White House spokesman Sean Spicer made headlines earlier this week at a press conference by comparing Syrian Dictator Bashar Al-Assad with Adolf Hitler. Spicer described Assad methods of using gas against his own citizens to be worse than Hitler´s and claimed that the latter had never used gas against his citizens, forgetting that the German dictator was responsible for the death of 6 million Jews through concentration camps and gas chambers in particular. Kushner later apologized for his statement saying that: “In no way, I was trying to lessen the horrendous nature of the Holocaust. I was trying to draw a distinction of the tactic of using airplanes to drop chemical weapons on population centers. Any attack on innocent people is reprehensible and inexcusable.” Although Spicer´s apology, many Jewish organizations, such as the Anne Frank Center for Mutual Respect, found his statement outrageous and asked for the spokesman´s resignation. “Sean Spicer has engaged in Holocaust denial, the most offensive of fake news imaginable, by denying Hitler gassed millions of Jews to death,” Steven Goldstein, the center’s executive director, said in a statement.
There is no doubt that Spicer´s statement was inappropriate to say the least, since we all know what devilish part gas played for the systematic killing of the Jews within the Third Reich. A dark part of history that can never be forgotten. At the same time, I found it interesting how little it takes to create outrage and misunderstanding when it comes to the Holocaust in general. Sean Spicer´s comments were wrong and ridiculous, mostly because a man in his positions should know better but it can hardly be argued that he was denying that Nazi Germany used gas chambers or, even worse, the Holocaust in general, as Jean- Marie Le- Pen did. If we leave Sean Spicer´s unfortunate example aside for a moment, I feel that the topic, in general, is considered to be that sensitive that people prefer to not talk about it at all, because they are afraid of saying something wrong. German sociologist Elisabeth Noelle- Neumann famously described this phenomenon as the “spiral of silence”. If there is a predominant opinion in society, everyone who thinks of differently about a certain topic slides down an imaginary spiral until the point he or she prefers to not express their opinion at all and keep quite. And if one doesn´t keep quite one has to face serious consequences. A good example here is late comedian Joan Rivers, who described German Top Model Heidi Klum on a red carpet with the following words “the last time a German looked this hot was when they were pushing Jews into the ovens…”. Rivers, Jewish herself, later stated: “My husband lost the majority of his family at Auschwitz and I can assure you that I have always made it a point to remind people of the Holocaust through humor.” Whatever you think of the joke Joan Rivers made a few years ago, one thing is clear: it reminded people of the Holocaust. As far as I am concerned, it doesn’t help anybody to keep quiet or to be afraid to talk about subjects, however sensitive and provocative they might be. The alternative would be that people don´t talk about them at all and forget like it happened with the Armenian genocide and that cannot be in anybody’s interest.