Trivialisation of the Holocaust: ‘never again’ becomes ‘again and again’

Trivialisation of the Holocaust: ‘never again’ becomes ‘again and again’

Trivialisation of the Holocaust: ‘never again’ becomes ‘again and again’

Repeated hugely inaccurate comparisons with Nazism weaken the seriousness and horror with which we are supposed to regard the atrocities of the Holocaust.

Nowadays, it is almost becoming commonplace to see someone comparing some course of action with which they don’t agree to Nazism or the Holocaust. In only a few months, there have been countless reports of this happening—none of which have been at all accurate, and all of which serve to trivialise the real Holocaust.

At the end of May, an American hat shop selling yellow Stars of David—which Jews were forced to wear during the Holocaust to be singled out—that said “Not Vaccinated” was widely condemned for doing so. In response, the shop owner posted on Instagram—using a yellow background—lashing out and questioning why people did not seem to be “outraged with the tyranny the world is experiencing”. There is a clear irony of using the concept of tyranny in this response, as well as in her ability to publicly respond, which is a rarity in genocide.

Protests against lockdown, obligations to wear face coverings, and vaccines against COVID-19 have taken place over the course of the pandemic. Many times, we have seen analogies to, and symbols of, the Holocaust—including the yellow Star of David—being used to express their objections.

This summer, as international football matches began in the lead-up to the delayed Euro 2020 tournament, there was much discussion of the England team’s decision to ‘take the knee’ in solidarity with Black Lives Matter. Whilst there was some debate about whether this was an ‘appropriate’ action to take, a Conservative MP compared this with footballers succumbing to pressure to perform the Nazi salute in Nazi Germany. Once more, this comparison was, rightly, widely condemned.

In his Facebook post, the MP in question—ostensibly also with no hint of irony—argued that the frequency with which people are taking the knew reduces it to “little more than habitual tokenism”, notes the importance of “symbolism”, and the need to “learn from history”.

Whilst most well-informed people may automatically disregard such allegories, the knee-jerk reaction in some circles to jump to Nazism comparisons does almost reduce the Holocaust to the classic symbol of objection to large-scale or government action, and cheapen the devastating consequences of that genocide. Such tokenism, it could be argued, reduces the strength of any legitimate points that could have been made. Indeed, in the case of the MP, the timing of the post—less than two weeks after heated discussions on a report into Islamophobia in his own party—does not help his fellow Conservative MPs who may be trying to demonstrate a tolerant, antiracist stance.

The phrase “Never Again” has long been associated with the Holocaust and the need to ensure that similar atrocities will not be allowed to occur. To recap history, the Holocaust refers to Nazi Germany’s systematic deportation, torture, and murder of millions of Jews, Roma, Sinti, LGBTQ+, and disabled individuals, as well as critics of the regime. No dissent or straying from the imposed norms was allowed, at pain of death, if not serious persecution.

This is not a comparison that should be made lightly. There are no appropriate ‘jokes’ that can be made, without legitimising racist and religious prejudice. Society as a whole suffers, and minority groups even more so, when such remarks are made so carelessly.

Repeated careless references not only further the already insidious issue of disinformation in society, but also reduce the quality of the debates we have as a society and the knowledge—and lessons—we get from history. Whilst not Holocaust denial, this is not much less heinous, as the Holocaust becomes trivialised and normalised as a point of objection.

JAN Trust takes the fight against disinformation and online hate extremely seriously—indeed, we run programmes to empower mothers to protect their children, and young women to enact change, against online extremism and radicalisation. We are very aware of the dangers of far-right extremism, both through the workshops we deliver and through the experiences of many of our beneficiaries, who suffer from Islamophobic and other forms of racist abuse, as well as xenophobia.

We can never allow the deaths of innocents to be used to justify disagreements with harmless courses of action, simply for the sake of a ‘shock factor’ or to emphasise fear. Doing so would empower extremists, weaken our communities, and encourage the spread of disinformation—against which we’re already struggling. There is no legitimate reason to include genocide in a conversation that has nothing to do with genocide or explicit persecution. The Holocaust may seem far away, but we are all only free from persecution by pure stroke of luck—and many minority groups are discriminated against to this day.