For years, I’ve denounced the proliferation of Nazi analogies in our public discourse.
From right to left, reckless politicians and overheated pundits have invoked Hitler, the Nazis or the Holocaust in order to score rhetorical points — and historians like me have condemned them for doing so.
Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was wrong to call US border facilities “concentration camps,” and Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene was equally off base when she labeled advocates of Covid vaccines “medical brown shirts,” which references Nazi storm-trooper uniforms. Abortion is not another Holocaust.
The reason such comparisons are wrong is that they severely distort the facts, both by implicitly minimizing Nazi atrocities and wildly exaggerating the actions of whomever the current name-callers happen to be targeting.
But when a comparison is valid — when a contemporary villain does something which indeed reaches the levels of Nazi barbarism — then it needs to be acknowledged.
And that’s why this time, it’s different.
The Oct. 7 Hamas pogrom in southern Israel has changed everything — including aspects of our public discourse.
Obviously, the Hamas attack on Israel was not identical to the Nazi Holocaust.
Historical events are rarely the same.
Yet the points of similarity are undeniable.
Consider the mentality of the killers.
Of the 6 million Jews murdered by the Nazis and their collaborators, more than 1 million were slaughtered by gunfire at close range.
And so too were Jews shot dead for being Jews on kibbutzim across southern Israel.
Scholars emphasize the role of “eliminationist” antisemitic ideology, the kind of genocidal thinking prevalent in the media and schools of Nazi Germany — and in the media and schools run by Hamas and the Palestinian Authority in our own time.
Dehumanizing Nazi propaganda depicted Jews as rats, spiders or lice.
The only solution to this “Jewish problem,” according to the Nazis, was the “final solution”: death. The Palestinian Authority’s ruling faction, Fatah, celebrated the Oct. 7 pogrom by posting a video showing a boot with the colors of the Palestinian flag squashing a rat on an Israeli flag.
Portrayals of Jews as rodents, insects, and various predatory creatures in need of eradication are staples of Palestinian Arab popular culture.
The Hamas killers echoed the Nazis in another significant way: By photographing their atrocities.
Nazi storm troopers amused themselves by posing for photos as they slashed the beards of their Jewish captives or forced them to grovel.
Death camp commandants delighted in assembling photo albums that included scenes of Jewish men, women and children being selected for the gas chambers.
The album belonging to Treblinka commandant Kurt Franz bore the title “The Good Old Days.”
Today’s technology is new, but the mindset isn’t.
Hamas pogromists used social media platforms to broadcast themselves kidnapping, torturing, and sexually assaulting their Israeli victims.
Some uploaded their gruesome “trophy videos” to social media in order to torment their distraught families. Such content was even livestreamed on Facebook.
The use of sexual violence as a weapon on Oct. 7 had its antecedents both in earlier Arab pogroms and during the Holocaust.
Rape and mutilation were a notorious part of Palestinian Arab atrocities against Jews in Hebron in 1929, according to survivors’ accounts.
Arab soldiers and Palestinian Arab terrorist forces decapitated and sexually mutilated Jews during the 1948 Arab war against the newborn state of Israel, according to numerous mainstream historians.
Likewise in the Kristallnacht rampage in Germany in 1938 — and throughout the Holocaust years that followed— there were numerous instances of Nazis raping Jewish women.
The Shoah Foundation’s oral history archive contains more than 1,700 testimonies by survivors detailing sexual violence.
In other ways, too, one can detect similarities between then and now.
Again, not identical—but worth noting.
Consider the prevailing attitudes at many American colleges.
In the 1930s, universities such as Harvard and Columbia built friendly relationships with Nazi Germany, invited Nazi representatives to their campuses, and organized student exchanges with Nazi-controlled German schools.
Today, many universities are looking the other way as Hamas supporters intimidate Jewish students; US schools such as Bard College, George Washington University, and William Paterson University have even participated in joint programs with Palestinian Arab universities where student branches of Hamas operate freely.
Or consider the phenomenon of Holocaust-denial.
Today’s equivalent, Oct. 7 denial, is already emerging.
Queen Rania of Jordan recently told CNN that “It hasn’t been independently verified . . . that Israeli children [were] found butchered in an Israeli kibbutz.” Officials of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, a leading Muslim advocacy group, have claimed that the reports of beheadings are “unverified” and “war propaganda.”
Fortunately, the Jewish people today are not in the same position of powerlessness and vulnerability as European Jews in the 1940s.
Today there is a sovereign Jewish state and a powerful Jewish army.
But when it comes to the behavior of the enemies of the Jews, have either the mindset or the tactics changed very much?
The discovery of an Arabic-language copy of Adolf Hitler’s “Mein Kampf” in a Gaza apartment last week helps provide the answer.
The children’s room, where the book was found,had been taken over by Hamas as a base for their operations.
The copy’s margins held notes written by the terrorist who had been studying it.
Nearly a century after its release, Hitler’s manifesto of antisemitism and violence, is still being used to kill Jews as effectively as ever.
Rafael Medoff is founding director of The David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies. His latest book, “America and the Holocaust: A Documentary History,” was published by the Jewish Publication Society & University of Nebraska Press.