I cringed after reading Whoopi Goldberg’s recent remarks about the Holocaust, but I also felt sorry and embarrassed for her.
Appearing on the ABC talk show The View on January 31, the American actress and comedian claimed the Holocaust was about “man’s inhumanity to man” and “not about race.”
Goldberg made these utterly inane observations in response to a silly decision by a school board in Tennessee to remove Art Spiegelman’s graphic novel Maus from its eight grade curriculum. During the course of a conversation about this incident, one of her co-hosts challenged Goldberg’s assertion. And shortly afterward, there was a backlash from Jewish organizations.
Realizing she had made a fool of herself in front of millions of viewers, Goldberg recanted and issued an immediate apology. Interviewed on Stephen Colbert’s The Late Show, she acknowledged she had been under the false impression that racism is based exclusively on skin color.
The following day, on The View, she apologized again, expressed remorse, admitted she had been misinformed, and declared she stands “with the Jewish people, as they know and y’all know because I’ve always done that.”
Goldberg, whose real name is Caryn Johnson, is not Jewish. And certainly, she has never displayed even a smidgen of hostility toward Jews.
Since she meant no harm, her apologies were accepted by Jewish groups. ABC, however, suspended Goldberg for two weeks, citing her “wrong and hurtful comments.”
This tempest in a teapot speaks to Goldberg’s lamentable misunderstanding of the Holocaust.
She was right when she opined that the Holocaust was broadly about “man’s inhumanity to man.” Human nature is such that people can be kind and considerate, but also bloody minded, cruel and even genocidal.
That being said, Nazi Germany’s attitude to Jews was utterly unique. To the Nazis, Jews were an inferior and dangerous race to be exterminated. Nazi antisemitism was intrinsically rooted in race rather than religion, though these categories ultimately coalesced. To Nazi ideologues, Jews were the enemy incarnate and Jewish converts to Christianity were just as evil because they could never erase their “undesirable” racial qualities.
Goldberg’s belief that racism is caused by the differences in pigmentation is equally absurd. If that were true, antisemitism would have ceased to exist eons ago and the Holocaust would not have happened.
The appalling ignorance she displayed is not surprising in the least. Very few people, regardless of their ethnicity or nationality, are familiar with the major events of history, much less its footnotes.
Poll after poll has shown that the Holocaust, even in advanced countries, is fading fast from memory and often elicits a blank. This is a worrisome and dangerous development. If we do not learn from the Holocaust, future genocides are bound to occur. And if our knowledge of the Shoah is skimpy or nonexistent, Holocaust deniers will readily and gleefully fill the gap with blatant lies, hateful discourse and malevolent misinformation, all of which is designed to malign and marginalize Jews.
Goldberg’s disastrous and embarrassing foray into the Holocaust is yet another jolting reminder that history matters and that it must always be respected.
People have a right to their opinions, but they most definitely do not have a right to mangle, distort and twist the truth.