Photo: Chaim Goldberg/Flash90

Seventy-nine years after the Nazis surrendered, there’s more talk of the Holocaust than ever. How come?

This is a segment from The “Generals and Genocides” Edition.


And now it is time for our second discussion.

So Miriam, after 80 years, why are so many people seeing a Shoah once again unfolding in front of their eyes?

In two days, as we record on Saturday, January 27th, the world will mark the International Day of Commemoration in memory of the victims of the Holocaust, or as it is more commonly known, International Holocaust Day.

The date, which is the anniversary of the Red Army’s liberation of Auschwitz in 1945, was picked for this purpose by the United Nations in 2005, and it is observed in many countries around the world, although not so much in Israel, where we mark our own Holocaust and heroism remembrance day on the 27th day of the Hebrew month of Nisan, a week after Passover, a date that’s linked to the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising.

Never in the 19 years that International Holocaust Day has been commemorated has the Holocaust been as much on people’s minds and as much in public discourse as it is this year.

This because the Hamas massacre of more than 1,200 Israelis and the kidnapping of 253 more on the kibbutzim and Moshavim and in the towns around Gaza brought the Holocaust to mind for so many people and continues to bring the Holocaust to mind.

And because Israel’s heavy bombing and massive ground incursion in Gaza brought and brings the Holocaust to mind for many others.

No historical analogy is cited as often as the Holocaust to describe what has happened here since October 7th.

Examples are easy to come by.

When Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations, Gilad Erdan, addressed an emergency session of the Security Council, he wore on his suit jacket a replica of the kind of yellow star that Nazis made Jews wear.

He said, “When Jewish babies were burned in Auschwitz, the world remained silent.

Today, Jewish babies are burned in Be’eri and all over the south by Hamas, Nazis, and the world remains silent yet again.”

Not long ago, Finance Minister Bitzalel Smotrych of the Religious Zionism Party said in the Knesset that, “In Gaza, there are two million Nazis.”

When Maya Shem, a young woman taken from the Nova music festival into captivity in Gaza and then released 53 days later, described her experience in a televised interview, she said, “I went through a Holocaust.”

Others who survived October 7th said the same thing.

“We went through a second Holocaust.”

A Holocaust survivor named Chana Gafrit met with children who survived the Hamas attacks by hiding in cabinets in their safe rooms on their kibbutz.

To tell them about her experiences hiding out during the Holocaust.

She said, “I couldn’t believe that 75 years after I hid from the Nazis in a closet in Warsaw, history would repeat itself and Jewish children would be forced to hide in closets, this time in their own, our own country.

You cannot imagine how much it hurts to know that.”

Newspapers report that a popular new tattoo is the numbers 7/10/2023, the date of the massacre, inked onto an arm like the numbers the Nazis tattooed on concentration camp inmates.

A new exhibit in Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Museum, by an artist named Shay Azulay, draws parallels between what happened here on October 7th and the Holocaust.

The connection between the tragedies is omnipresent.

Noah, I know you kept track this week of how many times Nazis and the Holocaust were brought up in just one hour of the morning news and interview show on the Khan Radio Broadcast Network.

And you counted how many?


Eleven mentions.

There has been some grumbling about this, Shoabiz.

Back in November, a bunch of historians of the Holocaust and anti-Semitism, a few of them Israelis, published an open letter in the New York Review of Books on what they termed the misuse of Holocaust memory.

They conceded that it was, quote, “understandable why many in the Jewish community recall the Holocaust when trying to comprehend what happened on October 7th because it tapped into deep-seated collective memory of genocidal anti-Semitism.”

But, they wrote, “the comparison obscures our understanding and ultimately promotes racist narratives about Palestinians.”

“Insisting that Hamas are the new Nazis,” these historians said, “attributes hardened anti-Semitic motivations to those who defend Palestinian rights.”

That didn’t sit right with another group of scholars of the Holocaust and anti-Semitism who wrote their own open letter arguing that, “on October 7th, Hamas carried out in Israel a deliberate campaign of mass murder, rape, torture and kidnapping.

This was not the Holocaust, but it was the most important mass murder of Jews since the Holocaust.

Finding commonalities and differences between historical events has always been essential to understanding the past and the present.”

These scholars say there is a tangible relationship between Hamas’ ideology and Nazi ideology.

