The eleventh commandment applies in Germany: Thou shalt not compare! The purpose of the ban on comparison is not to trivialize the crimes committed by Nazi Germans. The uniqueness of these crimes must not be questioned.
In every comparison, however, two events are related and thereby relativized in their importance. This logic is vividly illustrated by the sentence scrawled on the wall of a public toilet: “Wiping slogans off the toilet wall is like burning a book.” Sounds absurd? It is.
So far, the eleventh commandment applied primarily to Germans. Because of their history, they have a special duty to deal truthfully and sensitively with the National Socialist past and the crimes committed during this time. So it became a tradition to punish any violation of it.
Whether Helmut Kohl was reminded of Goebbels in speeches by Mikhail Gorbachev, Herta Däubler-Gmelin drew a comparison between George W. Bush and Adolf Hitler, or Alexander Gauland spoke of the “Third Reich” as “bird shit”: all attempts, by appeal capitalizing on the Nazi period and its protagonists on a daily basis is criticized as the worst form of demagogy.
Joschka Fischer, who invoked Auschwitz to intervene in the Kosovo war and compared Serb leader Slobodan Milosevic to Adolf Hitler, also felt the outrage reflexes triggered by such rhetoric. At the time, Defense Minister Rudolf Scharping deliberately spoke of “concentration camps”, which was also slapped at him.
Jana from Kassel recently drew criticism, saying at a “Querdenker” rally: “I feel like Sophie Scholl.” Wearing “Jewish stars” with the inscription “unvaccinated” was made a punishable offense in some federal states. Posters by the animal protection organization PETA (“People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals”) showing concentration camp inmates next to photos of starving cattle and the heading “living skeletons” were also banned.
On Wednesday, the circle of those who must obey the eleventh commandment in Germany was extended to include a non-German. It was similar in the colonialism debate. At a press conference with Chancellor Olaf Scholz in the Federal Chancellery, the 87-year-old Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas accused Israel of having committed massacres in Palestinian towns. “50 massacres, 50 holocausts,” he added. You have to know that Abbas is a co-founder of Fatah and in 1982, exactly 40 years ago, he wrote his doctoral thesis in Moscow entitled: “The Secret Connections of the Nazis and the Leaders of the Zionist Movement”.
Because Scholz did not react immediately to his guest’s disgraceful remarks, but only afterwards described the comparison as “intolerable and unacceptable”, the joint appearance turned into a double scandal. Abbas was met with anger from Israel, whereupon he backtracked and asserted that the Holocaust marked the “worst crime in modern history” for him too. Scholz, on the other hand, was accused of not putting his guest in his place immediately, stante pede.
That may be the end of the affair, but many of the questions it raises aren’t. They include both those who must comply with the eleventh commandment and the definition of what type of comparison is inadmissible. Hitler comparisons are okay? Holocaust comparisons not?
When Henry Kissinger recently suggested that part of Ukraine be ceded to Russia in order to reach a negotiated solution, its President Volodymyr Zelensky scolded him and said: “It seems that Kissinger’s calendar is not 2022 but 1938.” the policy of appeasement and the Munich Agreement at the expense of Czechoslovakia. Kissinger like Chamberlain? That’s probably still possible.
Poland’s President Andrzej Duda has few qualms about seeing Adolf Hitler in Vladimir Putin. Israel’s ex-Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has often compared the mullahs’ regime in Tehran to the Nazi regime. Roger Hallam, co-founder of the climate activist movement Extinction Rebellion, says that in a larger perspective, the Holocaust is “just another fuckery in human history.”
Where to start, where to stop? Does the NSA wiretapping scandal point to Gestapo methods? Can a perfectly normal AfD supporter be called a “Nazi”? Was the EU refugee summit in 2018 reminiscent of the Evian conference in the summer of 1938, at which 32 states discussed the admission of Jewish refugees and those persecuted by the Nazi regime without any result? The organization “Pro Asyl” writes that the EU states have devised an “unlimitedly brutal system” that adds to the harassment and conditions to which those persecuted by the Nazis were subjected in their countries of asylum in terms of hardness, bureaucratic control, impenetrability and humiliation Far surpassed”.
Nazi comparisons never end well, but seem to remain irresistible. German history has become a quarry from which anyone who wants to dramaturgically exaggerate their message draws. From the left as well as from the right. In Germany and globally. In hindsight, no one wants to have meant it that way.