Republican Tennessee State Senator Frank Niceley argued that Adolf Hitler’s story of overcoming homelessness could be an inspiration to poor people today.
Hitler, Niceley enthused, didn’t waste his time on the streets; instead he “practiced his oratory and his body language and how to connect with citizens…and then went on to lead a life that got him in the history books.”
Niceley used Hitler as a positive example. But even using the Holocaust as a negative comparison can get ugly very quickly. For nerd culture fans, the immediate point of reference here is Mandalorian star Gina Carano.
In early 2021, Carano said that being a conservative on social media was like being Jewish in Nazi Germany. It’s true that people of every political persuasion can face harsh and even cruel criticism on social media, up to and including credible death threats.
Disney condemned Carano’s words. But she’s hardly the only one associated with the Star Wars franchise who has crassly leveraged Holocaust analogies for their own purposes.
George Lucas lifted imagery from the infamous Nazi propaganda film Triumph of the Will for the Rebel medal ceremony at the end of A New Hope. This didn’t generate any particular outrage, perhaps because the public at large didn’t recognize the visual cues.
Reflecting on Niceley, Carano, and Lucas, it’s tempting to conclude that no one should compare anything to Hitler or the Holocaust ever. The Jewish genocide was an event of unspeakable, unimaginable horror.
The problem is that if no one is allowed to talk about the Holocaust, it becomes very difficult to talk, or think, about the Holocaust. Analogy is an important way in which we connect past to present. If the Holocaust has no comparison, it also loses relevance.