Anti-lockdown and anti-vaccination protests have become commonplace in Europe and North America. While the reasons, slogans, and strategies for these protests can be varied, some distressing trends have emerged. One disturbing trend is the appropriation of Holocaust imagery to express the victimhood of anti-vaxxers. These comparisons are inaccurate, offensive, and harmful to real victims and the history of the Holocaust. This hyperbolic manipulation tactic needs to stop.
This imagery, including protesters wearing a Star of David with “unvaccinated” written on it, is primarily used to decry the supposedly fascist behaviours of the government and to compare it to the Nazi regime. This misrepresentation of the narrative of Holocaust victims is used purely for aggressive politics at the expense of the history and lived experiences of actual survivors of the Holocaust. Anti-vaxxers have taken this story of victimization away from its historical context and transplanted it onto themselves without the trauma or complexities of the actual events. They leverage the representations of Holocaust victimization to garner a similar visceral reaction. They plucked these narratives out of time simply because of their emotional and political resonance. They wish to extend the feelings of horror and empathy associated with the Holocaust onto their narrative of perceived persecution.
To portray anti-vaxxers like holocaust victims and their local governments like Nazis is a false equivalency. These protestors focus on surface-level similarities to argue that their experiences are alike. For example, some argue vaccine passports equate to the forced identification and segregation of a minority group by a totalitarian regime, much like how the Nazis marked Jews with the Star of David. However, this comparison is inaccurate as it ignores the realities and intricacies of both history and the present social conflict. History is complex. Insinuating that any event is the same as something that happened in the past is reductive. While circumstances may seem similar on the surface, a closer look at the details will reveal just how different they are. A significant difference between these two situations is the importance of choice and circumstance. Unlike victims of the Holocaust who were victimized for things they could not change, anti-vaxxers feel persecuted because of a conscious decision. Furthermore, anti-vaxxers made this choice at the expense of the safety of those around them, knowing full well the consequences of rejecting the vaccine. This is not a case of a victimized minority group. Instead, it is a group that wishes to make a personal decision to the detriment of the rest of society. They want to avoid the consequences of this decision by framing those consequences as persecution instead of the result of their own selfishness.
These comparisons have been condemned by Holocaust survivors. By coopting holocaust victimhood narratives, anti-vaxxers lessen the real experiences of actual Holocaust survivors. Not only do victims have to see representations and symbols that could trigger traumatic memories, but they have to witness people equating the terrible things they went through with the simple act of getting vaccinated. Even if the vaccines were as harmful as anti-vaxxers tout them to be, it’s still incomparable with the trauma people endured during the Holocaust. And while it is often unhelpful to argue about who suffered more in history, there is still a clear difference in severity between public health measures and genocide. It’s offensive to the memories of all those affected by the Holocaust that anti-vaxxers would reduce their experiences so much that they think the current public health measures are at all comparable. It is incredibly offensive, especially because many of those protesting public health measures also subscribe to anti-Semitic conspiracy theories, like blood libel or suggesting that Covid-19 and the actions taken to combat it are part of a Jewish-led conspiracy.
This absurd and harmful comparison between the current political discourse surrounding public health and the Holocaust needs to end. The comparison doesn’t further the actual arguments put forward by anti-vaxxers—it only serves as hyperbole intended to trigger emotional reactions to stoke fear and outrage. If anti-vaxxers want to be taken seriously, they should do so by using their own arguments and experiences instead of appropriating and weaponizing the suffering of others for political gain.