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.

 ?? AP ?? White House press secretary Sean Spicer pauses while talking to the media during the daily press briefing at the White House in Washington, Tuesday.
AP White House press secretary Sean Spicer pauses while talking to the media during the daily press briefing at the White House in Washington, Tuesday.

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