Grayson made his Holocaust analogy on Sept. 30 following his equally controversial remarks the day before that “The Republican health care plan is this: ‘Don’t get sick, and if you do get sick, die quickly.’” Grayson, who is Jewish, has since written to the Florida regional director of the Anti-Defamation League that he did not “mean to minimize the Holocaust,” and that “I regret the choice of words, and I will not repeat it.”
In contrast, after a Polish judge late last month had fined Gosc Niedzielny $11,000 (7,400 euros) for comparing a woman’s desire to have an abortion to medical experiments perpetrated by Nazi war criminals at Auschwitz and ordered its editor, Father Marek Gancarczyk, and the Katowice Archdiocese as the weekly’s publisher to issue an apology, Father Gancarczyk defiantly declared that, “we will continue to voice views, which we hold, as our conscience obliges us to.”
Father Gancarczyk is far from alone. Rush Limbaugh’s predictable response to the Grayson flap was, “If there is a holocaust in this country, it is abortion.” This past March, Archbishop Jose Cardoso Sobrinho of Recife, Brazil, decried abortion as a “silent Holocaust” in his defense of his recent excommunication of doctors who had performed an abortion on a 9-year-old girl who had been raped by her stepfather.
Another hyper-zealous pro-life activist, Father Thomas J. Euteneuer, said that billionaire Warren Buffett “will be known as the Dr. Mengele of philanthropy unless he repents” for supporting Planned Parenthood and other abortion rights groups, referring to the notorious SS doctor who sent thousands upon thousands of Jews, including my mother’s sister, to the gas chambers at Auschwitz-Birkenau.
In 2007, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, then a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, told a conservative Christian audience that “more than a million people . . . would have been in our workforce had we not had the holocaust of liberalized abortion under a flawed Supreme Court ruling in 1973.”
Nor is such exploitation and trivialization of Holocaust imagery limited to the abortion controversy. Nobel Peace Prize laureate Elie Wiesel has long decried the worldwide “general de-sanctification of the Holocaust.” President Reagan’s 1985 description of Nazi soldiers buried in the German military cemeteries at Bitburg as “victims, just as surely as the victims in the concentration camps” was an early milestone in a succession of glib, inappropriate and historically inaccurate analogies.
Speaking at a Holocaust commemoration in New York City ’s Madison Square Garden in April 1985, Norman Lamm, then president of Yeshiva University, referred to assimilation, the weakening of Jewish identity and intermarriage between Jews and non-Jews as a “spiritual Holocaust” and a “bloodless Holocaust.”
And of course, Arab propagandists have a grim history of equating Israeli soldiers to Nazis and Palestinians to Holocaust victims. (Jimmy Carter’s incendiary accusation that Israel is guilty of apartheid is similarly objectionable, but that’s for another column.)
As Grayson has acknowledged but the likes of Limbaugh, and Gancarczyk and Euteneuer have not, using Holocaust terminology and imagery for shock effect or to score political points is offensive, often bordering on the obscene. Comparing a mother’s always painful decision to terminate a pregnancy for health reasons to the mass murder of Jews in the gas chambers of Auschwitz, Treblinka and Majdanek demeans the suffering and brutal deaths of millions, as does even the suggestion that intermarriage bears any relationship whatsoever to Hitler’s Final Solution.
The Holocaust was the greatest carnage ever perpetrated. It looms as the epitome of all that is worst in the human condition, and led to the codification of genocide as a crime against humanity. As such, it must be studied so as to prevent future atrocities, not reduced to insensitive, throwaway punch lines.
(Menachem Z. Rosensaft, a New York-based attorney and columnist, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)