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Annex – Case studies

  1. Use of the yellow star for protests related to the COVID-19 pandemic

When several countries introduced restrictive measures to control the spread of COVID-19 during the pandemic as a way to incentivize vaccination and prevent future viral surges, protestors accused governments of creating new “classes” of citizens, namely: the “vaccinated” and “unvaccinated,” and compared the measures with the segregationist and genocidal policies of the Nazi regime and their collaborators. Protestors in several countries created altered versions of the yellow star – which Jewish people throughout Europe were forced to wear by the Nazis and their collaborators – on which they added “No vaccine” or “Unvaccinated.” Moreover, some protestors created signs that equated quarantine to concentration camps and compared themselves with well-known victims of the Holocaust, like Anne Frank.

“People compare contemporary events to the Holocaust to draw attention to their own cause, which has nothing do to with the history of the Holocaust,” Dr. Juliane Wetzel, Chair of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s Committee on Antisemitism and Holocaust Denial is cited in the article Debunking Inappropriate Holocaust Comparisons: The Covid-19 Yellow Star, published on the website of the #ProtectTheFacts campaign in 2023. Such comparisons trivialize this history and insult the victims, as “vaccination requirements bear no resemblance to the experience and reality of persecuted Jews in Nazi Germany or during the Holocaust and reveal a deep lack of empathy towards victims of the Holocaust, or the incapacity to conceive of Jews as victims.”1, as stated in the report History under attack: Holocaust denial and distortion on social media, published by the UN and UNESCO in 2022. Moreover, such manifestations make way for the expression of antisemitic stereotypes in the mainstream. They are more than inappropriate: they are harmful.

Yad Vashem issued a statement urging people not to draw such misguided and offensive parallels as they trivialize the horrific atrocities that were perpetrated and denigrate the memory of victims and survivors.

  1. “The Holocaust on your plate”

In 2003, PETA – People for Ethical Treatment of Animals – organized an exhibition called “The Holocaust on your plate” juxtaposing images of the Holocaust with images of factory farming such as images of children behind barbed wire with images of pigs behind bars; emaciated people with emaciated animals; and people crammed into bunks, with chickens in a battery farm. The intended aim of the exhibition was to raise awareness about the inhumane treatment of animals in factory farming and mass animal transportation.

Abraham Foxman, the then national director of the Anti-Defamation League and a Holocaust survivor, said that while the abuse of animals should be opposed, “the effort by PETA to compare the deliberate systematic murder of millions of Jews to the issue of animal rights is abhorrent.” Germany’s highest court banned the exhibition stating that it would have made “the fate of the victims of the Holocaust appear banal and trivial.”

  1. Mocking the Holocaust

‘Humour’ and mocking of the Holocaust are used to spread Holocaust distortion on social media. The reasons that motivate people to propagate this form of Holocaust distortion can range from an attempt to gain acceptability and legitimacy among the wider public; to propagate racist, white supremacist ideology; to recruit and radicalize people to extremist groups; and the use of shared, covert language and signals strengthen a sense of group identity.1

But such manifestations are not restricted to the online world. For example, in 2015, an art exhibition at Estonia’s Tartu Art Museum was dedicated to “remembering” the Holocaust in various ways, including “through the prism of humor.” The show was advertised with a poster resembling a photo taken after the liberation of Auschwitz, except that “Jewish prisoners” looked well-fed and dressed, and grinned menacingly at the camera. One film in the exhibition portrayed naked actors playing tag in what is supposed to represent a gas chamber. A painting depicted the icon sign on Hollywood hills replaced by the word Holocaust.

The show sparked outrage in Estonia and beyond. The exhibition was eventually removed.

  1. De-Judaization of the Holocaust

The Holocaust was the systematic, state-sponsored persecution and murder of six million Jews by Nazi Germany, its allies and collaborators. While this is an established fact, there are attempts to ignore the systematic aspect of the genocide or omit the fact that Jewish people were the main target for the sole reason of being Jewish. For example: in many countries, commemoration plaques at sites of mass execution of Jewish people do to mention that the people who died there were Jewish and refer to them with more general terms like peaceful citizens or innocent people; speeches by world leaders at Holocaust remembrance events have failed, at times, to make any reference to Jewish people as the main victims of the Holocaust.

