July 26, 2023
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Debunking Inappropriate Holocaust Comparisons: The COVID-19 Yellow Star

It is difficult to capture the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. It has made millions sick, heightened inequality, upended economies and healthcare systems, and tested the international community’s ability to work together.  

As we continue to grapple with how to stop the pandemic—which measures are most effective, how to enact them fairly—movements against these efforts have sprung up around the world. Often fuelled by rumours, disinformation, and conspiracy myths, opposition to measures against the coronavirus has grown, moving from the fringes of society and closer and closer to the mainstream. These movements have impacted more than just public health. They have spurred extremism, denialist ways of thinking and science-scepticism. They have led to more antisemitism. They have harmed trust in democratic institutions and the experts we rely on. And they have used Holocaust distortion to do so.  

The COVID-19 yellow star: A widespread example of Holocaust distortion

One of the most widespread examples of Holocaust distortion at demonstrations against coronavirus measures is the misappropriation of the yellow star. The Nazis forced Jews to wear badges, often in the form of a yellow star, to mark, isolate, and harass them. Jews caught without one were fined, imprisoned, or shot.

Until recently, yellow stars reading “not vaccinated,” often written to look like Hebrew letters, could be purchased on Amazon. Demonstrators continue to use the symbol to paint themselves as victims, and their governments as persecutorial regimes. “People compare contemporary events to the Holocaust to draw attention to their own cause, which has nothing do to with the history of the Holocaust,” says Dr. Juliane Wetzel, Chair of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s Committee on Antisemitism and Holocaust Denial. Such comparisons are more than inappropriate: they are harmful.

The damaging effects of the COVID-19 yellow star

This false comparison distorts the badge’s role in the persecution and murder of Europe’s Jews. It is insulting to the victims and trivialises this history, producing a warped understanding of the Holocaust and the impact of antisemitism. COVID-19 yellow stars equate today’s inconveniences with the suffering of the Holocaust, and democratic governments with the Nazi regime. They encourage people to distrust experts and the democratic institutions they advise. This distrust causes grave harm when people refuse to take the measures that will protect them and others from COVID-19, illness, and death.

Distortion also primes people for conspiracy myths and radical ideas, as it makes it easier to express falsehoods as the truth. “The effect of Holocaust distortion is that it pushes the boundaries of what can be said,” Dr. Wetzel says. “The danger is that it becomes all too easy for antisemitic stereotypes to creep into the mainstream.” History has taught us what can happen when antisemitism is normalised.

While expressing dissent is an important part of any democracy, the trend of wearing yellow stars at demonstrations has serious consequences. COVID-19 yellow stars distort the Holocaust and harm our democracies, fuelling radicalisation and extremism at these demonstrations.

We have the duty to stand against Holocaust distortion, online or offline, intentional or not.

Spread the word. #ProtectTheFacts #SayNoToDistortion

The views expressed by the individual contributors to the blog do not necessarily reflect those of the European Commission, the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance,  the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, the United Nations, UNESCO, or officials of Member States of the European Commission, IHRA, the United Nations and UNESCO.

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