Political discourse in the United States has been saturated with opponents accusing each other of Nazi-like behavior. Recently, California Attorney General Jerry Brown likened the attack ads of Meg Whitman, his Republican opponent in the race for governor, to the tactics employed by Nazi propaganda chief Josef Goebbels.
Last week, Sarah Palin criticized President Obama's handling of the BP crisis in a tweet to followers recommending they read an article by Thomas Sowell that compared Adolph Hitler's use of a financial crisis to give himself dictatorial powers to Obama's role in creating the BP escrow fund.
A few months ago, speaking about the controversial Arizona immigration bill, Lillian Rodriguez Lopez of the Hispanic Federation reportedly compared the measure to tactics used by the Nazis in Germany.
The Holocaust was a watershed event in the history of mankind, in which 6 million Jews were exterminated -- one-third of the world's Jewish population. But today the word is used in ways that cheapen it.
Last fall, Democratic Rep. Alan Grayson of Florida spoke on the House floor about the need for universal health care, saying that Americans die every year because they lack insurance. "I apologize," he said, "that we haven't voted sooner to end this holocaust in America."
In 2007, former Arkansas governor and Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee used the word in speaking out against abortion -- "the holocaust of liberalized abortions under a flawed Supreme Court ruling in 1973."
And syndicated columnist David Sirota recently applied the term to the BP gulf oil disaster, saying, "Every American who uses oil is incriminated in this ecological holocaust."
The continued trivialization of the word prompted Elie Wiesel, Nobel laureate and chronicler of the Holocaust, to discontinue using it.
There are many injustices in our world, even in our own country. Standing up to them is our obligation. But that obligation does not include demeaning the word that has come to stand for the great evil that was the Holocaust.
The Holocaust was a total eclipse of humanity. It was not about going to the back of the line or eating in a different part of the restaurant or being escorted to the border without recourse.
The Holocaust was the story of ordinary Germans: students, doctors, men and women of culture, who were not demented, who listened to Bach and Beethoven, who loved their families, who were not diagnosed as psychopaths, but who nonetheless for six years rounded up men, women and children and escorted them to the gas chambers.
That was the Holocaust. It is not the BP oil disaster, it is not health care, it is not the Arizona law, it is not the attack ads of Meg Whitman, it is not abortion, and it is not even horrific violations of civil rights.
If you were to try to call out 2,000 of the names every day of the 6 million who perished, it would take more than eight years to complete the task.
Rabbi Marvin Hier is the founder and dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center. He wrote this article for the Los Angeles Times.
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