Descriptions of evil and their misuse

The term "Nazi" has lately been transformed from a garden-variety political slur into pointed but wildly inaccurate or completely false description of actions taken by politicians and other government officials.

Since the 1960s, "Nazi" and "fascist" could be thrown around without much fanfare or effect.  It was long understood that it could be used – and overused – as a general synonym for "hateful" or "evil."

In the current clash over immigration policy, however, specific actions are being used in comparison to the Holocaust and the brutal actions of the Third Reich.  This diminishes the reality of the Holocaust and desensitizes the ill informed to the horrors of that period.

If the treatment by Americans of illegal migrants, including children, can be compared to the actions of the Nazis toward Jews and others, we will lose all understanding of evil, and the lessons of the Holocaust will be forgotten.

Separation.  Concentration camps.  Internment.  These terms and others are being thrown around by people who should know better, with little regard for their implications.

A small excerpt from a memoir, Two Sisters: A Journey of Survival Through Auschwitz (Library of the Holocaust, 2016) offers a little context to help to understand the difference.

Livia Szabo Krancberg was from the northern Transylvanian town of Petrova, then considered part of Hungary, the last country in Europe to have its Jewish population deported en masse.  Hundreds of thousands were murdered.

She describes the scene shortly after arriving in Auschwitz:

Someone screamed out an order ... for the women.  Mother, Toby and I found ourselves in a group of single women ranging from about fifteen to maybe sixty five.  We were surrounded by guards instructing us to make a column, five women abreast.  I looked around.  I saw a group of women with children from babies to about fourteen years of age.  Rose [Livia's sister], holding Shullie in her arms, was in that group.  Also in that group I saw pregnant women, sick women and crippled women.  Little did I know that this group together with the male crippled and sick was doomed to be gassed that same day.

But, as luck had it, a German soldier saved Rose's life.  How so?  While Rose unaware of her fate was looking for her mother to whom she was totally attached, I spotted her.  "Rose," I waved.  "Mother, Toby and I are here!"  To get to my group, Rose had to cross a dividing line.  A German soldier saw her attempting to do just that.  He pushed her back to her group.  Rose watched the guard. As she saw him involved in holding the crowd together, she swiftly crossed the line and placed herself on the outside side of our row next to Mother.

Our group was heading toward Dr. Mengele's table to be selected as to who will live and who will die.  Oh!  Uh!  A German guard saw Rose.  He realized she was in the wrong group; she had a child.  He knew something we didn't.  He knew she belonged to the group with children, elderly, sick and crippled[.] ...

He looked at her.  She was young, strong and beautiful, and he made up his mind to save her life  Why?  I could only speculate.  Was she reminding him of his sister, or a friend, or someone he very much liked at one time?  He lined himself up with Rose.  In a soft whispering voice he asked whether or not the woman next to her was her mother.  If so she should give the child to her to carry.  Upon hearing the guard's words, she became annoyed.  She gestured with her hand, as if saying, 'Mind your own business!'  But the guard was determined to continue with his rescue efforts.

About a yard from Dr. Mengele's table, he forced the child out of her hands and put Shullie in my mother's.  Before she became aware of what had happened, she was in front of Dr. Mengele's table.  He looked her up and down...and showed her to the right.  Toby six years my junior, and I, he motioned to the right as well.  My mother, in her sixties, holding Shullie in her arms he motioned to the left to be gassed.

Livia never saw her mother or nephew again.  They had been reduced to ash before nightfall.  Their fate and millions like them and well as those who survived the hell they were subjected to should never be used as political theater.  It is overheated hyperbole masquerading as history.

Jeremy B. Kay is the executive director of the Library of the Holocaust Foundation (HolocaustLibrary.org).

The term "Nazi" has lately been transformed from a garden-variety political slur into pointed but wildly inaccurate or completely false description of actions taken by politicians and other government officials.

Since the 1960s, "Nazi" and "fascist" could be thrown around without much fanfare or effect.  It was long understood that it could be used – and overused – as a general synonym for "hateful" or "evil."

In the current clash over immigration policy, however, specific actions are being used in comparison to the Holocaust and the brutal actions of the Third Reich.  This diminishes the reality of the Holocaust and desensitizes the ill informed to the horrors of that period.

If the treatment by Americans of illegal migrants, including children, can be compared to the actions of the Nazis toward Jews and others, we will lose all understanding of evil, and the lessons of the Holocaust will be forgotten.

Separation.  Concentration camps.  Internment.  These terms and others are being thrown around by people who should know better, with little regard for their implications.

A small excerpt from a memoir, Two Sisters: A Journey of Survival Through Auschwitz (Library of the Holocaust, 2016) offers a little context to help to understand the difference.

Livia Szabo Krancberg was from the northern Transylvanian town of Petrova, then considered part of Hungary, the last country in Europe to have its Jewish population deported en masse.  Hundreds of thousands were murdered.

She describes the scene shortly after arriving in Auschwitz:

Someone screamed out an order ... for the women.  Mother, Toby and I found ourselves in a group of single women ranging from about fifteen to maybe sixty five.  We were surrounded by guards instructing us to make a column, five women abreast.  I looked around.  I saw a group of women with children from babies to about fourteen years of age.  Rose [Livia's sister], holding Shullie in her arms, was in that group.  Also in that group I saw pregnant women, sick women and crippled women.  Little did I know that this group together with the male crippled and sick was doomed to be gassed that same day.

But, as luck had it, a German soldier saved Rose's life.  How so?  While Rose unaware of her fate was looking for her mother to whom she was totally attached, I spotted her.  "Rose," I waved.  "Mother, Toby and I are here!"  To get to my group, Rose had to cross a dividing line.  A German soldier saw her attempting to do just that.  He pushed her back to her group.  Rose watched the guard. As she saw him involved in holding the crowd together, she swiftly crossed the line and placed herself on the outside side of our row next to Mother.

Our group was heading toward Dr. Mengele's table to be selected as to who will live and who will die.  Oh!  Uh!  A German guard saw Rose.  He realized she was in the wrong group; she had a child.  He knew something we didn't.  He knew she belonged to the group with children, elderly, sick and crippled[.] ...

He looked at her.  She was young, strong and beautiful, and he made up his mind to save her life  Why?  I could only speculate.  Was she reminding him of his sister, or a friend, or someone he very much liked at one time?  He lined himself up with Rose.  In a soft whispering voice he asked whether or not the woman next to her was her mother.  If so she should give the child to her to carry.  Upon hearing the guard's words, she became annoyed.  She gestured with her hand, as if saying, 'Mind your own business!'  But the guard was determined to continue with his rescue efforts.

About a yard from Dr. Mengele's table, he forced the child out of her hands and put Shullie in my mother's.  Before she became aware of what had happened, she was in front of Dr. Mengele's table.  He looked her up and down...and showed her to the right.  Toby six years my junior, and I, he motioned to the right as well.  My mother, in her sixties, holding Shullie in her arms he motioned to the left to be gassed.

Livia never saw her mother or nephew again.  They had been reduced to ash before nightfall.  Their fate and millions like them and well as those who survived the hell they were subjected to should never be used as political theater.  It is overheated hyperbole masquerading as history.

Jeremy B. Kay is the executive director of the Library of the Holocaust Foundation (HolocaustLibrary.org).