On Yom HaShoah, which today commemorates in Israel and several Western countries the lessons of the Holocaust, the Final Solution is invoked in a way that increasingly shows that one lesson is misunderstood – the conflation of the word “Holocaust” with other unpopular causes or policy decisions.
The latest example: Robert Kennedy Jr., nephew of President John F. Kennedy and son of former Se. Robert Kennedy, on Monday apologized for describing the number of children injured by vaccines as "a holocaust." An opponent of a California bill that would limit vaccination waivers for schoolchildren, he used the term last week at a screening in Sacramento of the film "Trace Amounts," which links autism to a vaccine preservative.
"I want to apologize to all whom I offended by my use of the word holocaust to describe the autism epidemic," Kennedy said in a statement, adding that he was struggling for a way to convey the effects of autism on children and their families.
In recent years “Holocaust” and Holocaust imagery have been applied to abortion, to slavery, to the killing of animals for food, and to support of stronger gun control measures.
This trend indicates that the word Holocaust “has become the negative absolute in contemporary society,” according to Michael Berenbaum, an authority on the Shoah who serves as a professor of the American Jewish University in Los Angeles.
In other words, Berenbaum said in a telephone interview with The Jewish Week, misuse of the term, while “dangerous,” inadvertently shows respect for it.
“When you scream about something” that is evil, “you always invoke the Holocaust, he said. “It’s being misused all over the place.”
Kennedy “is clearly misappropriating the term” in a reference to vaccines, Berenbaum said. He said Kennedy’s statement this week was not anti-Semitic. “It was a foolish statement.”
“Reckless use of language is becoming common in our society,” he said. “You have to respect the sanctity of language in order to preserve it.”