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Ruth Bass: Only the ignorant use the Holocaust as a metaphor

Auschwitz children behind barbed wire

A group of children wearing concentration camp uniforms are held behind barbed wire fencing at Auschwitz concentration camp, where Dr. Joseph Mengele performed horrific experiments and supervised the gas chambers. A journalist's comparison of Dr. Anthony Fauci to him reflects ignorance of the Holocaust.

RICHMOND — Lara Logan’s career as a journalist includes, especially in the early years, a series of assignments laced with the derring-do of a Richard Engel or Clarissa Ward, and she wrote the kinds of stories that helped her climb the ladder to globally respected news outlets.

Somewhere along the way, she lost her balance and fell into less admirable practices as a news person. She hit bottom last week when she compared Dr. Anthony Fauci to the infamous Nazi surgeon, Joseph Mengele.

During World War II, Mengele did what he called research in Nazi concentration camps, using inmates — with and without anesthesia, dead or alive — as his victims. One writer describes him as “sadistic, lacking empathy and extremely anti-Semitic.” He is commonly referred to as the “Angel of Death.”

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One might reasonably call Fauci our “Angel of Life.” Patiently and knowledgeably and forever teaching, he has been one of our guides through a pandemic that has challenged the endurance of us all. Logan, who also espouses aspects of today’s bent toward conspiracies, claims that, around the world, people widely believe her comparison is valid.

Mengele joined twins together to see what would happen, removed organs so he could have a look, supervised the gas chambers. The stories are so awful it is hard to make the fingers spell them out on the computer. Aside from ignorance or mental degeneration, how could any journalist put these two medical men in the same pew: the one, a cruel killer, the other a lifetime devoted to your health and mine.

In the same week, Facebook — a Harvard student’s invention to link friends — has made many thousands of dollars allowing ads that compare mandatory vaccinations and mask-wearing to the Holocaust and the extermination of millions of Jews, Catholics and disabled people in concentration camps. These ads, say the Facebook powers-that-be, slipped through their detection system. Or perhaps greed swallowed the alarm mechanism.

Our personal alarms need to be set off whenever we hear people comparing something they don’t like to the Holocaust or Nazi Germany. Nothing compares to the horror of that time; citizens, journalists and members of Congress need to stop, study and listen. I still shudder when I think about my husband, Milton Bass, at the age of 22 — barely eligible to vote and thousands of miles from his Bradford Street home in Pittsfield — having this experience, which he wrote about in his Berkshire Eagle column in 2005:

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“March 25th marked the 60th anniversary of my one encounter with a German concentration camp. My division, the 104th, was teamed with the 3rd Armored Division for a lightning strike into the heart of Germany. The weather had been mean and supply had a tough time keeping up with gasoline and food supplies. We were basically subsisting off the countryside.

“I was a medic and a runner for Major McGinnis, the regimental surgeon, and he called me over and told me to get in his jeep. ‘They found one of those camps,’ he said. I had no idea what he was talking about until we came to a barbed wire fence and over the gate was a sign that said Arbeit macht Frei (Work makes you free.) We drove through the gate into the camp center. I hopped over the side of the jeep and looked out at the long field in front of me. All I could see were rags fluttering on the ground. But when I walked closer I saw that there were bodies inside those rags, bodies so emaciated that they were basically bone frames. The German guards had machine gunned as many of the prisoners as they could round up when they heard our troops approaching. There were maybe 3,000 bodies in that field.

“The nearby bunkhouses contained hundreds more, some stacked up like cord wood under the stairs. There were no blankets on the wooden bunks. I thought they were all dead until I realized that some of the eyes were following my progress. Nothing else moving, just the eyes. Some bunks had two dead and one alive, or one alive and two dead, some all three dead.

“We had almost nothing with us so we mostly gave water from our canteens. About three hours later the major found me and said, ‘We have to go.’ I later found out there were 5,000 corpses and 1,000 still alive in various stages. The one thing I took away from that camp that would not leave me for I don’t know how many years was the smell. It’s been called ‘the sweet smell of death’ and once that stink gets in your nostrils it pervades everything you eat or drink.

“The reason I write about this again is that those of us who witnessed these atrocities are dying off and soon there will be nobody left to say, ‘I was there. I saw it.’ And then it becomes history, like the Peloponnesian War, and nobody pays attention. As the late Arthur Miller wrote about the plight of the common man: ‘Attention must be paid.’”

I am trying, Miltie. I am trying.

Ruth Bass is an award-winning journalist. Her website is ruthbass.com. The opinions expressed by columnists do not necessarily reflect the views of The Berkshire Eagle.

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