Op-eds

The danger of casual Nazi/Holocaust comparisons

  • AboveBoardShaunZagnoev (3)
Every so often, hackles are raised when those seeking to discredit their political or ideological opponents resort to making factually incorrect and insensitive analogies with Nazism and/or the Holocaust.
by SHAUN ZAGNOEV | Nov 19, 2020

Indeed, two high-profile instances of this phenomenon occurred only recently, one on the local front, and the other on the part of a senior political figure in the United States (US). Suffice to say, in both cases the references to Nazis-era atrocities amounted to gross exaggeration and therefore serious misrepresentation of the historical record.

The South African Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD) was amongst those who objected when the issue surfaced last week. One of the points we stressed was that casual and factually unsupported analogies with the Nazi regime, which was an exceptionally evil and destructive tyranny responsible for some of the worst atrocities in human history, not only overstated the alleged misconduct of the party being criticised, but by implication, inevitably diminished the true gravity of Nazi crimes. Such rhetoric was therefore flippant and insensitive, and particularly hurtful to those – including survivors of the Holocaust – who experienced Nazi barbarity first hand.

The problem, of course, isn’t limited to South Africa. Our US counterparts, the Anti-Defamation League, have likewise come out strongly against the use of Nazi terminology by political officials and parties to demonise the other side, no matter how legitimate the issues over which they are disagreeing.

What we also see from such ill-considered analogies is how easily it can provide forums for closet admirers of Nazi Germany to play down or relativise the atrocities of that regime, and sometimes even justify them. It’s unsettling to see the frequency with which comments lauding Hitler’s supposed vision, organisational ability, and nation-building qualities appear, even when Jews aren’t being specifically defamed. This is one of the consequences of making statements that misrepresent what’s happening in the present while simultaneously trivialising what occurred in the past.

In memoriam: Suzanne Belling, o”h

The untimely passing last week of Suzanne Belling is another sad loss for South African Jewry. An experienced, highly capable journalist, editor, communal professional, and respected author, she knew the Jewish community back to front and top to bottom, and devoted her life to serving it in multiple ways. For much of the first decade of the present century, she was executive director of the SAJBD Cape Council, and her involvement with the Board continued thereafter with her valuable role on the editorial board of Jewish Affairs. We salute her for everything she achieved, and extend our sincerest condolences to Michael, family, and friends.

  • Listen to Charisse Zeifert on Jewish Board Talk, 101.9 ChaiFM, every Friday from 12:00 to 13:00.

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