“As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches one.” So goes the famous Godwin’s Law, an oft-cited adage written by American author Mike Godwin. It is easy to see where Godwin was coming from. From both sides of the political spectrum, “Nazi” is thrown around like confetti at a parade, haphazardly slapped onto any topic without rhyme or reason. This flippant use of Nazi analogies has made it difficult to pick out legitimate comparisons from a sea of meaningless nonsense. So I was unsurprised these past few weeks to see Jewish people I followed on social media rolling their eyes as the separation of immigrant children from their parents at the U.S. border prompted another barrage of Hitler photos and memes that seemed to fall perfectly into Godwin’s Law.

As an Ashkenazi-American descended from Holocaust survivors, I understand why some are offended by the use of such comparisons, but I disagree. The comparison is neither wrong nor unwarranted in this case. The closer I look, the more I have come to believe that though Jewish hesitation to compare U.S. border official actions to Nazi actions during the Holocaust is entirely understandable, it is an analogy that is effective and appropriate to use in these circumstances. Not only is it the most likely comparison to actually get through to the American public, there are real parallels between the two events that have to be acknowledged.

Backlash Against the Use of Nazi Comparisons

Many people have rejected the comparisons of child internment and family separation to Nazi Germany as just another example of Godwin’s Law. Rich Lowry, editor of the National Review, remarked, “It’s apparently not enough for anyone to say they consider something wrong anymore—it has to be compared to Nazi Germany?” Though he does not cite Godwin’s law directly, Lowry invokes its spirit: bringing Nazis into an argument is solely a weak rhetorical device to describe something “bad”.

I have read about many Jews on social media that have had a different objection to the use of the Holocaust in this argument. Few have said that there is no legitimate parallel to be seen here, rather, they are instead claiming that it is insensitive to do so and that there are better comparisons to be made in American history itself. The most cited events are the genocide of Native Americans by the United States and the internment of Japanese-Americans during the Second World War.

On the surface, there are very good comparisons to be made here. Japanese-American internment especially is very similar to the actions being taken, and I support any comparisons made between the two events. But just because one comparison has relevance to this topic does not mean that another does not.

Nazi rhetoric in the Trump administration’s politics

Sadly, the parallels between the United States’ current treatment of immigrant families is directly comparable to the treatment of Jews under the Nazis. Crimes against humanity, and especially against ethnic groups, begin with the dehumanization of the victims by the perpetrators. Equation of minority groups to animals and the use of small groups of “bad people” to demonize entire populations are both early warning signs that were observed before the Holocaust, and, frighteningly, have become more and more common in the rhetoric of the Trump administration, especially in the words of President Trump himself.

Most recently, Trump tweeted that Democrats “want illegal immigrants… to pour into and infest our Country.” The use of “infest” carries a worrying connotation, as it is more often associated with vermin than human beings. It brings to mind how he jumped on the example of MS-13 as evidence that undocumented immigrants “aren’t people. These are animals.”  The comparison of Jewish people to animals was a common part of the Nazi party’s rhetoric and, like Trump’s, Adolf Hitler used the example of those few Jews who did commit terrible crimes as a way to demonize the entire group.

This is not the only rhetoric that mirrors that of Nazi Germany, however. In a recent interview on Fox News, acting ICE director Thomas Homan claimed that ICE could not be compared to the Nazis because they “are simply enforcing laws enacted by Congress.” Ironically, Homan’s words employ the infamous Nuremberg defense, the plea of Nazis who carried out the horrific murders of Jewish prisoners that they were “just following orders.” At this point, the similarity between the rhetoric is clear, which leaves one last question: Why is this comparison necessary?

The Necessity of This Argument

The parallels between the Holocaust and immigrant internment must be commented on for two major reasons. First, of the many atrocities that have been committed in world history, the Holocaust is by far the most well-known. If one wants to draw attention to a crime against humanity, the Holocaust is the best reference point for the public. “If you want people to make fewer glib Nazi analogies,” writes Jeet Heer of The New Republic, “then you should push for an education system [that gives] proper emphasis to the details of Native genocide & plantation slavery.” Heer makes an excellent point. Though atrocities like slavery, Native genocide, and Japanese-American internment could be a more appropriate point of comparison, the public is not knowledgeable enough on those subjects for the comparison to really hit home.

However, there is another reason why this comparison must be made, and that is that the Holocaust is a perfect example of just how far racism, xenophobia, and dehumanization can go if left unchecked. While the genocide of American natives took place over several centuries and Japanese-American internment led to few deaths, the Holocaust is the perfect example because it involved a horrific amount of mass murder over a shockingly short period of time.


Certainly, the current policy being enacted is closer to Japanese-American internment than the mass murder of the Jewish people, but the Holocaust didn’t begin with mass murder. It began with dehumanization, the circumvention of human rights, and small acts of violence which escalated into an industrialized evil greater than the world had ever seen. As Bloomberg opinion writer Noah Smith wrote, “The idea that you shouldn’t compare any regime to the Nazis until the genocide actually begins is crazy… If we can’t compare someone to the Nazis until they’ve already carried out a genocide and started a war of extermination that killed tens of millions, then the historical lesson of the Nazis seems pretty useless.”

We cannot wait for the atrocity to reach its apex if we want to prevent another Holocaust. We must identify the early warning signs and act quickly before it grows into something that we cannot stop.

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