COVID Protesters Must Stop Exploiting Symbols of the Holocaust

tags: Holocaust, antisemitism, COVID-19

David M. Perry is a journalist and historian. He is senior academic adviser in the history department of the University of Minnesota. Follow him on Twitter. 

On Saturday morning, thousands of people marched through London to protest against public health measures being contemplated or deployed amid the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. At least a few reportedly pinned yellow Stars of David to their chests or printed sweatshirts with the symbol, apparently analogizing proposed mandatory vaccination documentation to the symbols that Nazis forced Jews in occupied Europe to wear prior to enacting industrialized genocide.

Such an analogy is, to say the least, both offensive and incoherent. Vaccine distribution is unequal and one of the great challenges facing the globe right now, but the people making these protests live in a country where they have access. They just want the right to refuse the vaccine, to put other people at risk and to avoid all consequences for doing so.

And yet anti-vaccination and anti-lockdown protesters are making the analogy more and more frequently. In response, we all need to keep asserting basic truths: vaccinations are safe, public health measures are often complicated and require tradeoffs that we need to be transparent about, and these people cosplaying Holocaust victims are dangerously trivializing the history of the Holocaust.

It's not just happening in the UK. Germany and Israel are two places where one might expect more reverence for those killed by the Nazis, but in fact that reverence has become ripe ground for exploitation.

Israeli protesters in February held up signs comparing the so-called green passport, which allows vaccinated people to take part in mass gatherings, to both the yellow star and the numerical arm tattoos of Holocaust victims. Last November, German protesters made similar rhetorical and symbolic moves, with protesters comparing themselves to Anne Frank and Sophie Scholl. There have been similar displays in France and the Czech Republic. Holocaust appropriation, fueled by this global pandemic, is going viral.

Then there's the United States. Far-right Republican lawmakers have compared the idea of some form of digital vaccine tracking program to enable business owners to restrict entry (which does have serious privacy implications!) to Nazi Germany, as did a libertarian group in Kentucky.

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