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LETTER: Asking people to get vaccinated, carry proof is not comparable to the Holocaust

August 24, 2021 - 12:00 PM



I am growing ever-more sickened by dangerous false equivalencies - namely, the comparison of vaccinations (and their proof) to the Holocaust.

I should know. My maternal grandparents were a couple of the “lucky” ones that survived, while the majority of my ancestors were not so lucky. I’m fortunate to be here today and accord myself to the freedoms of this great country. However, with freedom comes responsibility. We are all responsible for helping one another.

This is not a post about whether or not you are vaccinated. It is about analogizing torture and persecution to getting a vaccine or wearing a mask. It is about doing your part to help the common good and having proof to hopefully stop the spread of a highly contagious and deadly virus.

This misuse of history distorts and undermines the actual horrors of the Holocaust. It also ignores that so many Holocaust victims died of infectious diseases - the same ones that vaccines could prevent today.

The mass killing of Jews during World War II did not happen only in gas chambers. Starvation and disease ravaged incarcerated Jews, who lacked adequate food and medical care. Perhaps the most well-known Holocaust victim, Anne Frank, died at Bergen-Belsen concentration camp - not in a gas chamber, but of typhus.

Jews were forcibly interned in Holocaust-era ghettos where diseases ravaged the population. The ghettos they were crammed into averaged four to eight people per room, and offered inadequate access to sanitation facilities, medicine and food. These conditions left them particularly vulnerable to epidemics of deadly communicable illnesses. The yellow stars on their clothing were not a choice. They were forced to wear them, and to live in horrific conditions that bred infectious disease.

When outbreaks occurred, the Nazis dealt with them ruthlessly. In the Kaunas ghetto, they burned down the hospital for infectious diseases with patients and doctors inside. In the Lodz ghetto, when typhus ravaged the Roma, they were herded into cattle cars and became the first victims of the gas vans at the Chelmno extermination camp. People were scared to go to the hospital with an infectious disease for fear of being killed there or deported to an extermination camp.

The death toll from infectious disease was so high because Jews were stripped of basic resources including medical equipment, medicine and food. They were even denied quality soap. Doctors and other care providers helped fight disease in terrible conditions with scant supplies, many succumbing to disease themselves. Starving people traded food for medicine to help family members survive.

Vaccines emerged as a powerful, if expensive, tool for resistance. Smugglers found ways to bring medicine and even nascent vaccines into the ghetto. Those few who could obtain a vial of vaccine on the black market paid more than 100 times their weight in gold to obtain them. The going rate for a vaccine in the Warsaw ghetto could buy 30,000 bowls of soup - an astronomical amount in a place where people perished of hunger in the streets.

For Jews of the ghetto, vaccines were precious protection and symbolized a belief in their own future. It is a desecration of their memory to equate refusing medical treatment with the Holocaust or vaccine injuries with the vast tragedy of the Holocaust. Many died during the Holocaust from diseases we can now prevent, such as whooping cough, tuberculosis, hepatitis and diphtheria. If anti-vaccine activists wish to look to the past, and particularly the Holocaust, then they should look at how deadly diseases were in the absence of most of our contemporary vaccines.

There is absolutely no comparison here. Suggesting such trivializes the horrors of many who perished in an orchestrated genocide that killed 6 million Jews and countless others.

I am dismayed and angry.

People comparing the carrying vaccine papers with wearing a yellow star? This sort of rhetoric is unconscionable. I heard stories throughout my life about how my grandparents were forced to wear a yellow star as a means of division. They were tattooed with numbers to dehumanize and further terrorize them. They narrowly escaped death from camps such as Bergen-Belsen and Auschwitz.

Asking people to get vaccinated and carry proof, or wearing a mask, is not comparable to the Holocaust. It is an act of kindness. It is an act of generosity. It is an act of unity.

Please stop trivializing the Holocaust. Retract your abhorrent statements. They are dangerous and uncalled for. These comparisons are odious and deeply offensive to Jews (of which I am one) and those who fought valiantly to defeat the Nazis in World War II. They only serve to trivialize the true horrors of the Nazi regime. STOP.

While every Canadian has legal freedom to express an opinion, that doesn't make it right to make such a demeaning comparison over a disagreement with policies. To me, the only way you can accept such a degree of worldwide conspiracy is to have a worldview that consists of little more than a raised middle finger directed at people ranging from Dr. Bonnie Henry  to your family physician. It dismisses what humanity has traditionally considered knowledge and expertise.

I will close this post with a dose of reality — a vaccination, if you will — taken from "Night" by the late Elie Wiesel: the Romanian-born American writer, professor, political activist, Nobel laureate, and Holocaust survivor. He authored 57 books, many of which were based on his experiences as a Jewish prisoner in the Auschwitz and Buchenwald concentration camps.

"Not far from us, flames, huge flames, were rising from a ditch. Something was being burned there. A truck drew close and unloaded its hold: small children. Babies! Yes, I did see this, with my own eyes … children thrown into the flames. (Is it any wonder that ever since then, sleep tends to elude me?) So that was where we were going. A little farther on, there was another, larger pit for adults. I pinched myself: Was I still alive? Was I awake?"


- Melina Schein, Vernon

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