Distorting the Holocaust

by Michael Curtis

Every word is like an unnecessary stain on silence and nothingness.

The Olympic torch of linguistic obfuscation has been passed from Hollywood to the New York television arena. The flights of fancy on complex subjects range from uninformed to incomprehensible to ludicrous. Last week we learned from actress Emma Watson, best known for her role as Hermione Granger in Harry Potter movies, in a brief Delphic Instagram post with images of Palestinian flags that “Solidarity is a verb.” On January 31, 2022, we were enlightened on historical issues by the actress, comedian, and TV personality Whoopi Goldberg in comments made in the ABC program “The View” in a panel discussion on the   banning by a Tennessee school board of the graphic novel Maus by Art Spiegelman.

No one is likely to mistake Whoopi for an expert on political or moral issues, especially concerning the history and nature of Jews. The owl of Minerva, symbol of knowledge and wisdom, does not spread its wings for Whoopi, either at dusk or the rest of the day.  But like the other self-promoting celebrities in Hollywood and elsewhere she has an open platform free to express her views and a media eager to broadcast her awe-inspiring pronouncements to an unenlightened pubic.

Whoopi, born Caryn Elaine Johnson in Manhattan, whose family is of sub-Saharan African origin, not Jewish, has had a distinguished theatrical career, including being the first African-American woman to host the Hollywood Academy Awards ceremony, and is widely regarded as smart and talented. But her comments in the TV panel on January 31, 2021 were not similarly distinguished. Her main controversial assertion was that the Holocaust was not about race, but was about groups of white people and man’s inhumanity to man. The Holocaust, she held, involved two white groups of people, and the event was one of “white people doing it to other white people.”  By inference the Final Solution was therefore a white-on-white crime, rather than the most extreme manifestation of antisemitism the world has ever experienced.

Though Whoopi has never been accused of being antisemitic, and indeed sometimes refers to herself as “Jewish,” her statement on the show was generally seen as a misinformed and misrepresentation comment on the nature of the Nazi regime, and of the reality of Jewish life. More precisely and not disputable, Hitler and the Nazis did not attack “Humanity:” they killed Jews. Whoopi’s comment can be seen as trivializing if not denying the Holocaust. It appears ludicrous especially since she made the remark after two events illustrating Jewish life. One on January 15, 2022, was the attempt in a synagogue in Colleyville, Texas, by a terrorist to hold Jews hostage, underscoring the continual and unique threat in the U.S. as elsewhere to Jewish institutions and targets.  The other factor was the news of the death of Mel Mermelstein, an Auschwitz survivor, whose family died in the Nazi gas chamber, who in 1985 courageously and successfully challenged the historical revisionists such as Willis Carto of the Institute for Historical Review who deny the Holocaust happened.

The general criticism and widespread backlash over her remarks led to the 66 year old Whoopi being suspended from the TV show for two weeks by the president of ABC News, Kim Godwin, for her “wrong and hurtful comments” on “The View,” the daytime   talk show hosted by a panel of multigenerational women on the news of the day. Godwin remarked that while Whoopi had apologized, “I’ve asked her to take time to reflect and learn about the impact of her comments.” Sadly, some have not learned. AOC, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, has said the suspension was not necessary because she’s already apologized and been forgiven by the ADL.

After she realized that her words had upset so many people which was not “my intention,” Whoopi offered more than one apology and  declared that the information “I got (from critics) was really helpful and helped me understand some different things.”  One of the things was that “the Holocaust was indeed about race because Hitler and the Nazi regime considered the Jews to be an inferior race.” She regretted her comments and emphasized she stood with the Jewish people.

Whoopi later said in an appearance on the TV Late Show that as a black person, she thinks of race as  “something I can see, and racism as being based on skin color, but realized that not everyone sees it that way.” In another appearance, she admitted she was misinformed and that she had misspoken.

The controversy over Whoopi is reminiscent of the eloquent, if somewhat confusing, article by James Baldwin published in the New York Times on April 9  1967, entitled  “Negroes are antisemitic because they’re anti-white.”  Baldwin argues, “One does not wish to be told by an American Jew that his suffering is as great as the American Negros’s suffering.  It isn’t.” He continues “If one blames the Jew for having become a white American, one may perfectly well, if one is black, be speaking out of nothing more than envy.”

It is ironic that Whoopi’s controversial remarks were made in the context of a discussion on the TV show of Maus, written by the Swedish born New Yorker Art Spiegelman, the animal fable based on his Jewish father’s experience as a Holocaust survivor in Nazi concentration camps, and on the mass murder of Jews. Maus, a nonfiction graphic narrative book using postmodernist techniques such as shifts between past and present is difficult to classify as a particular literary genre and has been controversial for a number of reasons, partly because of the use of animal metaphors to tell the story.

In the book Jews are pictured as mice, Poles as pigs, Nazis as cats, Americans as dogs, French as frogs.

The McMinn County Board of Education in Tennessee, by a vote of 10-0 on January 10, 2022, decided to ban the book and remove it from the school curriculum because of their objection to some profanity, curse words in it and the small drawing of a nude woman drawn as a mouse to depict the suicide of the author’s mother who died when he was 20. At the same time, the Board said that the atrocities of the Holocaust were shameful beyond description. Parenthetically, in Maus, Spiegelman tells of his father after his wife’s suicide destroying his mother’s written accounts of Auschwitz. Most relevant for Whoopi above all, is that Maus opens with a quotation from Hitler, “the Jews are undeniably a race, but they are not human.”

Curiously, Vladimir Putin in 2015 also banned the Russian edition of Maus.  In both countries, the book became a best seller.  It experienced the Streisand Effect, the attempt to hide, censor, or suppress something has the unintentional consequence of increasing awareness of it.

The Whoopi statements stem if indirectly from the fashionable intersectional theory of race that society is structured as a hierarchy of oppressed and oppressor groups. Jews   then are seen as within the racial hierarchy, as part of the oppressive white people, rather than a people in different shades as any visitor to Tel Aviv can immediately observe, nor a people who are participants in a colonial or apartheid society.  They also illustrate other factors. In general, the intellectual deficiencies and ignorance of celebrities whose utterances on public forums are seen as oracles.  A second is that it brings up the complex question of racial categories, and whether they are historical and cultural inventions, specifically the issue whether Jews are to be categorized as a race or as people indistinguishable from the mass of white people devoid of color. A third is the significance of the Holocaust, of which there is surprising ignorance, especially among millennials.

Finally, the statements of Whoopi, certainly not intended, evoke the distressing phenomenon that some individuals carrying the banner of anti-racism utter antisemitic remarks, or minimize   prejudice against Jews.  Notoriously, some founders of the Women’s March in Washington in 2017 and 2019 were known to have expressed antisemitic views, as have some associated with BLM protests.  It is wholly inappropriate that in the present day some anti-vaccine individuals pin the Jewish star on their clothes to suggest they are oppressed.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

New English Review Press is a priceless cultural institution.
                              — Bruce Bawer

Order here or wherever books are sold.

The perfect gift for the history lover in your life. Order on Amazon US, Amazon UK or wherever books are sold.

Order on Amazon, Amazon UK, or wherever books are sold.

Order on Amazon, Amazon UK or wherever books are sold.

Order on Amazon or Amazon UK or wherever books are sold

Order at Amazon, Amazon UK, or wherever books are sold. 

Order at Amazon US, Amazon UK or wherever books are sold.

Available at Amazon US, Amazon UK or wherever books are sold.

Send this to a friend