The depth of the coronavirus pandemic took the world by surprise. The international economy has completely crashed, unemployment is rampant, and as of Friday, the disease has claimed more than 150,000 lives worldwide, with a reported 2.2 million cases of infection.
While scientists around the world continue to decipher the many surprises delivered by this virus, the illness did not disappoint those who have studied the history of antisemitism. Europe’s Black Plague, Russia’s 1917 Communist Revolution and Germany’s economic turmoil following the conclusion of World War I all saw a disproportionate rise in antisemitism. The logic is simple: When a crisis hits, the Jews will serve as worthy scapegoats. Following the Nazis systematic extermination of 6 million Jews, it seemed that the world had finally understood the dangers of anti-Jewish hatred. If it did, it only lasted a short while.
Only 75 years have passed since the Russian and American forced freed Birkenau and Treblinka. Survivors of the Holocaust continue to find the strength and resilience to travel the world and speak of the horrors they saw. No one needs to pay a fee to hear them, nor do people need to travel hundreds of miles to hear their stories, which now are ubiquitous online.
So what do Americans know about the Holocaust in 2020?
According to a poll published by Pew Research Center, the results are rather frightening.
As many as 55 percent of Americans are unaware that 6 million Jews were systematically murdered by the Nationalist Socialist Party, with 57 percent not knowing that Adolf Hitler took power in Germany through a democratic process.
What does this mean?
The majority of Americans are completely unacquainted with one of the most fundamental lessons that modern history has left us with—the fact that antisemitism can be easily mainstreamed and weaponized.
And it has been in this age of corona.
In an attempt to aggressively flatten the curve of the virus, the United States—like most governments around the world—has requested that all individuals practice responsible social distancing and, if possible, stay home and practice self-quarantine
Within hours of this request, the memes and jokes went viral. Sadly, the memory of the Holocaust was rapidly cheapened. In fact, if you were to search the name of Anne Frank on Twitter’s search bar, you would most likely encounter the following posts:
“Quarantine is just the Anne Frank challenge.”
“Anne Frank did this for two years with no TV or video games. Impressive.”
“At least Anne Frank had a boyfriend.”
The last of these is perhaps the most disturbing. The reason being that the individual who tweeted out this despicable comparison must have been somewhat familiar with Anne Frank’s story. Even with that knowledge, the individual decided to compare the quarantine, brought upon by this pandemic, to the memory of a young girl who had her citizenship revoked, was forced into hiding with her entire family, and then eventually captured and murdered, all because she was Jewish.
“The majority of Americans are completely unacquainted with one of the most fundamental lessons that modern history has left us with—the fact that antisemitism can be easily mainstreamed and weaponized.”
Members of Congress have also used rhetoric to cheapen analogies to the Holocaust.
You may recall last year’s comments by Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), regarding the immigration centers at the U.S.-Mexico border:
“The U.S. is running concentration camps on our southern border, and that is exactly what they are. … If that doesn’t bother you … I want to talk to the people that are concerned enough with humanity to say that ‘never again’ means something.”
The invocation of the terms “concentration camp” and “never again” were strategically used to spark a partisan debate on immigration reform in the United States. Doubts that they were strategically used were put to rest after an interview a few days after the controversial comments were made. When asked why she used these terms, she responded:
“If I didn’t say it that way, no one would be talking about concentration camps. We’ve got members [of Congress] going to the border every single weekend because we jostled this discussion. And we named it for what it was.”
The congresswoman succeeded. Immigration reform, at least for a few weeks, took the spotlight in national discourse on policy reform.
The price? Dishonoring the memory of millions of Jews who were gathered and transported like cattle across Europe for extermination. It was an obvious and erroneous comparison to the World War II and the Holocaust.
Perhaps the individuals referencing Anne Frank’s experience during their time in quarantine subconsciously dismissed any regard for the continued rise of antisemitism in America, or maybe they are willingly participating in it. Maybe they had no idea. It doesn’t matter. The consequences of cheapening the memory of the Holocaust remain the same under any circumstance.
While it needs to be pointed out that Ocasio-Cortez’s political activism should not be compared to the recent jokes found on social media, there is a question worth asking: Does the occasional minimization of the Holocaust by the highest members of the U.S. government, by the media and even by academics fuel or even enable the comfortability of the American public to engage in antisemitic rhetoric?
The memory of the Holocaust must be sanctified.
That should be one of America’s first steps in its fight to combat the rise of antisemitism exacerbated by the pandemic.
Originally published in jns.org.
Contributed by CAMERA’s Campus Advisor and Strategic Planner Yoni Michanie.