One link was the grand mufti Haj Amin al-Husseini, who supported Hitler back in the day, and that Hamas’ views are a contemporary expression of ideas, that stand in a longer, reactionary tradition of Jew hatred, racism and terror.

“If we ignore the relationship between October 7th and the Holocaust, we will never fully understand October 7th,” was their point.

Something similar is argued by some people on the other side, leading to something like equal and opposite conclusions.

Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mohamed Jatayeh said last week that what Israel is doing in Gaza is a Holocaust.

Spain’s Minister of Youth and Children, Ciro Rego, said of Israel’s operation in Gaza that, “we have not seen children slaughtered at this scale since the Holocaust.” 50 scholars wrote to Dani Dayan, the chairperson of Yad Vashem, demanding that he condemn Israeli politicians and public figures who, they wrote, “advocate genocide of the Palestinians.”

The logic behind the letter is that Yad Vashem, as an institution, has a responsibility to keep Israel from perpetrating its own Holocaust.

Dani Dayan replied to the scholars’ letter, but did not do what they asked.

Alison, why is the Holocaust the example or analogy that so many people have in mind when they think of what happened here on October 7th and ever since?

Is it a helpful analogy?

Is it harmful, making it harder to understand all that has happened and is happening now?

I think that it’s harmful in that it triggers emotions and we’re in such a situation now, as we discussed in the previous segment, that we have to try to look at this with very clear eyes.

And I think the kind of strong emotions when we use the word Holocaust and when we think about the analogies clouds us and makes us not being able to think.

So in that way, it’s harmful.

Why is obvious to me in that part of the, you know, reason this country exists and what we teach our children when we bring them on the Poland camp tours before they join the army in Israel is Israel exists.

So things like that which happened in the Holocaust cannot happen again.

And it’s hugely traumatic when you look at the similarities again, massacre, rape, torture of civilians and, you know, an eliminationist philosophy.

The fact that in modern Israel of 2024, something that is so reminiscent that happened in the Holocaust could happen.

And that is why we can’t stop making the analogy and why we can’t stop talking about it.

But the other point I feel like I have to make that was sort of discussed or pointed at in your introduction, Miriam, by the way, after this introduction was written just yesterday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called Hamas the new Nazi.

So this is all, you know, happening continually.

We kind of can’t have it both ways.

Either the Holocaust was this unique event of a scale and of a overwhelming size and specialness that you can’t compare other things to.

We’re constantly getting our back up when other conflicts and other genocides and other slaughters are saying this is another Holocaust, another Holocaust.

And we’re constantly saying, no, this was special.

This was different.

This was unique.

You can’t compare everything to the Holocaust.

And yet when it’s us, when it’s the Jews, all of a sudden it’s another Holocaust.

So it’s again, like sort of do you take the Holocaust as a universal lesson for the world and say never again means never again to any people anywhere?

Or is this sort of a personal tribal thing where never again means never again to the Jews?

And so therefore when something like October 7th happens, yes, immediately we are allowed because it was us to start talking and comparing and saying that this was like the Holocaust.

So those are my thoughts.

I think that the comparisons to the Holocaust are probably pretty much bad in both directions on both sides and in most all cases.

But I think that it’s very, very different when somebody who is an Israeli or a Jew or who cares about what happens in Israel is on Israel’s side says this was a Holocaust.

It’s very, very different than people saying that Israel is perpetrating a Holocaust against the Palestinians, even though obviously the number of Palestinians who are dying, including I think the number of innocent Palestinian civilians is just much, much higher than the number of Israelis who will have died.

And the reason why it’s different is because for Israelis, at least some of the people that you talked about, Miriam, the association with the Holocaust, like those historians said in that particular letter to the New York Review of Books, is something that’s very visceral.

It brings back these memories and these images and the images of somebody coming and burning down the house of people who are locked in a room hiding away or hiding in closets.

It reminds one of pogroms more than the Holocaust flat out, but it does have a lot of the imagery of the Holocaust.

So I don’t blame anyone who has that, though I do feel like for people who are knowingly using the analogy like Gilad Erdan putting the yellow star on in the UN or Netanyahu calling Hamas a new Nazis, I think that it’s an insult of the victims of the Holocaust.

