The Commercial Appeal
White House press secretary mangles Holocaust history
Seventy two years ago, on April 12, 1945, Dwight D. Eisenhower, who was at that time the Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces in Europe, visited Buchenwald concentration camp. Eisenhower stated, “I made the visit deliberately, in order to be in a position to give first-hand evidence of these things if ever, in the future, there develops a tendency to charge these allegations merely to “propaganda.”
Eisenhower was so impacted by his visit to Buchenwald that he requested that congressional delegations and select media be sent to document the atrocities that took place.
Seventy two years after the Americans first liberated Buchenwald Concentration camp, the White House has forgotten the atrocities carried out by Hitler’s regime. They have even forgotten the words concentration camp. They have made a mockery of the imperative to “Never Forget!” by not even remember the term concentration camps on the anniversary of the liberation of Buchenwald.
White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer erroneously claimed that Hitler did not use chemical weapons. Hitler and the Nazi regime killed many people with poison gas in concentration camps, in “euthanasia centers,”, and in mobile gassing vehicles which traveled to towns.
Given an opportunity to clarify, Spicer claimed that Hitler did not kill his own people. However, the first people gassed by Hitler and the Nazi regime were German citizens who were killed because they were physically or intellectually disabled.
The Nazis also killed many other Germans with poison gas because they were Jews, or because they were Roma (Gypsies) or any other category of person that the Nazis deemed unworthy of life. To claim they were not Germans is to deny their humanity, once again compounding the crimes of the Nazis against them.
The Nazi regime implemented a racial policy which sought to define some Germans as “real Germans” while stripping others including those of different religious background or “genetic” attributes to not be real Germans. In some cases, this even included taking away their citizenship. Most detrimentally it included taking their lives. In stating that Hitler did not kill his own people, he seemed to indicate that he agreed with the Nazi stance that the victims of the regime – some who themselves fought for Germany in the first world war - were somehow not Germans.
The victims of the Nazi gas chambers were Hitler’s people and should have been protected by him, not killed by him. Atrocities committed against civilian populations are heinous acts. Death by gassing is a terrible way to die. Sarin gas which was used against the Syrians was developed by the Nazis initially as a pesticide and then when its potency towards humans was accidentally realized, as a chemical weapon.
Zyklon, which was used widely in the gas chambers of the Nazi concentration camps, also began as a pesticide which was used against people. It is important that we as a society remember what human beings are capable of doing to each other. One need not be worse than Hitler to have engaged in terrible crimes against humanity.
The apology issued by the White House was for making comparisons between Hitler and Assad. However, the real tragedy and shame is that such a prominent member of the administration demonstrated such a total ignorance about the Holocaust on the very anniversary of the liberation of Buchenwald by US forces.
Helene Sinnreich is director of the Fern and Manfred Steinfeld Program of Judaic Studies at University of Tennessee at Knoxville.