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Whoopi Goldberg apologizes after claiming Holocaust was not about race

Apology comes after actress repeats her belief to Stephen Colbert that the genocide was about ‘white people … fighting each other,’ despite sparking firestorm hours earlier

US actress Whoopi Goldberg in Verona, Italy on December 3, 2019. (MIGUEL MEDINA / AFP)
US actress Whoopi Goldberg in Verona, Italy on December 3, 2019. (MIGUEL MEDINA / AFP)

Whoopi Goldberg apologized on Monday for saying the Holocaust was not about race, comments that sparked a firestorm of controversy, but not before appearing to double down on the statement in another interview.

On Monday morning, she made the initial comments on ABC’s “The View” program.

“The Holocaust isn’t about race,” but rather about “man’s inhumanity to man,” she said. The statement drew condemnations from Jewish groups including the Auschwitz Memorial and the Anti-Defamation League.

Later Monday, she made similar comments on “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert” while discussing the controversy.

“I thought it was a salient discussion because as a black person I think of race as something that I can see, so I see you and I know what race you are and the discussion was about how I felt about that,” Goldberg said about her earlier statements.

“People were very angry and they said, ‘No, no, we are a race,’ and I understand,” Goldberg said.

Colbert asked Goldberg, “Have you come to understand that the Nazis saw it as race? Because asking the Nazis, they would say, ‘Yes, it’s a racial issue.’”

She responded: “The Nazis lied. It wasn’t. They had issues with ethnicity, not with race, because most of the Nazis were white people and most of the people they were attacking were white people. So to me, I’m thinking, ‘How can you say it’s about race if you are fighting each other?’”

Goldberg posted an apology online on Monday night for her “The View” comments.

“On today’s show, I said the Holocaust ‘is not about race, but about man’s inhumanity to man.’ I should have said it is about both. As Jonathan Greenblatt from the Anti-Defamation League shared, ‘The Holocaust was about the Nazi’s systematic annihilation of the Jewish people — who they deemed to be an inferior race.’ I stand corrected,” Goldberg said.

“The Jewish people around the world have always had my support and that will never waiver. I’m sorry for the hurt I have caused,” she added.

Colbert’s show is filmed in the late afternoon, meaning it was filmed before Goldberg issued her written apology, but broadcast afterward.

ADL chief Jonathan Greenblatt welcomed Goldberg’s apology, before Colbert’s show came out.

“Thanks Whoopi Goldberg for correcting your prior statement and acknowledging the Holocaust for what it was,” he said.

Goldberg apologized again on Tuesday’s episode of “The View,” and hosted Greenblatt as a speaker on the show.

“There’s no question the Holocaust was about race. That’s how the Nazis saw it as they perpetrated the systematic annihilation of the Jewish people,” Greenblatt said.

He pointed out that “Maus” opens with a quote from Adolf Hitler that says, “The Jews undoubtedly are a race, but they are not human.”

“Hitler’s ideology, the Third Reich, was predicated on the idea that the Aryans, the Germans, were a quote ‘master race’ and the Jews were a subhuman race and it was a racialized antisemitism,” he said.

He said the framework does not neatly fit the 21st-century American view of race, which is mostly seen as an issue of skin color.

“But throughout the Jewish people’s history they have been marginalized, they have been persecuted, they have been slaughtered in large part because many people felt they were not just a different religion but indeed a different race,” he said.

 

The controversy comes amid a wider reckoning with the Holocaust and race education, as many conservative activists have fought to restrict the teaching of race-related topics in schools, while some American Jews have expressed discomfort around identifying themselves as simply “white.”

On Monday morning, Goldberg and her co-hosts on “The View” were discussing a Tennessee school board’s decision to remove the iconic Holocaust book “Maus” from its curriculum.

All five co-hosts opposed the board’s decision, saying that the acclaimed graphic memoir should be taught in classrooms; but Goldberg differed strongly from her colleagues on the question of exactly why the Holocaust should be taught to students.

“If you’re going to do this, then let’s be truthful about it,” Goldberg said, before elaborating that “these [Jews and Nazis] are two white groups of people.”

Co-host Joy Behar objected, arguing that Nazis “considered Jews a different race.” Guest co-host Ana Navarro asserted that “it’s about white supremacy, it’s about going after Jews and Gypsies.” But Goldberg continued to speak.

“The minute you turn it into race, you go down this alley,” she continued, as the show’s producers began playing music as a cue to cut to commercials.

In his writings and speeches that would ultimately come to articulate his mass-extermination plans, Adolf Hitler repeatedly referred to Jews as a race rather than a religious group. Secular Jews, and Christians with Jewish grandparents, were considered Jewish by the Nazis.

“Shame on Whoopi Goldberg, apparently she could use some education on the Holocaust,” tweeted Ellie Cohanim, a former US Deputy Special Envoy to Combat Antisemitism.  “Hitler’s entire propaganda machine spewed the message that Jews were an inferior race to Germans who were a pure ‘Aryan race.’ And then they murdered six million Jews based on this belief.”

Israel’s Consul General in New York Asaf Zamir invited Goldberg to join him on a tour of New York’s Museum of Jewish Heritage “to learn more about the Holocaust and antisemitism.”

ABC had no comment on the incident.

Goldberg has also come under fire for her stage name during the controversy. Born Caryn Elaine Johnson, Goldberg has no Jewish ancestry, but adopted her stage name to be deliberately Jewish-sounding, in part because she has said she personally identifies with Judaism. She told a London audience in 2016, “I just know I am Jewish. I practice nothing. I don’t go to temple, but I do remember the holidays.” In 2016, she designed a Hanukkah sweater for Lord & Taylor.

A series of antisemitic incidents in the US have fueled the national reckoning over antisemitism and race. Last month, a Texas synagogue was taken hostage by an antisemitic gunman, neo-Nazis held rallies in Florida and a series of antisemitic incidents have upset Jewish communities in New York, New Jersey, Chicago and Washington, DC.

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