This is going to be a long post, but one I truly hope you take the time to read, as it's not only deeply important to me, personally, but to all of us...
I probably should have written this yesterday, but I had family, seders, and a night to eat, recline, and celebrate my freedom from my ancestors' slavery in Egypt, and that's what I did. But it's still Passover today, and while the Jews celebrate our freedom from slavery and oppression, White House Press Secretary, Sean Spicer, seems to have forgotten that the Jews are not actually thousands of years removed from persecution.
From Spicer, just yesterday (on Assad in Syria):
"Someone as despicable as Hitler who didn't even sink to the--to the--to using chemical weapons... He was not using the gas on his own people the same way that Assad is doing..."
When asked for clarification by a journalist, and upon (far too slowly for a man of even average intelligence) realizing his error:
"He brought them into the 'Holocaust Centers', I understand that." (No, you clearly fucking don't). "The way Assad used them, where he went into towns, dropped them down, to innocent--into the middle of towns..."
(You can watch his statement here: nytimes.com/2017/04/11/us/politics/sean-spicer-hitler-gas-holocaust-center.html?_r=0
Now you can just write this off as a "gaffe", and ole' Spicey off as an idiot who bumbled words when put on the spot--just an exceptionally incompetent WH Press Secretary...
But I can't do that.
You see, I've had this fear since I was a little girl that with the passing-on of much my grandparents' generation--of the last generation of Holocaust survivors, the entire Shoah would become dulled in the memory of history. That without those walking around with numbers inked into their worn, wrinkled skin, those with scars and stories they were willing to tell--horror stories not one of us could truly imagine, humanity would start to forget just how unbelievably horrific it all really was.
And I do believe that's happening.
I often find myself shocked when I see Holocaust and Hitler analogies used so casually as to mitigate the reality of their horror. I see smart, educated people--people whose intentions are entirely good--unintentionally misstating facts. I've had friends (plural) comment on the "thousands" of people Hitler killed. They were condemning him, and I did politely correct them, but I wasn't upset with them.
But I am upset.
I'm upset with Holocaust education in this country and around the world. I'm upset with those who believe the opposite--that we put too much emphasis on the Holocaust. I'm upset that it matters when someone thinks the man responsible for the slaughter of ten million people (six million of them Jews)--along with tens of millions more who died because of his war--killed just 'thousands' of people. Not because thousands of deaths wouldn't have been awful enough...
But because there is nothing I wouldn't do to go back in time and have that be true.
So, no, Sean Spicer, I do not accept this as just another bumbling of words for Melissa McCarthy to mock on SNL, and this is why...
Not only did Spicer wildly misstate a deeply significant fact of history, but he did so for the purpose of implying that, in using chemical weapons, Assad had crossed a line even Hitler himself never did, and is thus the worse of the two.
When called out, instead of simply admitting his error, Spicer tried to walk back the comment in a way that implied that it was more humane, or better, to load millions of people into cattle cars, and deliver them not to "Holocaust Centers" (which sounds like a fucking museum, by the way, and is language which I can't help but wonder at), but to Death Camps. To Extermination Camps, and, for many, directly into gas chambers, in order to carry out the "The final Solution to the Jewish Problem" (*Spoiler alert, if you missed it in history class, the "problem" was our existence, and the "solution" was literally exterminating all of the Jews in Europe).
In trying to walk back his comment, Spicer also used the word "innocent" to describe Assad's victims, to distinguish them from Hitler's ['non-innocent' is the implication, intended or not] victims, before cutting himself off and making the distinction that Hitler didn't gas indiscriminately "into the middle of towns".
So, Spicey, let me be clear. The Jewish people of Germany--and every country he invaded and thus took responsibility for--were Hitler's "own people". The fact that he--not indiscriminately, but based on religion--gassed millions of his own people, not only including, but especially children (who were often deemed to have little to no work value at concentration camps), means that not only was your entire statement faulty (and, frankly, offensive), but it was dangerous.
"Those who forget history are doomed to repeat it." We know this. We've all heard some form of the old adage, hopefully more than once. And yet I see it happening all around me, and I find it truly terrifying (and I don't scare easily).
It is not only for the Jews of this world that Holocaust education is of the utmost importance. It is for us all.
