Last week was Holocaust Awareness Week at CSU. On Friday, as the wonderful, hard-working student planning committee and I packed up from our last program, a moving Memorial Service filled with prayers, poems, songs and hopes for peace, we were subjected to a display in the Flea Market with the title “Holocaust 2002: Stop the Palestinian Holocaust.”
While the situation in the Middle East today is tragic, with losses on both sides, we strongly reject any comparison with the Holocaust. The Holocaust, or Shoah in Hebrew, refers to a specific historic event where the Nazi government deliberately and systemically persecuted and attempted to annihilate the Jewish people. Their goal was genocide. And they succeeded in wiping out six million /_” two-thirds of European Jewry /_” plus nearly six million others. In scope alone, you’d have to multiply each individual lost in the Middle East since the current Intefada by 10,000. The World Trade Center tragedy would have to repeat daily for almost 11 years to equal the number of souls taken by the Nazis. Magnitude aside, government sponsored systematic annihilation is completely different than armed conflict between two groups.
There have also been comparisons of late between Israelis and Nazis, as did the handout distributed during Husni Sayed’s two lectures sponsored by the Muslim Student Association and the Palestinian Student Association. This comparison is both outrageous and repugnant. Nazis, through the infrastructure of their National Socialist Party, reached their repressive hand into almost every corner of European life, subverting justice and the rule of law. They held absolute sway in Germany and almost achieved their aim of total European domination. Israel is fighting to exist and flourish as a Jewish State within secure and recognized boundaries; a homeland that is about the size of New Jersey within a vast Arab-controlled Middle East.
This week, there will be an anti-abortion display on the Plaza, where graphic images of dead fetuses will be side-by-side with graphic images of concentration camp victims. Another comparison: Abortion is the new Holocaust. We are dismayed and, frankly, tired of groups that co-opt the language and images of the Holocaust to propagandize and promote their own political agenda.
The more than one thousand participants who attended over a dozen programs last week, understand the difference. And to those people, we say “Thank you.” Whether you heard our opening keynote speaker, Lani Silver, talk about the heroic efforts of one man, Chiune Sugihara, who single-handedly saved thousands of Jews by issuing them visas; or whether you heard our closing speaker, Jud Newborn, tell the story of the White Rose, a German college student resistance movement who defied the Nazis /_” you heard how individually and collectively we can make a difference. These are the rays of light and hope we referred to in this year’s Holocaust Awareness theme “Bringing Light Into the Darkness.” These are the heroes.
Where are our heroes today? Certainly not those who take the darkest time in human history, the most heinous of crimes against humanity, and turn it into political rhetoric only meant to incite and divide. They dishonor the memory of the nearly 12 million, distort history and do disservice to their own cause.
Hedy Berman is the director of Hillel.