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Blaming the victim

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It is unfortunately commonplace for ideologues of various persuasions to make baseless, misleading, and often deliberately offensive analogies between the Holocaust and Nazism in general when seeking to smear their opponents. Such false parallels must always be strenuously refuted. Whether cynically calculated or simply insensitive, they cheapen and trivialise the realities of this horrific period in history, insulting the memory of its victims, and desensitising people to the critical lessons that need to be learned from it.

On Monday evening, 2 May, I was interviewed on SABC TV regarding the latest instance of this abuse of truth and memory, in this case by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. Ever since invading Ukraine, Russia has sought to justify its actions with the ludicrous claim that it is defending itself against the menace of incipient Ukrainian Nazism. That neo-Nazi groupings exist in Ukraine is undeniable and of course we don’t condone this, but it’s a distortion of reality to claim that they pose the same kind of threat as Nazi Germany did.

Lavrov went even further than this, however. When challenged about how Ukraine could be a hotbed of Nazism when its president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, was Jewish he responded that Adolf Hitler also had Jewish antecedents, and that some of the worst antisemites were themselves Jews.

It was disturbing enough to see Jews being dragged into a conflict that has nothing to do with them, but the most scandalous feature of these remarks was their suggestion that Jews were somehow complicit in their own destruction. Israel’s Foreign Minister Yair Lapid put it in a nutshell when he said, “Jews did not murder themselves in the Holocaust; the lowest level of racism against Jews is to accuse Jews themselves of antisemitism.”

Lavrov’s comments indicate how in spite of having long since been investigated and debunked by mainstream historians, the theory of Hitler having Jewish ancestry persists in certain quarters. The durability of the myth can at least in part be attributed to a desire, subconscious or otherwise, to shift some of the guilt for the Holocaust from its perpetrators to its primary victims. Evidently, it’s easier for some to come to terms with the genocide of European Jewry when Jews themselves, to the extent that they helped to produce Hitler in the first place, are held to be complicit in what befell them. Such loaded historical revisionism is also an affront to truth and memory, and what makes this particular case that much more serious is that it comes not from a fringe conspiracy theorist but the representative of a global superpower. There has been a strong backlash against Lavrov’s outrageous and bizarre statements, which one hopes will resonate beyond the global Jewish community.

  • Listen to Charisse Zeifert on Jewish Board Talk, 101.9 ChaiFM, every Friday 12:00 to 13:00.

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