I thought about including a Holocaust-related image with this post--something shocking, to wake people up. Mass graves? No--too jarring, too...real. But I did consider images of starving Jews (and Roma) in Auschwitz, or skeletally-thin children in striped pajamas. But I chose the photo above instead, taken a few years ago at the The Jewish Heritage Museum in downtown New York City, at a private film screening for the movie Defiance. The film was about my grandfather, Zus Bielski (played by Liev Screiber) and his brothersm Tuvia, and Asael (played by Daniel Craig and Jamie Bell), who led the largest Jewish Partisan group of not only resistance fighters, but of women and children as well, including those they rescued from a ghetto mere days before its "liquidation". By the end of the war, they had saved more than 1,200 Jewish men, women, and children from certain death (including, by the way, Rae and Joseph Kushner--yes, the paternal grandparents of Jared Kushner, husband to Ivanka Trump and advisor to the President). Nearly three quarters of a century later, The Bielski Brigade's descendants--we--number in the tens of thousands. This photo is of the direct descendants/family of the Bielski Partisans who were present that day in New York.
This image is one of hope--one of survival and human triumph in the face of unimaginable horror. But it is also a reminder of how many were lost. How many descendants never got the chance to walk this earth because of innocent lives snuffed out barely 75 years ago. And the horrific ways in which they were snuffed out cannot be forgotten. It can't be forgotten on a facebook post, it can't be forgotten in casual conversation, and it sure as hell can't be forgotten in a statement from the White House Press Secretary while discussing a modern-day dictator who uses chemical weapons on his own people.
What part of "Never Forget" is confusing?
But as the brilliant Elie Wiesel said, “For the dead and the living, we must bear witness.” So I will never be silent about things like this. Never. And I hope to God Jared Kushner learned the same lesson from our grandparents' stories, and is using his influence for the better, and, today, specifically, for demanding Sean Spicer's fucking resignation.
At the risk of coming across on the heavy-handed side, I'm including below a little more info on this particular Spicer fuck-up from our good friend, Wikipedia:
"In the early years of World War II, the Jews were sent primarily to forced labour camps and ghettoised, but from 1942 onward they were being deported to the extermination camps under the guise of "resettlement". For political and logistical reasons, the most infamous Nazi German killing factories were built in occupied Poland, where most of the intended victims lived; Poland had the greatest Jewish population in Nazi controlled Europe. On top of that, the new death camps outside the prewar borders of the Third Reich proper could be kept secret from the German civil populace.
Pure extermination camps--
During the initial phase of the Final Solution, gas vans producing poisonous exhaust fumes were developed in the occupied Soviet Union (USSR) and at the Chełmno extermination camp in occupied Poland, before being used elsewhere. The killing method was based on experience gained by the SS during the secretive Aktion T4 programme of involuntary euthanasia. There were two types of death chambers operating during the Holocaust.
Unlike at Auschwitz, where the cyanide-based Zyklon-B was used to exterminate trainloads of prisoners under the guise of "relocation", the camps at Treblinka, Bełżec, and Sobibór, built during Operation Reinhard (October 1941 – November 1943), used lethal exhaust fumes produced by the large internal combustion engines. The three killing centres of Einsatz Reinhard were constructed predominantly for the extermination of Poland's Jews trapped in the Nazi ghettos. At first, the victim's bodies were buried with the use of crawler excavators, but they were later exhumed and incinerated in open-air pyres to hide the evidence of genocide.
Whereas the Auschwitz II (Auschwitz–Birkenau) and Majdanek camps were parts of a labor camp complex, the Operation Reinhard camps and the Chełmno camp WERE BUILT EXCLUSIVELY FOR THE QUICK EXTERMINATION OF ENTIRE COMMUNITIES OF PEOPLE (PRIMARILY JEWS) WITHIN HOURS OF THEIR ARRIVAL. All were constructed near branch lines that linked to the Polish railway system. They had almost identical design, including staff members transferring between locations. Selected able-bodied prisoners delivered to death camps were not immediately killed, but pressed into labor units called Sonderkommandos to help with the extermination process by removing corpses from the gas chambers and burning them. The extermination camps were physically small (only several hundred metres long and wide) and equipped with minimal housing and support installations, not meant for the railway transports. The Nazis deceived the victims upon their arrival, telling them that they were at a temporary transit stop, and soon would continue to German Arbeitslagers (work camps) farther east.
At the camps of Operation Reinhard including Bełżec, Sobibór, and Treblinka trainloads of prisoners were destined for immediate death in gas chambers designed exclusively for that purpose. The mass killing facilities were developed at about the same time inside the Auschwitz II-Birkenau subcamp of a forced labour complex, and at the Majdanek concentration camp. In most other camps prisoners were selected for slave labor first; they were kept alive on starvation rations and made available to work as required. Auschwitz, Majdanek, and Jasenovac were retrofitted with Zyklon-B gas chambers and crematoria buildings as the time went on, remaining operational until war's end in 1945. The Maly Trostenets extermination camp in the USSR initially operated as a prison camp. It became an extermination camp later in the war with victims undergoing mass shootings. This was supplemented with gassings in a van by exhaust fumes from October 1943...."
Continue reading here: en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Extermination_camp