“He’s a Nazi.”
“This is just as bad as the Holocaust.”
Outrage like this has seemingly become the norm within American political discourse. Whenever a policy seems crass— or someone sees the specter of fascism— the American public is quick to deem the perpetrator to be Nazi.
Since Donald Trump announced his candidacy on the back of a hardline immigration platform, he has been called a Nazi. Not only is this designation incorrect, but it and those like it serve to belittle the actual horrors of the Holocaust.
This phenomenon has taken hold, once again, in reference to the Syrian refugee crisis. Despite a fundamental lack of similarities between the two tragedies, outlets such as The New York Times and The Washington Post have quickly gone a step further, deeming Syrian 7-year old girl Bana Alabed to be “our era’s Anne Frank.” House Democrats John Conyers and Zoe Lofgren, in 2015, both invoked the Holocaust in a tandem plea to take more Syrian refugees. Twitter has recently been flooded with Holocaust-Syria comparison articles and statements from politicians, such as those from Vox and Cory Booker.
These statements and articles miss the point and serve to denigrate the horrors of the Holocaust.
The Holocaust was a program of ethnic genocide. The Syrian war is not. Although folks on both the left and right (see President Donald Trump’s Holocaust Remembrance Day statement) are quick to discount the Nazi’s Jewish-focused ethnic cleansing, the facts are quite simple. Six million Jews were killed by the Nazis. Of course, others were killed, such as those with disabilities (250,000), Roma people (around 200,000), and Jehovah’s Witnesses (2000). Clearly, although the Nazis targeted groups other than Jews, we undoubtedly remained the focus of the genocide.
This is not the case in Syria. The Syrian civil war— and the resulting carnage— was triggered by the government’s reaction to pro-democracy Arab Spring protests. After government forces opened fire on demonstrators, the conflict descended into civil war, with rebel brigades battling for control of cities, towns, and the countryside. The rise of the Islamic State has added yet another dimension to the conflict. Although war crimes have been committed by the government, rebel groups, and ISIS, the multifaceted war simply does not fall in the same category as the Holocaust.
The United Nations defines genocide as a desire to wipe out an entire people — specifically “a national, ethnic, racial or religious group.” Assad, rebel groups, and the Islamic State have not pursued the coordinated decimation of a specific national, ethnic, racial or religious group. The carnage of the Syrian Civil War is much like that of the Yemeni civil war, or even the American civil war – not the Holocaust. The deaths are the result of cultural and political warfare, not the coordinated extermination of a specific group of people.
Furthermore, Jews fleeing the Holocaust were turned away almost indiscriminately across the globe.
Although we were refugees and the victims of genocide, our pleas for assistance fell largely on deaf ears, primarily from the United States. The American reaction can be summed up by the oft-repeated story of the S.S. St. Louis. The vessel left Germany for Cuba on May 13, 1939, intent on eventually entering the United States. The United States turned the ship away, sending them back to Europe, where 254 of the passengers died in concentration camps. The U.S. maintained a quota of around 25,000 Jews – a quota which was only about halfway filled. Overall, the United States failed to act as a safe haven.
European responses were similarly weak. Once World War II began, Britain banned all immigration from Nazi-controlled territories— even restricting the promised immigration of Jews to British Mandate Palestine. Although 21,600 Jews eventually reached Switzerland by 1941, thousands more were turned away as the war and persecution actually intensified. Sweden only took 7,200 Jews. As six million Jews were systematically murdered, the world remained largely silent, and, at times, were openly complicit.
While Holocaust-era Jews were left to die in Europe, Syrian refugees have received high levels of support from Western governments, the European Union, the U.N., and Sunni countries. Turkey has accepted nearly three million Syrians. Lebanon has accepted just over one million refugees, while Jordan has opened its borders to 600,000 Syrians— who now constitute nearly 10% of the nation’s population. Outside of the Middle East, over one million refugees have settled in Europe. Of course, the horrors of Syria and the inability to properly resettle the migrants are heartbreaking, but the fact remains: Syrian refugees have received a massively higher level of international support than the Jewish refugees fleeing the Holocaust.
The Holocaust is arguably the darkest point of our collective history, primarily due to the genocidal nature of the crimes committed – and the world’s failure to react. Globally, countless nations remained largely silent while a religious group was essentially purged from an entire continent. Syria and wars like it are certainly atrocities and should be dealt with, but not every civil war or religious conflict is the Holocaust and not everyone who commits them is a Nazi. Donald Trump is not truly comparable to Adolf Hitler, and his policies are not actually reminiscent of the Holocaust. Those who argue the opposite truly don’t understand the history of the Holocaust, Hitler, and genocide.
Outside of the Syrian context, American public figures have become too comfortable utilizing the Holocaust and Hitler as a political means. For example, Ben Carson and Ted Cruz have repeatedly compared Obama to Hitler on Obamacare, gun control, and political correctness. By tossing around these designations and calling every crisis the Holocaust, we cheapen the true horrors of the genocidal program. The Holocaust can aptly be compared to the ethnic cleansing in Ukraine, Cambodia, and Armenia, along with a few others. Syria, Yemen, and other Middle Eastern civil wars are not among them. Anne Frank is not a Syrian girl. The Syrian civil war is not the Holocaust. Equating them is historically inaccurate and only serves to embolden anti-Semitic individuals and groups across the political spectrum who look to denigrate the horrors and effect of the Holocaust.