We reported yesterday on a controversy Friday, when Pres. Donald Trump released a statement commemorating International Holocaust Remembrance Day that failed to use words like “Jewish” or even anti-Semitism; in other words, the statement gave no indication that the Holocaust particularly affected Jews.
On Saturday, Trump’s spokesperson Hope Hicks responded to CNN and said that the decision was deliberate. “We are an incredibly inclusive group and we took into account all of those who suffered,” Hicks said, referring the reporter to a Huffington Post article titled “The Holocaust’s Forgotten Victims: The 5 Million Non-Jewish People Killed By The Nazis.”
Here’s the thing: that “five million” figure is complete nonsense, having been de-bunked numerous times. Even a close reading of the Huffington Post article will tell you that, as the numbers don’t add up. Romani people clearly suffered horribly at the hands of the Nazis, with 1.5 million deaths cited there, but while thousands of gay people and priests were murdered in concentration camps, adding those numbers to the Romani total won’t get you to two million, not to mention five.
In fact, the number seems to come from Nazi-hunter Simon Wisenthal, who came to it for political and not historical reasons:
Wiesenthal’s most well-known philosophical battle was with [renowned survivor Elie] Wiesel. The two squared off indirectly in the late 1970s over the question of who were the true victims of the Holocaust; that is, was the Holocaust a Jewish event or a universal event? Wiesel argued that the Holocaust was a uniquely Jewish experience, settling the role of non-Jews in the Holocaust with the turn of a phrase: “While not all victims were Jews, all Jews were victims.”
Wiesenthal, in contrast, argued that the Holocaust was the death of 11 million people, 6 million Jews and 5 million non-Jews. The figure was invented: If we consider all civilian non-Jewish deaths, then it is too small; if we consider only those who died at the hands of the Nazi killing apparatus, then it is too large. But the central point was Wiesenthal’s belief that the inclusion of non-Jews was essential to his postwar commitment. Nations had to feel that they had lost their own if they were to bring the war criminals to justice.
Again, it’s important to note that Trump’s statement didn’t commemorate “the Romani, gay, disabled, Communist, Catholic and Jewish people targeted by the Nazis,” just “innocent people,” and then the administration defended this language by citing imaginary facts.
Talking to CNN, Anti-Defamation League Director Jonathan Greenblatt noted that “downplaying or disregarding the degree to which Jews were targeted for elimination during the Holocaust is a common theme of nationalist movements like those seen in Russia and Eastern Europe” and a rhetoric-trick employed by countries with notably anti-Semitic factions such as Iran, Russia, Poland, and Hungary.