Millions of other innocent civilians were persecuted and murdered by the Nazis and their collaborators, but antisemitism and the intention to eliminate all  Jews was central to Nazi ideology policy. Jewish identity was, in fact, the perpetrators’ reason for committing those atrocities. Antisemitic prejudices may limit peoples’ empathy towards Jews, which can inhibit their recognition of Jews as victims, including during the Holocaust. 

  1. Glorifying the Roma Genocide

In various countries, people praise the Nazis and their collaborators for their actions against the Roma, instigating and alluding to such actions in the present. Racist comments like “too bad [Hitler] did not clean them up”, “the Roma deserve to have been sent to concentration camps” have been identified in different countries, in the study The Roma Holocaust/Roma Genocide in Southeastern Europe – Between Oblivion, Acknowledgment and Distortion, published by The Auschwitz Institute for the Prevention of Genocide and Mass Atrocities and the Roma Program in 2022.

Glorification of the Roma Genocide is sometimes disguised as humor. For example, comedian Jimmy Carr said on his Netflix show that “[w]hen people talk about the Holocaust, they talk about the tragedy of 6 million Jewish lives being lost to the Nazi war machine. But they never mention the thousands of Gypsies that were killed by the Nazis. (…) No one ever wants to talk about that, because no one ever wants to talk about the positives.” When asked if he regretted his joke, the comedian remained silent.

  1. Intentional Distortion of the Holocaust on Wikipedia

In 2023 authors Jan Grabowski, a historian at the University of Ottawa, and Shira Klein of Chapman University published the article Wikipedia’s Intentional Distortion of the History of the Holocaust, that uncovers the systematic, intentional distortion of Holocaust history on the English-language Wikipedia, the world’s largest open-access encyclopedia. Their research reveals that edits on the Wikipedia pages on the history of the Holocaust minimize Polish antisemitism, exaggerate the role of Poles in saving Jews, and insinuate that most Jews supported Communism and conspired with Communists against Poles, among other narratives.

The researchers discovered that Wikipedia editors chose to use unreliable sources of information and quoted marginal historians instead of citing the research of prominent historians in their fields. One example involves attempts to present the works of Ewa Kurek, a Polish writer who has been accused of antisemitism, as a reliable source. Kurek has made baseless claims, such as suggesting that Jews enjoyed life in Nazi ghettos and minimizing the number of Jewish victims. Another example is a Wikipedia entry stating that “many Polish Gentiles concealed hundreds of thousands of their Jewish neighbors.” Explaining that this statement is exaggerated, Grabowski writes: “Considering no more than 30,000 (out of more than 3 million) Polish Jews survived the war and occupation on Polish territory, and that many of these survived without Polish help, to argue that hundreds of thousands of Jews found shelter in Polish homes is nonsensical.”

  1. Distortion of the Holocaust by political figures

Political parties in a number of countries and states are using Holocaust denial and distortion as part of their political platforms. They try to relativize or deny national responsibility for the crimes of the Holocaust. While these statements do not deny the Holocaust in Europe, or the responsibility of Nazi Germany, they deny the involvement of local people and the role of the governments that collaborated or allied with Nazi Germany. Specific incidents have been denied, for example, the involvement of national citizens in the killing of Jewish children, women and men.

The numbers of victims have also been minimized by political figures. For example, both the size and character of concentration camps that were established or managed by national regimes have been disputed by politicians or political groups wishing to distort this chapter of national history. The function of a camp as a killing site may be willfully disguised by political narratives claiming the camps functioned only as labor or internment camps.

1 History under attack: Holocaust denial and distortion on social media, published by the UN and UNESCO in 2022, p. 45

2 History under attack: Holocaust denial and distortion on social media, published by the UN and UNESCO in 2022, p. 38