The US Holocaust Memorial Museum issued a statement Monday explaining in detail what the Holocaust actually was, days after US President Donald Trump issued remarks for International Holocaust Remembrance Day omitting specific mention of the six million Jews targeted or the role anti-Semitism played in the genocide.
The president has been roundly criticized for the statement while the White House has staunchly defended it.
Without mentioning Trump or members of his administration, the Holocaust museum wrote Monday: “The Holocaust was the systematic, state-sponsored murder of six million Jews by Nazi Germany and its collaborators. Nazi ideology cast the world as a racial struggle, and the singular focus on the total destruction of every Jewish person was at its racist core.”
“Millions of other innocent civilians were persecuted and murdered by the Nazis, but the elimination of Jews was central to Nazi policy,” the statement read, adding that “an accurate understanding of this history is critical if we are to learn its lessons and honor its victims.”
The museum tweeted a link to the statement with a quote from the late Elie Wiesel: “Not all victims were Jews, but all Jews were victims.”
— US Holocaust Museum (@HolocaustMuseum) January 30, 2017
The White House has defended the president’s statement on Friday, with chief of staff Reince Priebus saying Sunday that there was “no regret” in the administration over the omission.
A day earlier, White House spokeswoman Hope Hicks told CNN othat the statement left out Jews because other groups were also killed. “Despite what the media reports, we are an incredibly inclusive group and we took into account all of those who suffered,” she said.
And on Monday, Trump’s press secretary Sean Spicer lambasted the media over what he called “nitpicking” at the statement.
“The idea that you’re nitpicking a statement that sought to remember this tragic event that occurred and the people who died in it is just ridiculous,” Sean Spicer said. “To suggest that remembering the Holocaust and acknowledging all of the people — Jewish, gypsies, priests, disabled, gays and lesbians — is frankly pathetic that people are picking on a statement.”
Trump’s statement was heavily criticized by lawmakers, Jewish groups and others.
“It is with a heavy heart and somber mind that we remember and honor the victims, survivors, heroes of the Holocaust. It is impossible to fully fathom the depravity and horror inflicted on innocent people by Nazi terror,” read the Trump statement Friday.
ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt promptly exclaimed that it was “puzzling and troubling” that the administration’s 117-word statement did not mention the persecution of the Jews, which was central to the Nazi genocide.
Trump’s statement, Greenblatt said, “misses that it was six million Jews who perished, not just ‘innocent people.’”
The omission also drew frustration from members of the Jewish community who have been allies of the president.
The staunchly pro-Trump Zionist Organization of America released a statement by its president Morton Klein that said the organization felt “compelled to express our chagrin and deep pain at President Trump, in his Holocaust Remembrance Day Message, omitting any mention of anti-Semitism and the six million Jews who were targeted and murdered by the German Nazi regime and others.”
And a spokesman for the Republican Jewish Coalition said “the lack of a direct statement about the suffering of the Jewish people during the Holocaust was an unfortunate omission.”
Asked about this backlash during his daily press briefing, Spicer said the White House did not find any fault in its management of the message, adding he was disappointed anyone would complain.
“The president went out of his way to recognize the Holocaust and the suffering that went through it and the people that were affected by it and the loss of life, and to make sure that America never forgets what so many people through, whether they were Jews or gypsies, gays, disability, priests,” he said.
Spicer added that Trump had been mostly praised for his statement, though he did not elaborate on who had offered plaudits.
Spicer also cited Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s reception of the new president to fend off criticism that he is not sensitive to the sensibility of the Jewish people.
“You look at what Prime Minister Netanyahu’s talked about,” he said. “He welcomes this administration. He appreciates the friendship and respect that [Trump] has shown to Israel and to the Jewish people. ”
Throughout the campaign and since taking the White House, Trump has been hounded by accusations of drawing support from anti-Semitic or so-called alt-right groups, including over the appointment of former Brietbart editor Steven Bannon to a top White House position.
Many historians and others see the lack of recognition of the Jewish people’s unique targetting for mass extermination in the Shoah as a form of Holocaust denial that seeks to downplay Jewish suffering.
“This is what Holocaust denial is,” Virginia Senator and former Democratic vice presidential candidate Tim Kaine told NBC’s Chuck Todd on Sunday. “Many Holocaust deniers acknowledge, ‘Oh yeah, people were killed but it was a lot of innocent people. Jews weren’t targeted.’”