Vaccine and denialism

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By SEAN PURDY*

Comparing the Vaccination Passport to the Nazis Is a Form of Holocaust Denial

"Exploring the tragedy of all the people who suffered between 1933-1945, who were humiliated, tortured and murdered by the totalitarian regime of Nazi Germany to argue against vaccination that saves human lives is a sad symptom of moral and intellectual decay." (Auschwitz Memorial, Twitter, December 3, 2021).

Among the most absurd arguments of the anti-vaccine and Bolsonarista crowd is that the vaccination passport is the same as Nazi policies in Germany against Jews and other people during the 1930s and 1940s. constitutes a form of Holocaust denial because it makes a tremendous false equivalence, minimizing and trivializing the scale of the tragedy of the Shoah, the killing of 6 million Jews by the Nazis, not to mention the long history of anti-Semitism.

In Brazil, Bolsonaristas have been propagating this absurd lie since the beginning of the introduction of vaccines in 2021. Most cannot even identify Germany on a map, but raise symbols such as the Star of David, images of Jews persecuted by the Nazis and the Nuremberg code, comparing them to evidence-based public health interventions to combat the Covid-19 pandemic. Vaccines have proven to save millions of lives in the last year and lockdowns, social isolation, wearing a mask and requiring proof of vaccination in public places are health measures based on scientific evidence that work.

The most recent example is an article published on the bizarre French denialist website, France Soir, by the Brazilian, Filipe Rafaeli. Without any historian source, he compares the rise of the Nazis in Germany with the requirement of proof of vaccination, arguing that the acceptance of the Nazis by the German population is equal to the acceptance of the vaccine and other sanitary measures by the vast majority of the population, not only in Brazil. , but worldwide.

An aviator, filmmaker and publicist, Filipe Rafaeli gained notoriety among Bolsonaristas during the pandemic with his fanatical promotion of early treatment with hydroxychloroquine and ivermectin, two drugs whose ineffectiveness against Covid-19 has already been scientifically proven. Mistakenly identifying himself as a leftist, he promotes all kinds of pseudoscience in his social networks and publications, promoting fallacious studies published in scientific journals marginalized by a minority of denialist doctors and scientists. He has also supported the “freedom train” hoax in Canada and regularly disseminates the pseudoscience of criminals such as the American doctor, Simone Gold, who was involved in the invasion of the Capitol in Washington on January 6, 2021, and Didier Raoult, the French doctor and scientist who has been caught for scientific fraud several times.

Rafaeli falsely assumes that the Nazis simply deceived the population with lies, without taking into account that all the country's broad resistance against the Nazis – unions, parties and organizations of the left – was crushed in the first few months after Hitler's seizure of power. Incidentally, it was a policy tolerated if not supported by the capitalist powers in the West. He also ignores that the regime was sustained by brutal repression against any kind of resistance until the end of World War II.

The most distinguished historians of Nazism (to mention just a few) – Claudia Koontz, Detlev Peukert, Donny Gluckstein, Timothy Snyder, Martin Gilbert and Tim Mason – would reject any comparison of the current vaccination passport with Nazism, mainly because the Nazis relaxed the requirement to vaccination for smallpox and other diseases, for example – a policy in the country for decades – with the aim of letting the unwanted population die, ie Jews, Slavs, people with disabilities, etc. The Nazis' vaccination policies in Germany were openly eugenic, racist and anti-Semitic. In fact, the Nazi regime was against the vaccination passport.

Hitler himself, according to his lieutenant, Martin Boorman, said in 1942: “In the field of public health there is no need to extend to subject races the benefits of our own knowledge. This would only result in a huge increase in the local populations, and I absolutely forbid the organization of any kind of hygiene or cleaning campaigns in these territories. Compulsory vaccination will be confined to Germans only, and doctors in German colonies will only be there for the purpose of caring for German colonists. It's stupid to push happiness on people against their wishes. Dentistry, too, must remain a closed book for them.”

as Edna Bonhomme wrote in the magazine The Atlantic As of May 2021, public health policy in Germany has a long history of anti-Semitism going back to the bubonic plague in the 600th century. Blame for epidemics was blamed on Jews across Europe for XNUMX years. Nazi vaccination policies followed this long history of racism. And as the surgeon and expert in the anti-vaccine movement in the United States, David Gorski, recently wrote, the comparison of vaccination with the Nazis already appeared in the anti-vaccine movement in the 1980s in the United States and was revived during the Covid pandemic.

Comparing the life-saving vaccination requirement with the mass murder of the Jewish population in Europe might seem so absurd that no one would believe it, but it has been increasingly common among the small but vocal anti-vaccine minority in the world.

Comparing themselves to the victims of the Holocaust, anti-vaccine and anti-mask activists like Filipe Rafaeli would have us believe that the encouragement or demand to get vaccinated in the midst of a pandemic that has killed 640.000 people in Brazil and more than 5 million worldwide whole equals the Nazi genocide of persecuting and exterminating Jews, Slavs, Roma people, the LGBT community, etc. As Gorski points out, comparing an objective good (vaccination) to one of the most horrific acts perpetrated in history is so ridiculous that it promotes denialists' idea that the Holocaust wasn't so bad. The inconveniences of requiring vaccinations are not in the same league as the horrendous persecution that Jews and other victims of Nazism suffered during the Holocaust.

In the June 1, 2021 Washington Post, historian, Sarah Bond of the University of Iowa argues: “By appropriating profound symbols of Jewish pain, these evil actors undermine not only the gravity, nuance and suffering of the Holocaust, but also centuries of historic anti-Semitism… [these anti-vaccine activists] add to a long history of borrowing the pain of others to support” their false arguments. The dubious comparison of the vaccination passport to Nazism, Bond continues, “makes you think that the Holocaust has equal weight with an optional vaccine or the requirement to wear masks. The most insidious function of this false equivalence is how it can erode the gravity of the original evil. When non-Jews appropriate the yellow Star of David for their own purposes, they contribute to erasing the historical suffering of Jews – from medieval times to modern times. The problem here is not just the gross misuse of a historical symbol, it is the impact on explicit Jewish suffering associated with that symbol.”

Like the early treatment hoax, the Bolsonaro administration's anti-vaccine policy, and its program to undermine the fight against the virus, we have to put this form of Holocaust denialism in the dustbin of history where it belongs.

*Sean Purdy is a professor at the Department of History at the University of São Paulo (USP). Author, among other books, of History of the United States - From Origins to the XNUMXst Century (Context).

 

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