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Rabbi Shmuley Boteach: Using ‘Never Again’ to Promote Gun Control Is Inappropriate

View of a young demonstrator, on someone's shoulders, as she holds a sign that reads 'Never Again' during the March For Our Lives rally against gun violence, near Columbus Circle, New York, New York, March 24, 2018. Beside her, another girl points her finger. (Photo by Barbara Alper/Getty Images)
Barbara Alper/Getty Images

Rabbi Shmuley Boteach talked about Parkland student gun control activist David Hogg seeming to appropriate Holocaust themes with the title of his upcoming book Never Again on Friday’s Breitbart News Daily with SiriusXM hosts Alex Marlow and Frances Martel.

“There is a certain sacredness to Holocaust remembrance because, not only was it the largest genocide in the history of the world — six million Jews murdered, the Roma, the gypsies nearly exterminated — but it was unique in the annals of human crime in that it was an entire state apparatus conquering nearly all of Europe and leveraging all state resources to put Jews in boxcars and bring them to crematoria where Zyklon-B gas filled their lungs and murdered them,” Boteach explained.

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“The world has respected the fact that ‘Never Again’ resonates with Holocaust imagery specifically. It’s not as if we Jews have copyrighted the term, and it’s not as if we have a trademark. But there’s a certain sacredness, and no one has appropriated that term understanding that there’s never been a crime like this,” he said.

“The problem with using it for anything else, and the reason why it’s inappropriate, is that it diminishes the uniqueness of that crime. It makes it sound like there are many crimes that are similar, and there is nothing like it. It doesn’t mean that other things aren’t horrible, and what happened in Parkland is absolutely horrible. It just means that there’s no comparison. The comparison should not be made. That’s what makes the use of the term inappropriate,” he said.

Marlow recalled some use of terms like “never again” and “never forget” after the 9/11 terrorist attack and lamented the sad truth that many people do seem to have forgotten or failed to teach their children what happened on that day.

“One of the parallels between — again, you can’t draw full a full comparison, but there are certain parallels between 9/11 and the Holocaust,” Boteach reflected. He said one of those parallels was the people who jumped to their deaths from the stricken World Trade Center.

“The worst imagery of 9/11 were these people who chose to fling themselves from 105 stories rather than be consume by jet-fuel-fired heat,” he said. “In the Warsaw ghetto, Major General Jurgen Stroop, the SS commander who was executed after the war for war crimes, he called them ‘parachutists.’ He decided to burn the ghetto down, and he had them jump.”

“I’m a values-based person,” Boteach said. “Looking at the gun debate from a values perspective, one of the reasons that the Warsaw uprising could not succeed even more, and they kept the Germans at bay for three weeks, is that they didn’t have enough arms. They were reliant on the Polish home army to get whatever arms they could get. They had small-caliber pistols, barely any bullets, every bullet counted, and they had Molotov cocktails. Had they had arms, they probably could have launched a much more successful revolt.”

“Now, I’m not looking at the issue in American terms, where no one wants to see mass shootings,” he added. “I understand how people feel that this is what it’s leading to with the availability of guns. Having said that, I’m looking specifically at the use of ‘Never Again’ to promote gun control. The problem with that is that the Jews were kind of not allowed to have arms. They were stripped of arms and therefore could not fight back.”

“The history of the uprising is how hard they were trying to get armed, to get any kind of arms by which to fight back. When people say, ‘Why wasn’t there more resistance?’ that was one of the issues. They were reliant on partisan groups to get arms from, and they had to develop these homemade things like Molotov cocktails,” he said.

“Again, without wading even into the debate, he’s not even making his point,” Boteach said of Hogg’s book title. “It kind of makes the opposite point.”

“I’m a rabbi, so I look at this through a very compassionate lens. He suffered trauma that we can barely comprehend. He lost his friends. So I’m not going to judge him harshly,” he said, advising Hogg and others who consider appropriating Holocaust themes to think carefully before using “imagery which is very sacred to a large number of people.”

“There is a sacredness to ‘Never Again.’ It should not be misused. I would tell him gently and respectfully that it should not be misused and that the Holocaust was a unique crime in the annals of civilization,” he said.

“It’s important for the sake of humanity, not just for the Jewish community, that its memory not be diluted because genocide is ever-present. We see the use of poison gas in Syria today. It’s only specifically by understanding the gravity and magnitude of the Holocaust that we ensure that we fight genocide so that it doesn’t continue,” Boteach said.

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