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It's Not Antisemitic. It's Unreal.

08/17/2021 01:30:10 PM


Torah on the Grow: Holocaust Analogies and COVID Vaccinations

At the University of San Diego, the Holocaust course is among the most popular. Students hope to understand how it could have been perpetrated by European Christians. It's a crucial question that also touches upon some of the political rhetoric surrounding COVID vaccinations.

Even if you were assigned The Diary of Anne Frank in high school, that's not the image most of us associate with the Holocaust. We are more likely to think of Elie Wiesel's Night, "Schindler's List," or some other grisly concentration camp movie. In other words, we tend to cut to the chase: six million Jews massacred.

Because the University of San Diego is a Catholic university, I began my Holocaust course with the New Testament and the long history of Christian antisemitism which scholars agree was a necessary, though not sufficient, condition for the Holocaust. It is critical for the students to understand that at the time of Adolph Hitler's electoral victories in the early 1930s, the Nazi Party was not dedicated to the genocide of the Jewish people.  

Identifying the Nazis with Auschwitz is not unfair, it is unhistorical. Auschwitz was built in 1940 as part of the "final" solution. The Nazis began their anti-Jewish laws in 1933 upon achieving political power. In 1935, the Nuremberg Laws stripped German Jews of their German citizenship and imposed upon them what historians call "social death." They were increasingly excluded from public affairs and confined to a social ghetto.

The Germans forced Polish Jews to wear armbands with the Star of David after the invasion of Poland in 1939. Not until 1941 were German Jews forced to wear a yellow Star of David on their clothing when outdoors. Auschwitz began using poisonous gas, Zyklon B, the same year. The Nazis deprived Jews of their rights, incrementally, until finally denying them the right to live. We think in images, but live by steps.

This May, a proprietor of a hat shop in Nashville starting selling Star of David patches with the words "not vaccinated" on them. Last month at a protest in Paris against the government's vaccination policies, yellow arm bands were seen among the crowd. Most recently, the Chairman of the Republican Party in Oklahoma, John Bennet, defended the meme he posted on social media comparing vaccine passports to the yellow badges imposed by the Nazis.  

His defense was that the yellow badges restricted Jewish access to public venues as would the COVID passports for the unvaccinated. His example and logic could not be more perverse! He was, he insists, comparing COVID health measures to the Nazi policy of 1939 not 1941! How silly for us to imagine Bennet was comparing restriction of access, or ostracism, to genocide, which would be ludicrous. He was merely comparing ostracism to protection, which is only surreal. (There is also the difference of badges which precluded access and passports that allow access. But, I quibble.)

Anticipating the FDA's approval, arguments against mandating vaccines have shifted from health concerns to individual liberties. Individuals should be able to decide whether or not to vaccinate themselves without government interference, so the argument goes.

How disingenuous! Personal liberties are infringed upon whenever the government determines those liberties to be in conflict with the public welfare. We take people's money through taxes; we take people's bodies through conscription during war; we take children's time through compulsory education; and every state requires children to be vaccinated to attend public school.  

The Nazis legally deprived German Jews of their rights and convinced non-Jewish Germans that it was for the general welfare. How? In March of 1933, the Nazis began putting political opponents in the Dachau prison camp. By the end of the year, Jews could no longer serve as newspaper editors. The Nazis controlled all forms of communication.

Social media, largely unregulated and unaccountable, is a minefield of misinformation and disinformation. Thus, emblazoned beneath the statue "Guardianship," overseeing the values of our National Archives, we read: "Eternal Vigilance is the Price of Liberty." Liberty must be guarded as history unfolds, step by step.

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