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Across the United States, anti-vaccine protestors are using antisemitic imagery and Holocaust comparisons in an offensive attempt to compare vaccine mandates to the treatment of Jews during the Holocaust.

Recently, Rob Astorino, a Republican gubernatorial candidate from New York, made headlines for hosting an anti-vaccine event featuring signs with swastikas. The use of a swastika was especially egregious because the protest was being held outside of the office of Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz, who is Jewish. The protest centered around a bill Assemblyman Dinowitz introduced that would require the COVID-19 vaccinations for school children.

This specific protest hit particularly close to home for me as it occurred in a community close to where I am from. The section of the Bronx where the protest was held is an area I know well, having worked in that neighborhood at my congressman’s office. The area has a large and vibrant Jewish community. The fact that protestors came to this specific area with their antisemitic imagery and protested outside the office of a Jewish lawmaker is egregious but not surprising. 

The trend of invoking the Holocaust to protest COVID-19 restrictions and mandates extends far beyond this one event. Since the start of the pandemic, there have been many outrageous comparisons made between COVID-19 protocols and the treatment of Jews during the Holocaust.

With the rollout of the vaccine and the implantation of vaccine mandates, there have been many inaccurate comparisons between the Holocaust and the vaccine mandates. In Maine, a Republican lawmaker compared the Democratic governor’s health care workers’ vaccine mandate to the medical experiments performed by Dr. Josef Mengele and the Nazis during World War II. This incendiary claim tries to compare forms of torture and human experiments in the Holocaust with a safe vaccine that has gone through strenuous peer-reviewed clinical trials and has oversight from multiple medical bodies. 

The chairman of the Oklahoma Republican Party compared companies requiring vaccines to Jews being forced to wear yellow Stars of David to identify them as Jews in Nazi Germany. Many anti-vaccine protests across the US have seen protestors wearing yellow Stars of David on their clothes, a direct reference to the stars that Jews were forced to wear during the Holocaust. 

This comparison is unbelievably disrespectful and demonstrates how anti-vaccine advocates are trying to co-opt one of the most painful parts of Jewish history and twist it to fit their anti-vaccine rhetoric. The use of swastikas, Stars of David, and other symbols at vaccine protests is truly reprehensible and serves to minimize the severity of the Holocaust. 

This is clear: There are no possible comparisons that can be made between what Jews endured during the Holocaust and any kind of COVID-19 restrictions. The Holocaust was one of the worst periods in our world’s history. Millions of Jews were stripped of their rights, their freedom and their lives. 

My grandmother and her family were among those who were persecuted during the Holocaust simply for being Jewish. My grandmother survived seven concentration camps but her parents, younger brother and husband all died. 

They were among the over 6 million Jews who died during the Holocaust. This unfathomable number of lives lost is barely higher than the number of people lost to COVID-19 worldwide, with over 5 million people dying of COVID-19. This is one of the most egregious and backward arguments of these protestors: They are actively advocating for policies that will cause harm while invoking the stories of a people who have been historically oppressed and subjected to immense harm during the Holocaust. 

For these protestors, there is a clear desire to play the victim. They refuse to take accountability for their callous and dangerous actions to avoid the vaccine. Instead, they want to garner sympathy by comparing themselves to the victims of one of the most brutal periods of global history. This trivializing of the Holocaust is beyond disrespectful to the victims, survivors and their families. 

This antisemitic rhetoric is emblematic of the increased rates of antisemitism in the United States. There has been a sharp rise in antisemitic events in the US, with 25% of Jewish respondents surveyed saying they have experienced antisemitism in the past year. A Texas college student was indicted last week for setting fire to a synagogue and last month a predominantly Jewish fraternity at George Washington University was broken into and had its Torah destroyed.

The rise of antisemitism and the use of antisemitic imagery in protests can not become normalized. There must be continued work to help address the issue of anti-semetism and to strenuously oppose the narrative that the experience of anti-vaxxers and the experience Holocaust survivors is at all comparable.  

Isabelle Schindler is an Opinion Columnist and can be reached at ischind@umich.edu.