We are a few weeks removed from International Holocaust Remembrance Day. While not the Jewish community’s Memorial Day of the victims of the Shoah (Yom HaShoah takes place in the spring), nevertheless it is a day to reflect on the barbarity of that time, and call ourselves to action to make sure nothing similar ever happens again. As it happened, that was the same weekend as our Federation Shabbat, an opportunity for the entire Delaware Jewish community to gather at one of our local synagogues for Shabbat services together as one community, a powerful moment of celebration of who we are and our support for one another in our myriad diversity.
So, it was with some surprise and shock that I read a local Delaware politician and business leader (who shall remain nameless) tweeted out a statement linking the Holocaust to so-called “Full Term” abortion on Holocaust Remembrance Day. Clearly, he felt it was appropriate to link the Holocaust — the brutal massacre of the disabled, political opponents, Roma, homosexuals, and especially Jews — with a medical procedure.
This is not unusual rhetoric from abortion opponents, as this Slate article from 2017 makes clear. Perhaps many of them have deeply held beliefs that abortion is the murder of innocent potential lives and warrants the comparison. Many more, I am sure, use it for shock value, as if the Holocaust is the word to use when you want to describe something as ‘really bad’, similarly to how, in recent time, ‘Nazi’ came to be a term used for ‘someone annoying and mean’ as opposed to a prison guard at Auschwitz.
As a Jewish person of faith, I find this appalling.
Without a doubt, there have been atrocious genocides before and after — in my own lifetime I can point to the murder of Bosnian Muslims in the breakup of Yugoslavia, the death and destruction meted out in Rwanda and Darfur, the massacre of the Yazidi community in northern Iraq, the forced exile of Rohingya from Myanmar, and most recently the atrocities being perpetrated on the Uighurs of China. The horrific crimes perpetrated against these communities remind us that the lessons of the Holocaust are still not fully learned and of our obligation to relieve suffering and save lives around the world.
But the Holocaust, as many scholars and religious leaders have stated, was a uniquely monstrous moment in human history. I can say with certainty, having spoken to and known many holocaust survivors in my life, that none of us born since the 1940s have any sense of the scale of destruction and depredation meted out by the Nazis and their allies. Jews and others — babies in their mothers’ arms, the old, the young, rich and poor — were butchered mercilessly, often after being deprived basic necessities and even a modicum of dignity. The word itself, from the English translation of one of the sacrifices described in the Torah, refers to the utter destruction of something by fire, with the victim burning until there is nothing left but smoke and ash. To use that word to mean anything other than the annihilation of the Jewish people of Europe in the crematoria of the death camps is the equivalent of stamping on the graves of those victims — if they had graves at all.
To use that term to refer to a life-saving medical procedure is especially barbaric. Without a doubt, abortion is, for most people, a difficult decision. For those who are faced with abortion later in pregnancy, these incredibly rare procedures are almost always due to profound medical complications, where the health of the mother is threatened, or the potential child will not survive if carried to term, if they make it that far at all. Such procedures are undertaken as a last resort and under great distress. If we are comparing this to the Holocaust, who are the Nazis? The medical professionals trying to save the mother’s life? The mother, devastated that her pregnancy has taken a turn for the worst? All streams of Judaism understand the necessity of abortion on some level; even Orthodox Judaism in its various forms permit abortion later in pregnancy when a mother’s health is in danger. Would you dare call said Orthodox Rabbis Nazis?
As Jews, when we say “Never Again”, we mean two things. One, that the genocide of the Jewish people may be remembered by the world as an exceptionally horrific moment in history. The other, that we may learn from that moment to prevent future atrocities perpetrated on others. To compare the Holocaust to any form of life-preserving medical procedure is to violate the sanctity and memory of the victims and survivors. We live in an era where we see actual Nazis marching in America, chanting death threats to Jews and minorities, where such people are empowered to massacre Jews in a synagogue here in the United States. Perhaps more energy should go into combatting them, rather than tormenting medical professionals and patients.