Whoopi Goldberg Needs Holocaust Education

According to the Oxford Dictionary, the definition of View is “to regard something in a particular light.” On January 31, Whoopi Goldberg revealed just that, her view on what the Holocaust was all about.  She stated emphatically, at least three times, that the Holocaust was not about race but instead about “man’s Inhumanity to man.” Her rationale was that the Holocaust involved two groups of white people; the perpetrators and the victims who both belonged to the Caucasian race. Thus, the Holocaust could not possibly be a question of race but instead belongs under an entirely different category-evil and inhumane acts. How shocking that Whoopi got the cause confused in assessing the Nazi’s mass murder of six million Jews and a million and a half Roma and Sinti.  

Equally shocking was the meek response by the other four co-hosts on ABC-TV’s “The View” to Whoopi’s vehemently stated viewpoint. Hardly a counterpoint was raised in the brief discussion that followed among the four other very intelligent women on “The View.” It reminded me of what happens when good and intelligent people remain silent in the face of a dominant authority. Certainly, they all must have known better.

It doesn’t take much Holocaust literacy, just literacy itself, to determine that Whoopi’s viewpoint is not borne out by the facts.  A simple reading of the abundance of Nazi racial literature serves to illustrate the attitudes and beliefs of the Fuhrer and the Nazi party.  I pass excerpts from these documents to my students on the first day of my Holocaust class at Touro College to set up the framework of Nazi behavior in the 1930’s and 1940’s toward Jews and others they considered a threat to the Aryan Race. In Mein Kampf, published in 1924, Hitler vividly outlined his world views for the German superior race (Aryans) and its racial enemies, the Untermenschen (under-humans), Jews.  Hitler’s viewpoint and ultimately his objectives were audaciously spelled out for the world to see “the sacred mission of the German people…to assemble and preserve the most valuable racial elements…and raise them to a dominant position.” Regarding the Jews, they must be eliminated, which “must necessarily be a bloody process. “

For a woman of Whoopi’s stature, influence and intelligence, to get the essence of the Holocaust all wrong, to confuse cause (Extreme Racism) with the effect, man’s inhumanity to man (Gas Chambers, Labor Camps), is very difficult for her audience of over 1 million viewers and millions more on social media to believe.  It is not what she actually said – “Man’s Inhumanity to Man” – that is so repugnant, but that she so emphatically denied the overarching and defining cause of the Holocaust.  Racism was the trump card of the Nazis and it was applied ruthlessly not only to the Jews and Gypsies.  Additionally, African/German children from the Rhineland were sterilized in 1935 so as not to infect their inferior offspring into the superior race; white people with so-called congenital deformities, dwarfism, blindness, deafness, Down’s Syndrome were sterilized or gassed in 1938.  Slavs and Poles could be used for “medical experiments,” forced labor, and their homes and land subject to the needs of Germans to seek Lebensraum (living space) in the East.

It is not my purpose to delve into the racist and/or evil policies of Nazi Germany but rather to point out the essential element that Whoopi missed – that man’s inhumanity to man can occur when one group sets themselves apart from others even within a particular race.  The genocide in Rwanda involving the Tutsis and Hutus vividly illustrates this point.  Would Whoopi deny that the Rwanda Genocide was not really about race?  To do so waters down and misinterprets both the tragedy and the lessons learned in its wake.

So what was Whoopi thinking?  In short, what was the motive behind her statements?  Was it anti-Semitism?  For that, we need to look at other recorded instances where she might have said or done something that can be construed as anti-Semitic.  Aside from readily coming to the defense of Mel Gibson’s vitriolic and anti-Semitic outbursts (when he was purportedly under the influence of alcohol several years ago), Whoopi’s most damaging anti-Semitic or anti-Israel statement (the two have merged somewhat in the 21st century) was in 2012, when she tweeted a post that “men, women and children were being slaughtered in Gaza for the last week.” Later, she apologized for inaccurate reporting – it was not Israeli forces but Hamas that instituted the rocket fire.  Yet, the damage was done because she got engagement by over one and one-half million  on her first tweet, something that can’t be reversed, for some of those followers may not have read the apology.   One must question her motivation for such a post in the first place.

I cannot definitively categorize Whoopi Goldberg as an anti-Semite.  However, neither can I let her off the hook as easily as the Director of the Anti-Defamation League did when he accepted her sincere apology.  As former Director of the ADL’s Braun Holocaust Institute, and a Holocaust Studies Professor at Touro College, I suggest that Whoopi could strongly benefit from taking a course on the Holocaust and hearing from survivors who were systematically persecuted by neighbors and former best friends for being considered a “different” race, despite their outer white skin color.  By understanding shared experiences within, as well as among, races, and religions, we become more in tune to the suffering of others as well as our own.  Whether or not this will lead to a world that is free of an us-vs-them dynamic is far from certain.  For now, Whoopi, how about signing up for my Spring 2022 Holocaust course?  This whole firestorm can turn into a high  profile teachable moment!

About the Author
Dr. Karen Sutton is associate professor of history at the Lander College for Women, a division of Touro College, in New York City.
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