A reflection this Yom Hashoah (Holocaust Memorial Day) on protecting the history of the Holocaust
By Jonathan Feldstein
While I, like others have been following the Russia-Ukraine war obsessively, a specific US news report got me thinking!
Firstly, it is hard to imagine that an unprovoked war is happening at all, much less obliterating entire communities. The human tragedy is underscored with more than five million – over 10% of Ukrainians – having fled their country. However, because of whom and where I am, I tend to look at this horrific tragedy through a Jewish and Israeli prism. This stems from common experiences of war which Ukrainians are suffering and which Israel has suffered – and still suffers – as well as to the wholesale slaughter and destruction of Jewish communities during the Second World War at the hands of the Nazis and their collaborators.
What is happening in Ukraine is unspeakable on many levels. It’s unimaginable that anyone of good conscience can look at this reality and not at least be sympathetic to and supportive of the Ukrainians, and equally horrified by and opposed to the Russian aggression. I pray the war will end and that there will be sweeping war crimes trials and sanctions against Russia and the perpetrators, and that Ukrainians will all be able to return home and rebuild their lives.
However, while not in any way detracting from my heartfelt sympathy with the people of Ukraine, I take strong exception to parallels drawn between Ukraine today and the Holocaust. Sadly, there have been a plethora of such people’s ignorance of history, which I find particularly unsettling this week as Israel observes Yom HaShoah – Holocaust Memorial Day. Part of the problem is ignorance. I don’t fault people for not knowing, but people should avoid publicly expressing such false analogies if they know only too well that they are ignorant on the subject. This is something they can correct by self-education. There cannot be enough education about the Holocaust which can take many forms from reading informative books – particularly the testimony of survivors – to watching accurate documentaries.
Holocaust ignorance, however, does not excuse Holocaust distortion. Ignorance was recently spotlighted when Whoopi Goldberg asserted that “the Holocaust isn’t about race.” What it was about, according to Whoopi was:
“… White people doing it to White people, so y’all gonna fight amongst yourselves.”
The sad truth is that Whoopi’s Holocaust ignorance is less about her and more a reflection of how widespread that ignorance is. This celebrity was a microcosm of a disturbing global phenomenon.
Watching a report on the Ukraine by Brian Kilmeade on FOX News, exposed how inappropriate Holocaust analogies are and the need to prevent this phenomena. Exposing this ignorance was the wanton display of photographs of the Holocaust parallel with pictures of Ukraine today – as if the two shared equivalence. I was going to let that lie, so in my quest to educate, I took to FOX’s social media and sent messages to correct the inappropriate parallels:
“It’s not cool to show pictures of Ukraine juxtaposed with the Holocaust. That’s lazy and grossly inaccurate. What’s happening in Ukraine is horrific. It is not a genocide. It is not the systematic murder of millions of people because of their religion. It’s not based on an ideology of racial purity. Other than the fact that people are suffering, and it happens to be in part of the world where the Holocaust took place, there is no parallel.”
In another message:
“I don’t believe that this was done with malice, and whoever wrote this material needs to learn more. This month is Israel’s national Holocaust Memorial Day. I am very happy to speak with any of your staff who would like to be educated in a constructive way, and to meet in person the next time I am in the US. It is incumbent for anyone reporting the news to use proper language and accurate parallels, and if there are no accurate parallels, not to go fishing for ones that are inappropriate.”
Sadly – possibly indicative of not only ignorance but also indifference – I received no responses.
I also took great exception to President Biden calling the war in Ukraine “a genocide”. Horrific as it is, it is not “genocide”. His depiction is an inaccurate distortion.
Are there war crime happening? Yes.
But genocide, the systematic murder of an entire people, no; not even close. Biden is wrong as is anyone using the “genocide” analogy.
Biden is not the only president to speak inaccurately. Even Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky was wrong contriving Holocaust analogies. The fact that he’s Jewish doesn’t excuse him. On the contrary, if anything, he should be more informed and accurate and sensitive to the memory of Jewish Ukrainians who perished not because of war but solely as a consequence of true “genocide”. When Zelensky’s family were murdered in the Holocaust, it was not because they were Ukrainian – it was because they were Jewish!
Despite his inappropriate Holocaust analogies, I am prepared to cut Zelensky some slack for leading his country with such heroism and moral clarity.
However, Zelensky had the temerity to castigate Israel and the Jewish people of not standing sufficiently with Ukraine because Ukrainians “saved Jews during the Holocaust”. Here again is a display of gross ignorance or denial of the truth. While Israel and the Jewish people are fully supportive in word and deed with the Ukrainian people, Zelensky conveniently forgets his people’s lack of concern when Jews were singled out for total annihilation – to the last man, woman and child. Factually, fewer than 2,700 Ukrainians have been recognized as Righteous Gentiles for risking their lives to save Jews. While many of Ukraine’s 200,000 Jews today owe their lives to these heroes, many millions of other Ukrainians were indifferent or collaborated with the Nazis as willing partners in the mass murder of Jews. That is their history.
Whitewashing or ignoring the horrid history of Jews being murdered before and during the Holocaust by complacent and willing antisemitic Ukrainians is offensive. The Holocaust is not a smorgasbord of horrors that people can pick from to use as they so please to compare to the suffering of others. As I wrote to FOX, the Holocaust or Shoah has no comparison with what is horrifically unfolding in Ukraine, the US border, or any other suffering around the world.
In a recent conversation with Lithuanian journalist and author Ruta Vanagaite, we discussed how ignorance and antisemitic stereotypes led to Lithuanians active participation and complacency in the murder of all but 1.5 percent of Lithuania’s Jews.
What’s the answer?
“Education, education, education.”
About the writer:
Jonathan Feldstein - President of the US based non-profit Genesis123 Foundation whose mission is to build bridges between Jews and Christians – is a freelance writer whose articles appear in The Jerusalem Post, Times of Israel, Townhall, NorthJersey.com, Algemeiner Jornal, The Jewish Press, major Christian websites and more.
While the mission of Lay of the Land (LotL) is to provide a wide and diverse perspective of affairs in Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish world, the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by its various writers are not necessarily ones of the owners and management of LOTL but of the writers themselves. LotL endeavours to the best of its ability to credit the use of all known photographs to the photographer and/or owner of such photographs (0&EO).