No, This Isn’t Kristallnacht

And your political opponents aren’t Nazis.

Over the past few days, I’ve seen several viral posts and news articles going around the Internet that really struck a nerve with my historian brain. These have involved people on the right and the left, often well-meaning, comparing current political events and turmoil to the infamous November 1938 “Night of Broken Glass”, also known as Kristallnacht. That two-night pogrom in Nazi Germany involved the widespread destruction of Jewish businesses and property, the torching of almost 1,500 synagogues, and the killing of over 90 Jews. In the aftermath of these destructive and targeted riots, Jews were done the ignominy of having to pay for the damages caused to their own property by vile anti-Semitic thugs. Besides that forced payment, 30,000 Jews were arrested and sent to concentration camps, due to nothing else but their religious and ethnic origins. Kristallnacht is widely seen by historians as being one of the first actions of the genocide of the European Jews known as the Holocaust. As such, it is rightly viewed as an evil atrocity which should never happen again.

Given that historical background, partisan political figures should really avoid making facile comparisons to such a horrific event weighted with so much baggage. Forgive me for quoting myself, but I wrote the following to conclude a long research paper on Holocaust denial:

Besides engagement and debunking, another helpful strategy to counter deniers in the modern age is to push back against the widespread use of the Holocaust – a real historical atrocity – as a shorthand for anything that is bad or that one does not like. These facetious and often farcical comparisons only serve the denialists’ ends, as they necessarily cheapen the Holocaust itself. This is not to say that historians should not compare the Holocaust to other genocides, but that they should assert that comparisons to relatively banal politics or events should be avoided at all costs. It is indeed tempting to use the verbiage of the Holocaust to assert that something is bad, but this only helps plant the seeds of doubt in the minds of the public, especially when the term is used to decry something that is not universally agreed-upon as being bad. For instance, it is extremely unhelpful to compare one’s political adversaries to Nazis and their policies to the Holocaust. No matter how much one may dislike a political figure, no one but Hitler was Hitler.

I believe in that passage just as much, if not moreso, given the events of the past week. That means that I find the comparison of the awful, destructive Capitol riot on January 6 to Kristallnacht which was made by Arnold Schwarzenegger (to popular acclaim) to be gross and unhelpful. It also means that I find the absurd comparison of the problematic deplatforming of the social media app Parler to Kristallnacht which was made by the Fox News host Jeanine Pirro to be gross and unhelpful. Neither of those events are even remotely comparable to the atrocity that was the pogrom of November 9 & 10, 1938. People should stop using the Holocaust as a partisan political cudgel, no matter how enticing it may seem. Those comparisons only diminish the gravity of the Holocaust and reduce one of the worst genocides in human history to a political football to be thrown around at a whim. The Jewish victims of the Nazi regime deserve better.

So I will leave you with two final thoughts. First, please, for the love of God, learn about history that isn’t plastered all over popular culture like World War II is; the historical knowledge you will glean will only help you better understand the world around you and avoid making baseless comparisons like those of Schwarzenegger and Pirro. Second, if for some reason you feel the deep need to make comparisons of modern events to the Holocaust, I’d strongly suggest you read up on the treatment of the Uighurs by the Chinese Communist Party and focus your ire there.

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