A Glaring Omission
In a short Jan. 27 proclamation (117 words) to mark the occasion, Trump said in part, “It is with a heavy heart and somber mind that we remember and honor the victims, survivors, heroes of the Holocaust. It is impossible to fully fathom the depravity and horror inflicted on innocent people by Nazi terror.”
He made no mention that the Holocaust was Germany’s Final Solution to rid the world of Jews. Moreover, the omission was intentional as White House spokespeople explained in defending the proclamation.
“I don’t regret the words,” said Reince Priebus, Trump’s chief of staff. Hope Hicks, a White House spokesperson, added, “…we took into account all of those who suffered.”
What the proclamation did was “universalize” the Holocaust and may have provided Holocaust deniers with just the kind of official document to prove that Jews were not the target of the Holocaust.
Consider if other governments follow suit. In a decade or two, when the last Holocaust survivors and eyewitnesses are gone, we will be left with “official” statements that ignore the intent to annihilate Jews, but stress that there were many other victims as well.
Indeed, millions of others were slaughtered. That issue could easily have been addressed — as it was in two previous presidential proclamations (Bush and Obama) — by citing that 6 million Jews were exterminated along with about 5 million others. A few words, no more than 10, could have solved “the problem.”
The late Nobel Peace Prize winner and Auschwitz survivor, Elie Wiesel, wrote that the Holocaust cannot be universalized.
He said the Shoah was not an example of “man’s inhumanity to man,” but rather “it was man’s inhumanity to Jews. Jews were not killed because they were human beings. In the eyes of the killers, they were not human beings! They were Jews! Not all victims were Jews, but all Jews were victims.”
Outrage over the proclamation came from several sources, the strongest from Sen. Tim Kaine, Hillary Clinton’s vice presidential running mate.
“The irony is not lost on me that it [the travel ban on people from seven Muslim-majority countries] was issued the same day as the proclamation that, unlike any previous administration, removed all reference to Jews,” Kaine said. “This is what Holocaust denial is.”
John Podhoretz, editor of the neo-conservative magazine Commentary, wrote: “The Holocaust was about the Jews. To universalize it to ‘all those who suffered’ is to scrub the Holocaust of its meaning.”
The Israeli ambassador to the United States Ron Dermer warned “…If this noble, universal vision is not firmly rooted in an appreciation that the Holocaust is first and foremost a Jewish story, it can become not only dangerous but even immoral.”
John Greenblatt, the Anti-Defamation League CEO and national director, said, “This is not a political issue; this is a matter of not just sensitivity; it’s a matter of historical fact.”
However, World Jewish Congress President Ron Lauder disagreed. “Any fair reading” of the statement, he said, “will see it appropriately commemorates the suffering and the heroism that mark that dark chapter in modern history.”
Regrettably, Lauder misses the point of potential consequences. Holocaust universalization will trivialize this unspeakable history. In addition, universalization is the major technique used by anti-Semites to delegitimize the Holocaust. Deborah Lipstadt, the historian, called this “soft-core Holocaust denial.” And, by admitting it had discussed the issue, the White House made it clear that it understood exactly what it was doing — which Lauder does not.
The omission should not surprise us. The president has as a key adviser, Stephen K. Bannon, former executive chair of Breitbart, a far-right (alt-right) website that caters to white supremacists and anti-Semites. His fingerprints seem to be all over the document.
He most likely was also responsible for the dissemination of an anti-Semitic caricature of Clinton as well as a TV ad that featured language — “levers of power in Washington” — reminiscent of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion and included exclusively Jewish officials who were paraded as examples of that power.
These two campaign incidents, along with others, did not seem to bother the 24 percent of the Jewish electorate that voted for Trump.
Organized Jewry, overall, was silent as well. Some became Trump apologists. The usual response was: “He has a Jewish son-in-law.” The response to that: So what? Jared Corey Kushner would not be the first Jew to turn a blind eye to anti-Semitism for whatever reasons — money, power, politics, relationships or simple denial.
The irony in this sorry spectacle: International Holocaust Remembrance Day was initiated in 2005 by the United Nations, generally considered a cesspool of anti-Semitism, to fight the increase in anti-Semitism around the world.
Berl Falbaum is a veteran journalist and author.