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Comparisons of COVID-19 restrictions to Holocaust ‘disrespectful’: Jewish community

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Members of the Jewish community in western Canada say recent comparisons made between COVID-19 restrictions and Nazi Germany are disrespectful and ridiculous. As Emily Olsen reports, Holocaust survivors still living in Canada are calling for more pushback on this type of comment – Dec 30, 2020

Goldie Morgentaler, the daughter of two Holocaust survivors, believes comments circulating that compare COVID-19 restrictions to Nazi Germany are “disrespectful and ridiculous.”

“People are a little bit too inclined to reach for Holocaust analogies,” Morgentaler said. “They’re just trying to make the point that somehow this is undemocratic and dictatorial and, I don’t know what other points they’re making… and it’s silly — which is the kindest thing I can think to say.”

Morgentaler, a professor in Lethbridge, said her late mother worked to write and share her experiences in the Holocaust so that others would never forget.

“(The comparison) tamps down the meaning of what actually happened during World War II, especially to people like the Jews,” Morgentaler said.

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Lawyer Ingrid Hess explains current restrictions are constantly weighed with the balance of protecting citizens, while maintaining Canadian rights and freedoms.

She emphasizes that the penalties and fines for not following health orders here are nothing compared to the risk of jail or execution in other parts of the world for disobeying government restrictions.

“They can’t just willy-nilly infringe on our rights and freedoms,” Hess said. “There has to be a body of evidence that supports any kind of limitation on freedoms. It’s ridiculous and it’s offensive to compare the actions of a truly horrific and barbaric authoritarian regime to the actions of our government which are undertaken in terms of protecting citizens from a public health catastrophe.”

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Executive Director of the Jewish Heritage Centre of Western Canada, Belle Jarniewski, said her parents — both of whom escaped to Canada from the war — would be devastated by these comments, and by the anti-Semitic COVID-19 conspiracy theories that she has also seen shared online. 

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She has spoken to Holocaust survivors still living in Canada, and they are heartbroken to hear the comparison thrown around so casually.

“This is very hard for them,” she said Wednesday. “When they read about this and hear about this, it’s very very difficult.”

Read more: ‘Never forget’: Preserving stories of the Holocaust as fewer survivors remain

Jarniewski said the community is asking for more pushback on comments like this and more detailed education for students about what truly happened during the Second World War.

“It’s not always comfortable to respond when you hear someone (make a comment) … even sometimes in the form of a joke,” she said. “It’s important to respond and explain why that is an absolutely unacceptable thing to say and why it is so hurtful.”

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