Keep The Holocaust Out Of It

copyright 2004, New Jersey Jewish News

Veterans of Internet-based “Usenet” discussions are familiar with Godwin’s Law: “As a Usenet discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches one.”

Unfortunately, Godwin’s Law applies to much human intercourse these days. The latest examples include a bizarre comment by radio’s Dr. Laura, who said that some American day care centers “sound like something out of Nazi Germany.” A 30-second film posted by an outsider to the Web site compared President George W. Bush to Hitler. (The Republican National Committee demanded that the Democratic candidates condemn the site; the National Jewish Democratic Council applauded the site for removing the offending film quickly.) Last week, a Brazilian judge described a new U.S. security policy, in which foreign visitors are fingerprinted and photographed, as “worthy of the worst horrors committed by the Nazis.”

Rafael Medoff of the David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies shares some more examples: Nobel laureate Jose Saramago claimed that Israeli anti-terror policies have brought “the spirit of Auschwitz” to the city of Ramallah. Honduras’ Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Meridiaga said that “Jewish-controlled” newspapers are behaving like Hitler and persecuting the Catholic church by publicizing the paedophile scandals. This page, meanwhile, has criticized Jewish activists who use the obscene word “Judenrein” to describe the intentions of those who would dismantle Jewish settlements in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

An old article in New York magazine, apropos of the “Soup Nazi” character on Seinfeld, held that Holocaust analogies are not as bad as we might think, in that they recognize, 60 years after the fact, that the Nazis are the epitome of human evil.

But we’ll stick with Medoff. Such analogies, he argues, dilute the uniqueness of the Holocaust as a systematic effort to exterminate Jews and “grotesquely distort the behavior of the person or government that they are criticizing.”