Daniel Greenfield, a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the Freedom Center, is an investigative journalist and writer focusing on the radical Left and Islamic terrorism.
The Revolutions of 1989, which ultimately brought down the Soviet Union, were marked by major symbolic events and minor ones. One of those seemingly minor events was a Holocaust memorial.
In that year, it was announced that the first Holocaust memorial had been permitted in the USSR.
Soviet policy in the past had been to refer to the millions of Jews massacred in the Holocaust as “victims of fascism”. Information about the atrocities circulated through Samizdat and covert channels. The Black Book of Soviet Jewry was censored and would not be published until the fall of the Soviet Union.
Memorials to the Jewish victims were held covertly by political dissidents.
The Soviet ban on the Holocaust was not merely due to anti-Semitism. It followed the same political line as the current progressive historical revisionism which erases the Jewish character of the victims while emphasizing that the atrocities could only be the result of a right-wing, not left-wing, political ideology.
Jewish Communists, like their non-Jewish counterparts, worked to minimize the Jewish element of Holocaust histories. Vasilij Grossman, the co-author of the Black Book of Soviet Jewry, urged replacing “Jews” with “people” and “civilians”. This approach defined the USSR’s approach of memorializing millions of undefined people murdered by the former allies and later political foes of the Communists.
The erasure of the Jews in the Holocaust was not limited to the leftists in the Soviet Union.
The Diary of Anne Frank, the play seen by more people than any other depiction of the Holocaust, was hijacked by Lillian Hellman, a militant Stalinist, who turned it over to Albert Hackett and Frances Goodrich, the Communist-linked married couple who excelled at churning out heartwarming leftist propaganda from traditional material, whether it was It’s A Wonderful Life or the story of Anne Frank.
The Jewish elements of Anne’s story were purged. “We’re not the only people that’ve had to suffer,” the fictionalized version of a dead Jewish girl declares to applause. “Sometimes one race, sometimes another.” The real message soon became about the evils of segregation and racism. The various Anne Frank memorial organizations have promoted BDS, banned Jewish clothing and compared Jews to ISIS.
Just as in the USSR, the erasure of Jews from the story of the Holocaust paves the way for anti-Semitism.
Last year, a Los Angeles theater put on a production of Anne Frank with a Latino cast hiding from ICE. After a backlash from Holocaust survivors and Jewish organizations to Rep. Alexandria Ocasio Cortez and Rep. Ilhan Omar equating immigration law enforcement to the Holocaust, the media doubled down. A plethora of leftist essays defending the slur spread the historical revisionism through the echo chamber.
Rep. Omar and Rep. Ocasio Cortez had their own anti-Semitic moments. By transforming anti-Semitism and the mass murder of Jews from a reality to a metaphor about the oppression of minorities, they become the metaphorical victims and the Jews objecting to them become metaphorical Nazis.
The USSR mastered this technique when having renamed the dead Jews as “victims of fascism”, it was free to work toward the murder of millions of Jews in Israel by denouncing them as “Zionist fascists.” A typical example was a Pravda article, “Fascism and Zionism” which claimed that Israel, like Nazi Germany, was guilty of capitalism, imperialism and genocide. The Communist article argued that Jews everywhere were a “fifth column” while insisting that the USSR was anti-Zionist, not anti-Semitic.
Modern leftists also argue that Jews are the real Nazis. Hating them isn’t anti-Semitism. It’s anti-Zionism, which is really anti-Fascism and anti-Nazism. Killing Jews becomes the real message of the Holocaust.
Turning the Holocaust into a political metaphor makes Nazis out of its victims and its commemorators.
Instead of condemning evil, the transformation of the Holocaust into a metaphor whose protagonists are interchangeable, turns a real event into a blank slate on which any agenda can be superimposed. If everyone can be Hitler and anyone can be the Jews, then the Holocaust becomes a myth. A fairy tale into which any of us can read our own meaning and offers us no morality we do not already possess.
The Holocaust is not a metaphor. It is not a toolset to apply to every political event to demarcate the borders of the political spectrum. It was not the work of fascists, as the Soviet Union insisted. The Franco regime in Spain made efforts to save Jews even while the Soviet Union was executing some Jewish refugees as spies. FDR, a progressive hero, blocked the entry of Jewish refugees to the United States. El Salvador, governed by a fascist dictator, turned a blind eye to thousands of visas given to Jews.
When you study the Holocaust as history, rather than metaphor, it becomes impossible to reduce the events to a simplistic progressive parable about the virtue of tolerant lefties who resist racism. Bigotry is inherent in human beings and mass murder is how totalitarian regimes implement their utopian visions.
The Nazis and the Communists both imagined an ideal world in which the Jews did not exist. They went about implementing it in somewhat different ways because, like all fanatics whose morality comes from ideology, they had different theories to explain their own supremacism and the inferiority of the Jews.
The Nazis believed that they were superior for genetic reasons and viewed the Jews as a racial phenomenon that had to be physically eradicated at the genetic level. The Communists believed that they were superior for political reasons and the Jews had to be eradicated as a cultural phenomenon. The erasure of Jews from the story of the Holocaust, then and now, is part of that leftist genocide.
Erasing the Jews makes it easier to eliminate these complex realities while leaving only the metaphor. But the danger of reducing people to metaphors is part of the reason why the Holocaust happened. Lefties universalized the Holocaust, shifting it from a story about Jews to a universal tale about the wickedness of being mean to people, of bigotry, discrimination and general meanness of spirit.
And yet, anti-Semitism has come roaring back and is bigger than it’s been in generations.
The trouble with universal messages is that they’re meaningless. Most people already believe that being mean to others is wrong. They just disagree on the specific implementation of it. For leftists, the story of Anne Frank or the Holocaust is, at the moment, about the evils of deporting illegal aliens. It has nothing to say about the evils of anti-Semitism or of Islamic terrorists who cheer Hitler and murder Jews.
Learning about the Holocaust hasn’t made them better people, only more self-righteous about their views. They haven’t questioned their beliefs, instead they appropriated the Holocaust to support them.
When you turn history into metaphor, all you’re really doing is manufacturing propaganda.
On the campaign trail, Senator Cory Booker attacked President Trump’s immigration policies by invoking the Holocaust. “There was a ship that came here during World War II with a bunch of folks trying to escape the Holocaust, and we turned it around where they got killed in the Holocaust. The shame of that, you think we would learn our lesson about people coming here to seek asylum escaping terror.”
The “folks” in question were Jews.
Booker’s anonymization of Jews as “folks” strongly echoed Obama’s dismissal of a Muslim terrorist attack on a Jewish supermarket before the Sabbath, as “randomly shot a bunch of folks in a deli.”
The 2020 candidate, who had condemned criticism of Rep. Omar as Islamophobia, has announced that he would be okay with meeting with “Minister Farrakhan”, a bigot who has praised Hitler. This was the second time that the New Jersey senator had good things to say about a man who praised Hitler.
“I am very familiar with Minister Louis Farrakhan and his beliefs and his values,” Booker told an audience member in South Carolina.
Those values include calling Hitler, a “very great man”.
Previously, Booker had favorably quoted Stokely Carmichael in a Senate speech whose most famous line was, “The only good Zionist is a dead Zionist, we must take a lesson from Hitler.”
Historical revisionism isn’t just denying that the Holocaust happened, it’s also eliminating the history. When you wipe out the context, then before you know it, you can end up next door to Hitler.