It’s an insult of history.

I just think that it’s manipulative and I have nothing good to say about it.

But the thing that I feel most strongly is that the people who accuse Israel of perpetrating a Holocaust against Palestinians, including this genocide, Nareshkite going on in South Africa, at the base of that is this dime-store psychological theory that I think is hardly ever spoken about explicitly, but is the thing that makes that so powerful, which is this theory that people who were victims grow up to become victimizers and that what we’re seeing in Israel/Palestine is that these people who were put in ovens in Auschwitz deciding that it’s fine for them to put in ovens whomever they want.

And I think that as a psychological theory that that’s crap, it’s not true.

And as a historical theory, it’s crap.

And as a description of what’s happening in history, including the very tortured relationship between Israel and Palestine here with all the terrible things that we’re doing, it’s just not even remotely true and it’s really misleading.

And it has all this power because it seems like true.

We all know that the people were beaten as little boys end up growing up to beat their own children, but that’s a terrible lens through which to look at what’s going on now.

And I just think that for someone who doesn’t have the visceral memories of the Holocaust, who didn’t grow up on those images to say this is a Holocaust, I think that that’s really just a disgusting crime against history and anti-Semitic.

And just obviously ridiculously counterfactual and stupid when the Spanish minister says that we haven’t seen children slaughtered at this scale since the Holocaust.

Like was that person asleep for the last, you know, has not been watching the Ukraine-Russia war?

Didn’t see what Hutsis did to each other.

I mean, it’s horrible that that person is in any position to influence people’s thinking.

I will say one of the things we heard so much and said, I think among ourselves was “Ein Milim” – we don’t have words to describe the horror that we felt after this.

And so people who went through it and particularly, you know, there is one category of people that can say this all they want and those are the people who were sitting in those rooms watching the slaughter, being kidnapped, being held in tunnels and they can, first of all, say whatever they want.

But also I think for them having that reference, the worst possible evil.

And by the way, the Holocaust in fact was partly, to a great extent, a series of massive pogroms in addition to being the systematic and, you know, and technologized killing of an entire nation.

It was also perpetrated by, with the same barbarism as all the previous, you know, as the Kishinev massacre was perpetrated and as the Spanish Inquisition was perpetrated.

So we do have this lacrimose history of Judaism, which unfortunately we can, we draw from in the Holocaust is the, is also the sum total, in addition to being its own unique thing, is also the sum total.

I’ve never been someone who thought you can’t make comparisons.

I think in a way the forbidding of comparisons to the Holocaust, which need to be done carefully, is it dishonors what we, what we need to do, which is constantly learn from it.

But it’s also very imprecise.

And if you recall, the Holocaust wasn’t the first reference that was being made on the, you know, top levels.

It was ISIS.

You know, they said, they called it Hamas-ISIS.

That was sort of a, you could see that that had been a talking point that had been, that had been passed around and you were hearing them all.

And that’s gone now.

And that has some more precision, even though Hamas and ISIS come from different branches of Islam.

But, you know, the cruelty of ISIS that we saw that people seem to have forgotten.

And the justification for hitting very, you know, hard at ISIS, which was part of the reason for saying this, was, was, you know, that was, that was the reason for that decision.

But I think people are feeling like, oh, that, that didn’t work.

So let’s try, let’s go back to this bombastic Holocaust language.

I should also say that it’s being used in another place, which we didn’t mention, which is among Jews in, outside of Israel, who are frightened of, of the rise in anti-Semitism.

And I think there, you know, you have to be careful.

But one of the lessons of the, of the Holocaust is to pay attention to changes in, you know, in attitudes to Jews.

The data doesn’t bear out new data from, you know, US polls says that there’s widespread support for Israel in this conflict.

But we are feeling, we’re definitely feeling very, very worried with the stories from campus and, you know, attacks on, on synagogues.

And it’s scary when it seems like the, the people who can’t separate the Palestinian justice cause with the Hamas declared goal of eliminating Jews and killing Jews, when there’s no distinction being made in the, whatever progressive left piece camp that you want to say.

I think that’s, you know, that feels scary.

And, and those that can’t separate the two or those that, that, that support Hamas because they’re Palestinians and ignore or downplay, you know, their murderous intention towards Jews, I think is scary in a Holocaust-y way.

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