary in the coalmine. We can debate all we want whether Jewish people are White or White-Passing. (This debate, by the way, also ignores the existence of Jewish people who identify as Black, Asian, Latinx, or other identities.) But the bottom line is that when a society, in subtle or explicit ways, forms and expresses opinions based on such misinformation, it is a sign of deeper and wider systemic disease.

But where there is room for friendship and allyship, for dialogue, education and repair, we must act swiftly and decisively to create the space for it and unite against hate. 

Ultimately, of course, the sad, inescapable truth is that there will always be race-based hatred in the world. There will always be those who actively seek to fuel the fires of antisemitism, as well as those whose education remains incomplete. I’m not sure whether people with deep-seated hatred can be rehabilitated. Maybe some can. But where there is room for friendship and allyship, for dialogue, education and repair, we must act swiftly and decisively to create the space for it and unite against hate. 

Whoopi Goldberg has been suspended from her job for two weeks, a decision I don’t fully understand (though no one asked me) since she has already apologized and demonstrated that she is open to education. The reason given was to allow her time to do just that, “to reflect and learn about the impact of her comments,” which to me still smacks of cancel culture – of which I am no fan.  The more important question is how Ms. Goldberg, who has expressed remorse and apologized, working together with members of the Jewish community, can use this experience as a tool to educate the increasing numbers of Americans, especially young Americans, as to the realities of the Holocaust, and the ever more real danger that it can happen again.

About the Author
Daphne Lazar Price is the Executive Director of the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance (JOFA) and an adjunct professor of Jewish Law at Georgetown University Law Center. She is active in the Orthodox community in her hometown of Silver Spring, MD, where she lives with her husband and two children.
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