Why Holocaust Remembrance Day?

The WORD – 4/19/12.  Why do we need a Holocaust Remembrance Day?  Let’s ask John Raese and Father Daniel Jenky – they can explain it far better than I.

Last Thursday, Raese – a candidate for the US Senate in West Virginia – expressed his dismay with a new Putnam County law banning smoking in most public buildings.  He equated this new law with Nazi Germany’s law requiring Jews to wear yellow stars on their clothing.  In other words, forcing smokers to smoke outside or in their own homes is the equivalent of labeling minority groups for exportation and eventual extermination.

Then, this past Sunday, Father Jenky – the Catholic Bishop of Peoria, Illinois – delivered a homily about our country’s new healthcare law.  During the course of his remarks, he compared this law to the laws of Stalin’s Soviet Union and Hitler’s Germany.  He then suggested that President Obama was headed down “a similar path” as those two murderous despots.  In other words, forcing insurance companies to provide coverage for contraception even though the business paying for the insurance policy might have religious objections to contraception is the equivalent of murdering six million civilians (Stalin) or murdering eleven million civilians (Hitler) – never mind all the soldiers who died as a result of their evil policies.

Needless to say, these comparisons are perverse.

Intelligent people can debate the merits and disadvantages of a smoking ban.  Similarly, it is reasonable to either challenge or support the new healthcare law (after all, our Supreme Court is in the midst of that exact deliberation).  However, comparisons to the Holocaust ought to be completely out of bounds.

First of all, it is insulting to the people who are being compared to Nazis.  Neither the officials of that West Virginia county nor President Obama has done anything that can compare to the atrocities of the Nazis.

More importantly, though, it diminishes the significance of the Holocaust.  We cannot permit public figures to dismiss the Holocaust as nothing more than an inconvenience to smokers or an argument over health insurance coverage.  That is an insult to both the victims and the survivors of the Holocaust.  It is one small step short of Holocaust denial.  After all, if people truly believe that the Holocaust was little more than a smoking ban or a controversial healthcare law, then they might as well believe that it didn’t happen at all.

And so, let us continue to observe Holocaust Remembrance Day year after year to ensure that people everywhere remember that Nazis were not just politicians from a different party and their laws were not merely inconvenient. The Nazi regime was a uniquely organized, systematic, multinational killing machine.

To the eleven million civilian victims of the Nazis – six million of whom were Jewish – we say: Yizkor! We will not forget!

Shalom,

RAF.

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About Rabbi Avi Friedman

I am the rabbi of Congregation Ohr Shalom - SJCC, a progressive Conservative and traditional congregation. I am also husband to Jodi as well as father to Gabi, Jonah, Jessica and Ilana. I have been a part of the Summit community since 2005.
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