Anti-vaxxers’ ignorant victimhood flirts with Holocaust denial
Opinion | Michael Trussler | October 21, 2021
A photograph shows someone with a placard depicting Anne Frank and nearby a man wears a yellow star. His sign reads: Never Again. One might think that this image on CBC represented a Holocaust commemoration, but it’s from a protest in Calgary this past September in which anti-vaxxers compared their predicament to Holocaust victims.
To comprehend the disturbing absurdity of the comparison, let’s take the protestors at their word and compare their lives with what Anne Frank experienced.
The Franks fled Germany and went to Holland in 1933 because of Nazi policies against Jews. They lived openly in Amsterdam until their eldest daughter Margot was ordered to be deported to Germany and they went into hiding in 1942.They evaded detection until 1944 when they were arrested and sent to Westerbork, a transit camp in northern Holland. Put in a punishment block because they had committed the criminal offence of hiding, they were sent to Auschwitz-Birkenau on Sept. 3, 1944.
Of his family and the seven others who hid along with the Franks, only Otto Frank, Anne’s father, survived.
Those who compare their plight with Anne Frank should ponder these well-known facts and ask whether anti-vaxxer refugees are fleeing to the United States. Must those who live in Calgary hide from the authorities? Are any of these protestors in danger of being sent to a contemporary version of a Nazi concentration camp?
The answers are too obvious to state. But to really compare oneself to Anne Frank, one must go deeper.
Unlike those protesting lockdown, the Franks couldn’t leave their hiding place, and they had to be absolutely quiet during the day lest the office workers beneath their hiding space detect their presence. When they were sent to Westerbork, they had to learn a new form of anxiety. Trains left the camp for Poland once a week, usually on Tuesdays, but those who would be deported didn’t learn of their plight until the night before. Each Monday, then, each inmate feared the worst. If they weren’t sent the following morning, people felt immediate relief, but then began worrying about the next Tuesday.
It took two days to reach Auschwitz from Holland. The latrine was a bucket in a box car. No drinking water. (Sometimes trains leaving Greece took two or three weeks to arrive!) Those on the trains had little idea of what awaited them. On arrival, they were met by screaming guards. Vicious dogs. The Nazis performed a selection of who would live and who would be killed immediately.
The Franks were part of a transport containing 1,019 people; 549 were gassed upon arrival. Anne, Margot, her mother Edith and her father were spared for forced labour. Each was tattooed, becoming a number, no longer a person. Otto, sent to the men’s camp, would never see his family again. While at Birkenau, Margot and Anne got scabies. Starving, freezing, they were sent to a scabies barrack where they were surrounded by corpses. They were teenagers who saw people walking to the gas chambers.
Let’s pause. How many calories does the average Canadian consume in a day? Most inmates received fewer than 1,700. If someone today did nothing but lie in bed, they’d burn roughly 1,700 calories. But inmates at Auschwitz had to work, most of them outdoors in all weather.
As Russian troops advanced, the Nazis wanted to empty the camps in Poland. Margot and Anne were sent to Bergen-Belsen in Germany, originally a small camp, which became overwhelmed by thousands of prisoners. While there, Anne wore only a blanket because her clothes had become infested with lice. There was almost no food.
The sisters caught typhus from lice, and died.
Witnesses who saw Anne during her final days report that, upon Margot’s death, Anne despaired, believing herself to be utterly alone. She didn’t know that her mother had died at Auschwitz. She didn’t know where her father was. She didn’t know that Peter van Pels, the boy on whom she’d had a crush while hiding in Amsterdam, had been marched from Auschwitz to Mauthausen in Austria during the winter of 1945. He died only days after liberation.
Because most Canadians know about Anne Frank, it makes sense that protestors chose her as their icon. But the Holocaust was incomprehensively vast.
Few know of others who passed through Westerbork to Auschwitz like the Frank family: Etty Hillesum and her entire family perished; David Koker, another diarist, froze to death in a box car after being sent from Auschwitz to Dachau; Leon Greenman survived but his last memories of his wife and young son Barni were of them being trucked to the gas chamber. Almost nothing is known of the other 100,000 people who were deported from Westerbork to various camps, among them Sobibór.
Unlike Auschwitz, which was both a concentration camp and an extermination camp, Sobibór was solely an extermination camp: its only function was to kill people. Within hours of their arrival. Between 170,000 to 250,000 Jews were murdered there. Only 58 survived, and many of these were members of the Sonderkommando, prisoners who were forced to dispose of the people who had been killed by carbon monoxide fumes pumped into a gas chamber from a tank’s engine.
Sonderkommando means “special squad” and it’s important to reflect on what these slaves had to do. At Auschwitz-Birkenau, they worked in the gas chambers and crematoria. They had to guide other Jews, mostly women with children and old people into the change rooms that led to the gas chambers. They then had to burn the bodies, often of friends and family. Clean the soiled gas chambers. Out of the thousands who did this work, 110 survived. Most of their testimonials refer to Otto Moll, a Nazi overseer of the crematoria. When the crematoria couldn’t keep up with the corpses, Moll supervised large pits in which bodies were burned.
Apparently Moll enjoyed tossing living children into these pits.
Most Holocaust victims never saw Auschwitz. They starved in disease-ridden ghettos or were transported to extermination camps like Sobibór. Treblinka. Belzec. More than half a million people, mostly Jewish, were shot by the Einsatzgruppen, mobile death squads (Netflix has a documentary on the Einsatzgruppen). Of the 400,000 people murdered in gas vans (trucks that had their exhaust pipes pumped into the passenger section) at Chelmno, only two survived. It’s estimated that over a million children died in the Holocaust.
To be clear: I value freedom of expression but comparing COVID restrictions to the Holocaust demonstrates a profound ignorance of what actually happened.
And it verges on Holocaust denial.
Michael Trussler is a professor in the University of Regina’s Department of English.