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Yad Vashem issues clarification on Holocaust, in apparent Trump rebuke

Museum says ‘Holocaust was the unprecedented genocide of 6 million Jews,’ after statement from US president omitted reference to Jews

Yad Vashem, 'a hand and a name,' was established in 1953 to commemorate the victims of the Holocaust and recognize non-Jews who helped Jews survive the war. (Shmuel Bar-Am)
Yad Vashem, 'a hand and a name,' was established in 1953 to commemorate the victims of the Holocaust and recognize non-Jews who helped Jews survive the war. (Shmuel Bar-Am)

The Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial Museum in Jerusalem issued a statement Tuesday in which it “stressed to all that the Holocaust was the unprecedented genocide of six million Jews,” in an apparent rebuke of US President Donald Trump who failed to include any mention of the genocide of Jews in his statement on International Holocaust Remembrance Day on Friday.

The statement, which was put out to summarize the vast range of activities the museum was involved with for International Holocaust Remembrance Day, emphasized that the Holocaust was “motivated by a radically racist, antisemitic ideology, which sought the annihilation of the Jewish people, its culture and its heritage.”

The statement also said that “the Nazis’ barbaric intent and policy to wipe out an entire people violated the fundamental tenets of human morality, thus making the Holocaust a distinct event of eternal universal significance,” drawing a sharp contrast to the Trump administration’s message emphasizing the universal suffering that occurred as a result of the Holocaust.

In addition, Yad Vashem wrote in the statement that it “emphasizes the imperative to understand the Holocaust in a historically accurate manner, in order to ensure that it remains a perpetually relevant component of human consciousness and discourse throughout the world.”

The US Holocaust Memorial Museum also issued a statement, on Monday, explaining in detail what the Holocaust actually was, and noting: “Millions of other innocent civilians were persecuted and murdered by the Nazis, but the elimination of Jews was central to Nazi policy.”

Following the uproar over the omission of any reference to Jews or Jewish suffering during the Holocaust from Trump’s statement, the White House defended the wording of the statement, with Trump spokeswoman Hope Hicks telling CNN Saturday that “despite what the media reports, we are an incredibly inclusive group and we took into account all of those who suffered.”

US President Donald Trump speaks during a joint press conference with Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May in the East Room of the White House on January 27, 2017 in Washington, DC. (AFP Photo/Mandel Ngan)
US President Donald Trump speaks during a joint press conference with Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May in the East Room of the White House on January 27, 2017 in Washington, DC. (AFP Photo/Mandel Ngan)

“It is with a heavy heart and somber mind that we remember and honor the victims, survivors, heroes of the Holocaust,” the president said in the statement. “It is impossible to fully fathom the depravity and horror inflicted on innocent people by Nazi terror.”

The Trump administration has continued to double down in defending itself against the fallout from the statement, with White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus saying Sunday on NBC’s “Meet The Press” that “there’s no regret” and that “we acknowledge the horrible time of the Holocaust and what it meant for history.”

“Certainly we don’t mean any ill will to anybody,” Priebus said, while adding that “you know that President Trump has dear family members that are Jewish and there was no harm or ill will or offense intended by any of that.”

Since the release of the statement, numerous Jewish groups have condemned the omission of any reference to the genocide of Jews during the Holocaust.

Anti-Defamation League CEO Jonathan Greenblatt promptly took to Twitter to exclaim it was “puzzling and troubling” that the 117-word statement did not specifically cite the persecution of the Jewish people that was central to the Nazi genocide.

Jonathan A. Greenblatt, the National Director of the Anti-Defamation League, speaking at the ADL Annual Meeting in Los Angeles on November 6, 2014. (Courtesy ADL)
Jonathan A. Greenblatt, the National Director of the Anti-Defamation League, speaking at the ADL Annual Meeting in Los Angeles on November 6, 2014. (Courtesy ADL)

Trump’s statement, Greenblatt said, “misses that it was six million Jews who perished, not just ‘innocent people.’”

Both the Republican Jewish Coalition and the Zionist Organization of America, which are generally sympathetic to Trump, were also critical of the statement. Virginia senator and former vice-presidential candidate Tim Kaine said the omission was akin to “Holocaust denial.”

White House press secretary Sean Spicer defended the speech on Monday, saying “the statement was written with the help of an individual who is both Jewish and the descendent of Holocaust survivors.” He also called protests over the omissions “pathetic” and “nitpicking.”

On Monday, Politico reported that special assistant to the president Boris Epshteyn — who is Jewish — was responsible for writing the speech.

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