The reason to remember the Holocaust is so that nothing like it ever happens again.
But characterizing the genocide of 6 million Jews during World War II as simply a tragedy that befell millions of innocent people, as President Trump did in a statement on Friday, completely misses the lesson that history should be teaching us about hate and its consequences.
Trump’s statement, issued by the White House to mark International Holocaust Remembrance Day, departed from all past precedent by failing to mention Jews or anti-Semitism.
The act of leaving Jews out of the short statement — which was intentional — was an ominous, once-unthinkable decision by a US president. Consciously or not, it echoes efforts by far-right revision-ists who have tried to minimize the nature of the Holocaust, as if it were not a deliberate effort specifically to eradicate Jews.
It’s true that, during World War II, the Nazis killed a staggering number of people, including civilians and 3 million Catholic Poles. All of those deaths deserve to be remembered. But the Holocaust was an intentional effort to eliminate an entire race, one that had been subject to centuries of vilification and hate. The fundamental reason for an international day of remembrance is precisely to ensure that the world never forgets what happened, why, and to whom.
But the real shock was in realizing that the omission was intentional. Trump spokeswoman Hope Hicks defended the statement, arguing it was an example of just how inclusive the new administration is: “Despite what the media reports, we are an incredibly inclusive group and we took into account all of those who suffered. . . . It was our honor to issue a statement in remembrance of this important day.”
It’s an omission that must not be repeated. Failing to acknowledge the historical reality of the Holocaust on International Holocaust Remembrance Day is a travesty that gives fuel to bigots and undermines the lessons that such anniversaries are intended to impart.