On Friday, to commemorate International Holocaust Remembrance Day, the White House released a statement that didn’t mention Jews or anti-Semitism. The statement read:
It is with a heavy heart and somber mind that we remember and honor the victims, survivors, heroes of the Holocaust. It is impossible to fully fathom the depravity and horror inflicted on innocent people by Nazi terror. Yet, we know that in the darkest hours of humanity, light shines the brightest. As we remember those who died, we are deeply grateful to those who risked their lives to save the innocent.
In the name of the perished, I pledge to do everything in my power throughout my Presidency, and my life, to ensure that the forces of evil never again defeat the powers of good. Together, we will make love and tolerance prevalent throughout the world.
The omission of the Jewish people, six million of whom were murdered by the Nazis as Adolf Hitler’s Jew hatred was given full rein, triggered a firestorm of criticism, prompting Trump administration spokeswoman Hope Hicks to tell CNN that the reason the White House omitted the Jews was “despite what the media reports, we are an incredibly inclusive group and we took into account all of those who suffered.”
Hicks cited a Huffington Post UK story that focused on 5 million others killed by the Nazis, including “priests, gypsies, people with mental or physical disabilities, communists, trade unionists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, anarchists, Poles and other Slavic peoples, and resistance fighters.” She said, “it was our honor to issue a statement in remembrance of this important day.”
Anti-Defamation League Director Jonathan Greenblatt tweeted that the “@WhiteHouse statement on #HolocaustMemorialDay, misses that it was six million Jews who perished, not just ‘innocent people'” and “Puzzling and troubling @WhiteHouse #HolocaustMemorialDay stmt has no mention of Jews. GOP and Dem. presidents have done so in the past.”
Greenblatt pointed out that the United Nations established International Holocaust Remembrance Day because of Holocaust denial and the refusal by countries including Iran, Russia, Poland, and Hungary to acknowledge Hitler’s attempt to exterminate Jews, “opting instead to talk about generic suffering rather than recognizing this catastrophic incident for what is was: the intended genocide of the Jewish people.”
Hicks quoted Ronald Lauder of the World Jewish Congress stating, “It does no honor to the millions of Jews murdered in the Holocaust to play politics with their memory. Any fair reading of the White House statement today on the International Holocaust Memorial Day will see it appropriately commemorates the suffering and the heroism that mark that dark chapter in modern history.”
In 2005, the United Nations marked the 60th anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi concentration camps by designating Jan. 27, the day the Red Army entered Auschwitz-Birkenau, as International Holocaust Memorial Day.
President George W. Bush stated on International Holocaust Memorial Day in 2007:
Remembering the victims, heroes, and lessons of the Holocaust is particularly important today as Holocaust denial continues, urged on by the Iranian regime, which perversely seeks to call into question the historical fact of the Nazis’ campaign of mass murder. We must continue to condemn the resurgence of anti-Semitism, that same virulent intolerance that led to the Holocaust, and we must combat bigotry and hatred in all their forms, in America and abroad.
May God bless the memory of the victims of the Holocaust. And may we never forget.
Barack Obama, on International Holocaust Memorial Day in 2010: “Those brick buildings from which there was no escape—where so many Jews died with Sh’ma Israel on their lips. And the very earth at Auschwitz, which is still hallowed by their ashes—Jews and those who tried to save them, Polish and Hungarian, French and Dutch, Roma and Russian, straight and gay, and so many others…The perpetrators of that crime tried to annihilate the entire Jewish people.”
As John Podhoretz wrote in Commentary in a response to Hicks’ explanation:
No, Hope Hicks, and no to whomever you are serving as a mouthpiece. The Nazis killed an astonishing number of people in monstrous ways and targeted certain groups—Gypsies, the mentally challenged, and open homosexuals, among others. But the Final Solution was aimed solely at the Jews. The Holocaust was about the Jews. There is no “proud” way to offer a remembrance of the Holocaust that does not reflect that simple, awful, world-historical fact. To universalize it to “all those who suffered” is to scrub the Holocaust of its meaning.
Podhoretz noted that there has been an effort in recent years by some people to minimize the centrality of the Jews as the primary targets of the Nazis. After citing instances in which he was attacked for pointing out the Jews were the main targets of the Nazis in the Holocaust and “the most beleaguered people in history,” respectively, he concluded, “The Hope Hicks statement does not arrive without precedent. It is, rather, the culmination of something—the culmination of decades of ill feeling that seems to center on the idea that the Jews have somehow made unfair ‘use’ of the Holocaust and it should not ‘belong’ to them.”