Jan. 27 is International Holocaust Remembrance Day, the United Nations-designated day that marks the anniversary of the Allies’ liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau. Holocaust Remembrance Day gives the international community an opportunity to mark, remember and mourn the horrific genocide that left a third of the Jewish people dead — a loss from which we can never recover.
The day of remembrance is important. And regular, solemn international recognition of the gravity of the Shoah and the enormity of the genocidal plot to eradicate Jews is necessary. We need to keep reminding the world of the sanctity of life, the corrosive impact of hate and the depths of evil to which man can descend in the pursuit of power and control.
Unfortunately, far too many people regularly reach for the Holocaust and carelessly invoke it to criticize government action, push a political point or complain about a minor inconvenience. They blithely refer to whatever action or point they are trying to make by associating it with being brutalized by Nazis. We have heard politicians and activists use the Holocaust to push back against gun control, liken the plight of immigrants at the border to Holocaust victims and compare vaccine mandates to Nazi policies and vaccination cards to yellow stars.
Such comparisons are offensive. They trivialize the Holocaust. They are false and hyperbolic. And they cheapen a genocide that is within living memory which has traumatized the Jewish people and had a profound impact on all people of good will. As Jews, we feel that we have a right to criticize those who carelessly trivialize that which is so fundamentally hurtful to us, and we chafe at the insensitivity of their remarks. We react instinctively to the insult — even though it isn’t directed at us. We react because the trivialization shows a lack of respect for our people’s history.
It is with that perspective in mind that we should seek to achieve a heightened sensitivity to the realities of other persecuted minorities and develop a better understanding of why what we say and how we say it is so important. This requires more than an understanding and acknowledgment of past injustices and persecution. We are talking about developing an appreciation for the fact that words matter — and that what may seem to us to be a harmless or joking reference can be offensive to others. We demand that awareness from those who invoke the Holocaust, and others have the right to demand that same sensitivity from us.
Our world has changed dramatically since the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau. But the reality of the Holocaust and its permanent impact on the Jewish people and the civilized world has not changed at all. In remembering the Holocaust, we and the rest of the world need to maintain reverence and respect for its seriousness. We need to stop invoking Holocaust comparisons. There is nothing that compares.