Mainstreaming the trivialization of Holocaust gives deniers a ‘safe space’


Shoah trivialization isn’t a new phenomenon, but it’s a “rising trend,” and it received a boost thanks to COVID-19, according to the Combat Antisemitism Movement (CAM), whose Jan. 20 report details more than 60 million online engagements linking the pandemic to Germany’s genocide of the Jews.

The study analyzed word combinations in six languages across the biggest social-media platforms, as well as other sites, over a two-year period (January 2020 to December 2021). It found the vast majority of Holocaust-pandemic references (57 million) were in English. Hebrew was second (2.6 million) and Spanish third (2.1 million).

“Over the last two years, Holocaust trivialization has become increasingly mainstream among many politicians, grassroots movements, in the media and online, representing a distortion of history and a direct affront to the memory of the victims and the dignity of survivors,” according to CAM.

“The keyword is ‘mainstream’,” Arthur Maserjian, head of CAM’s information hub, told JNS. “This is happening in mainstream political conversations, on primetime television and in protest movements around the world.”

A mass rally against vaccine mandates, which drew thousands of people to the National Mall in Washington on Sunday, provides a recent example. Robert F. Kennedy Jr., one of the speakers, said the mandate was worse than Nazi Germany because “even in Hitler’s Germany, you could cross the Alps into Switzerland. You could hide in the attic like Anne Frank did.”

“Trivialization is a kind of a gateway to other forms of anti-Semitism and other forms of extremism,” Maserjian warned, noting that it creates a kind of “safe space” for anti-Semitic conspiracies and “outright Holocaust denial” to flourish.

He said social media has exacerbates the problem, allowing people to spread such messages with the “speed of a click” and at a “viral pace.”

Rabbi Abraham Cooper of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, agreed that social media is definitely a driver of Holocaust trivialization, telling JNS that “it’s used by extremists to spread their hate and even to do operational things.”

In its “Global Antisemitism 2021 Top Ten,” the Wiesenthal Center found that COVID’s latest deviant strains’ made the No. 4 spot, noting that Facebook “directly profited from ads comparing the COVID vaccine to the Nazi Holocaust.”

Rabbi Cooper said that before the pandemic, he met the top three leaders of the NY Police Department to discuss the violent hate crimes against Jews in the city, “and these three veteran cops all pointed to ‘social media.’ It’s a tool used very cleverly by our enemies.”

“The delivery system is unprecedented. The marketing capabilities of social media have not even anywhere fully been realized, but they’re massive, and the repackaging of old conspiracies and old hatreds abound,” he said.

The pandemic has been a “bonanza” for extremists who have injected their Holocaust imagery into a medical debate, said Rabbi Cooper. While the vast majority of people who oppose vaccines are not anti-Semites, “it doesn’t make a difference,” he said. “The racists have succeeded in attaching their goals and infiltrating their anti-Semitic, neo-Nazi, Holocaust-denigrating imagery onto a legitimate, ongoing debate, which is very emotional. It’s a massive victory for them.”

Rabbi Cooper said another reason to oppose trivialization is that it strips Holocaust analogies of any meaning.

“When it’s imperative to actually draw lessons when there are some terrible things happening around the world, it no longer has the same impact because of the confusion about what those images actually mean,” he said.

Both Rabbi Cooper and Maserjian agreed the reason Holocaust analogies are appealing is that they’re a quick way to score political points. “It’s provocative. So it’s easy to draw attention to your argument,” said Maserjian.

Rabbi Cooper added such comparisons are especially tempting in the age of social media where people only have a second to grab others’ attention.

“Why are you doing this through the prism of the Nazi Holocaust?” he asked, noting that this year marks the 80th anniversary of the Jan. 20, 1942 Wannsee conference, where 15 ministers in 90 minutes sealed the fate of European Jewry. “That’s what you think governments are doing? Trying to find ways to kill you?” he said.

Maserjian said: “Our message is that the Holocaust can’t be compared. There was a singular event in human history, arguably the worst crime against humanity in history, and putting millions of people into ovens is not comparable to what we’re seeing today.”