There’s a lot of Holocaust talk going around among certain members of the House of Representatives. In May, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene compared the rules requiring masks on the House floor to “a time in history where people were told to wear a gold star, and they were definitely treated like second-class citizens, so much so that they were put in trains and taken to gas chambers in Nazi Germany.”
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and Minority Whip Steve Scalise both waited five days to criticize Rep. Greene’s remarks. After visiting the Holocaust Memorial Museum in June, she did the right thing and apologized: “There are words that I have said, remarks that I’ve made that I know are offensive, and for that I’d like to apologize.” And that was it: House Republicans made it clear that there was no real price to pay for this kind of rhetoric.
The results were predictable. On July 8, another freshman member of Congress, Lauren Boebert, dropped a Nazi reference to mock the Biden administration’s vaccination-education efforts:
Biden has deployed his Needle Nazis to Mesa County.— Lauren Boebert (@laurenboebert) July 8, 2021
The people of my district are more than smart enough to make their own decisions about the experimental vaccine and don’t need coercion by federal agents.
Did I wake up in Communist China? pic.twitter.com/gKXzogwM2C
Once again, Kevin McCarthy is delinquent in policing his conference. He has yet to publicly address Rep. Boebert’s tweet.
After all, it’s not clear what he stands to gain by doing so.
What makes the Holocaust off limits in political discourse, even in hyperbole? Who enforces the rule that the first person to compare their interlocutor to Hitler loses the argument? It’s been 76 years since the end of the Holocaust. Lifetimes have begun and ended since then. Most of the remaining survivors were children in the camps. Soon the last Allied soldiers to have liberated a camp will be gone, and the Holocaust will slip entirely and irrevocably from the realm of living memory to the realm of history.
Among the first to anticipate the moral meaning of this moment was Gen. Dwight Eisenhower, who in April 1945 ordered the documentation and publication of the horrors of the camps. He wanted to witness the atrocities firsthand so that, “if ever, in the future, there develops a tendency to charge these allegations merely to ‘propaganda,’” he could rebut the claim. Recounting his visit to the Ohrdruf concentration camp, he wrote in his memoirs, “I visited every nook and cranny of the camp because I felt it my duty to be in a position from then on to testify at first hand about these things in case there ever grew up at home the belief or assumption that ‘the stories of Nazi brutality were just propaganda.’” As his grandson, David Eisenhower, explained a few years ago, Ike wanted photographs and videos made of the camps immediately after their liberation, because “‘If they do not see this, they’ll never understand emotionally.’ And so the idea was to make a record that people could emotionally connect with”—not just then, but in future generations.