This past Friday the Whitehouse shared a public statement to commemorate the international day for remembrance dedicated to the Holocaust, as they do every year. This year, however, had a notable difference from previous ones, in that the statement did not mention Jewish victims of the Holocaust. When asked about this, Whitehouse spokesperson Hope Hicks asserted that the Trump administration is inclusive, so inclusive in fact that they feel it is important to recognize the millions of non-Jewish victims of Nazi horrors including the physically and mentally disabled, homosexuals, Roma and other groups.
Looking past for a moment the astonishingly hypocritical claim to inclusiveness, this statement is very troubling. Ms. Hicks is completely right to point out that the Nazi Party turned its savagery on many groups other than Jews, but it is an unwarranted and unnecessary leap to then try and re-contextualize the Holocaust as a broad murder program aimed at a large number of groups. It was not. The Holocaust and Hitler’s “Final Solution” focused singularly on the global Jewish community. The extension of state-driven genocidal practices to other groups Nazis found distasteful does not alter that fact.
At first I assumed that this was a simple case of a costly error borne of a lack of expertise and experience, and that the Trump administration could not bring itself to admit to making a mistake; see also the mess this weekend derived from a poorly worded executive order and a foolish (truly foolish, beyond belief) decision to include green card holders in already restrictive and arbitrary policies on “vetting” entrants to the country. However, there was grounds for skepticism, and as John Podhoretz points out this odd and ahistorical desire to insist that not only the Jews suffered because of the Holocaust has an extensive history.
It is rubbish, and it is extremely bad history. Obviously, the willingness and eagerness of the Nazis to extend a message of hatred and eugenic exclusivism to a large number of groups that did not fit their entirely fictional Aryan race ideal is worthy of note and offers important lessons. Victims of their cruelty deserve to be remembered. However, the idea that the Holocaust was not the end result of a plan conceived from the very start as an attempt to solve a Jewish “problem” completely ignores historical fact. It ignores many, many things Hitler and his cronies said and were saying for long before he became Fuhrer. Hicks and her boss’ rather pathetic attempt to appropriate awkward language of inclusivity merely highlight a clumsy attempt to do an end run on the historical facts of the Holocaust, which should lead reasonable people to assume that someone involved in the drafting of that statement has a problem with Jewish people, acknowledged openly or otherwise, and that others who read the statement lacked the faculties or spine to fix it before sharing this message with the public.
If one truly wanted to be clear that the horrors of the Holocaust lie not just in the attempts by a state and a people to eradicate an entire group of human beings but that such methodology was then extended to various subsets of groups considered unacceptable to a stated norm, then there was an easy way to do this. Mention those who died at the hands of the state because of their sexual activity or ethnic origin, as an additional comment in support of the central horror of the Holocaust: the death of six million Jews and a meticulously constructed system that sought to kill many millions more.
To reiterate, this is among other things just bad history. You do not need to be an historian of the Holocaust or be familiar with the historiography to be able to point out the problem here. This is another evolution of the David Irving school of trying to chip away at the edges of the accepted historical argument. Irving and his fellows liked to cast doubt on the numbers of victims and dance around the reality that they were effectively denying the Holocaust. Irving even sued a historian for correctly pointing out that this is exactly what he was doing (a series of events recently dramatized on film). Dressing the omission of Jewish victims from a statement on the Holocaust in newspeak masquerading as post-identity-politics humanism simply takes the practice of Holocaust denial away from casting doubt on well-established historical fact to seeking to undermine well-established historical consensus. There is, in theory, room to maneuver here, but only if you are predisposed to argue that Jewish people are somehow over-represented in discourse on the Holocaust. If you are so predisposed, I am sorry to inform you that you are wrong. It was one of the great sins of human history, it has shaped all of our discourse on genocide and ethnic cleansing since, and adding to the long list of victims in the public consciousness merely helps spread the word of the sheer depth and breadth of its horrors. Those horrors, I am sorry to say, have expansive borders. There is no need to reduce the reality of the Holocaust’s defining anti-semitism to further illuminate them.