David M. Friedman, President Trump’s nominee for ambassador to Israel, recently committed a faux pas with possible disastrous implications. While speaking about J Street, the American liberal Jewish group that claims to know what’s best for Israel, Mr. Friedman said that its supporters are worse than kapos (inmate Concentration Camp Jews who did the dirty work for the Nazis such as transporting dead Jews from the gas chambers into the crematorium).
Whether we like to admit it or not, the post -Holocaust generation of Jews, and in some cases non-Jews, has permitted Holocaust references to infect their speech. In the 1971 black comedy The Hospital, written by Paddy Chayefsky, Herb Bock, the irate Chief of Staff of a Manhattan Hospital, played by George C. Scott, explodes at a head nurse with the following: “The incompetence at this hospital is radiant! I mean, where do you train your nurses, Mrs. Christie, Dachau?” Shtisel, an Israeli weekly television series that exposes Black Hat Jerusalem Jews in a similar fashion to the way HBO exposed the Mafia with its hit series The Sopranos, has Ruchama Weiss, a teenager who is wise well beyond her years, scream “Nazi!” at a poster she made of her father Lipa, whom she more than suspects of having betrayed Judaism as well as her mother. Personally, I have it on good authority that there is a rabbi here in Dallas who mutters Gestapo every time he sees a speed trap set up by the police.
Such speech cheapens and demeans the Holocaust. Because of its inhumanity that had no limits, its evil that was without end and its diabolical design, the Holocaust is sui generis. There is no equal. By design, Holocaust terminology has an exclusivity about it that must not and dare not be shared. Shame on those who use Holocaust terminology for dramatic effect or to make comparisons! If it’s in the poorest and most reprehensible of tastes to ask: “What did he fill his car up with, Zyklon B (the poison used in the gas chamber in the Death Camps)?” while sitting behind a car that that is belching noxious fumes into the atmosphere, why is it acceptable to refer to a fellow Jew as being worse than a kapo? One would be hard pressed to justify “Nazi speak” as an attempt on our part not to forget the Holocaust.
Although there were many of my parents’ generation who recoiled when hearing German being spoken, German is a most valuable language. Aside from Latin and French, the English language is comprised of thousands upon thousands of German words. Words such as craft, laugh, folk and friend are all of German or Germanic origin. Rather than latch onto Arbeit Macht Frei or Sieg Heil, why not enrich our vocabulary with words such as Schadenfreude (finding joy at the distress or hurt of another person) Angst (feeling of dread or anguish) or Gemutlich (pleasant)?
Justifiably, although not quite often enough for some, we Jews exclaim: “Look what Hitler and his Nazis did to six million of our people.” The next time we hear leaders or lay people, Jew or non-Jew, Israeli, American, or any other nationality for that matter, make flippant comparisons as well as take stabs at hyperbole or poor attempts at humor by resorting to words that are associated with Hitler and his war machine, perhaps we should exclaim: “Look what Hitler and his Nazis did to us!”