At first sight the debates about anti-Semitism and about trans people have little in common except that they both excite strong passions. However, in Germany, which prides itself on having come to terms with its Nazi past, the two are coming together in the worst way possible.
This year’s Holocaust Memorial Day in Germany focused on the ‘queer victims’ of the Holocaust. That was the theme of the commemoration in the Bundestag, the lower house of the German parliament, last week.
Of course it is true that the Nazis brutally persecuted homosexuals and transvestites. And it is right and proper that their suffering should be remembered.
The problem, as Judith Basad pointed out in an article in Pleiteticker, an online publication, is that the definition of victims of the Holocaust is being stretched. Under the rubric of queer victims what she calls ‘lifestyle categories’ such as ‘non-binary’, ‘genderfluid’ and ‘agender’ are being included. This is despite the fact that no one would have recognised such labels during the Nazi period. They are essentially recent inventions.
This ahistorical approach was explicit in a press release by Sven Lehmann, a member of the Bundestag for the Green party and holder of the recently created position known informally as the ‘Queer Commissioner’ (officially the Federal Government Commissioner for the Acceptance of Sexual and Gender Identity). In it he claimed that: “For decades, the cruel persecution and terrible experiences of LGBTIQ* during the Nazi reign of terror were met with complete indifference, often even with explicit approval.” In the increasingly arcane terminology of these debates the abbreviation stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and questioning.
Lehmann was essentially endorsing the rewriting of history by activists to include categories of doubtful veracity as victims of the Holocaust. Groups which no one would have recognised a few years ago are somehow projected back into the mid-twentieth century.
This processes diminishes the real victims of the Holocaust including Jews but also others too such as homosexuals, Sinti and Roma. It is in line with the process of what is known as relativising the Holocaust. In other words diluting its meaning to include a wide range of other categories.
This runs parallel to the trend to include other conflicts such as the brutal civil wars in Bosnia and Rwanda in the 1990s. These were of course terrible conflicts. However, they were completely different in character to the Nazi's systematic murder of the Jews, and some other minorities, during the second world war.
Relativisation is not outright Holocaust denial but it is more subtle and therefore more dangerous. It robs what was arguably the greatest crime of the twentieth century of its distinctive character. It turns it into one of many bad things that have happened over the years.
It also follows that if the range of victims of the Holocaust is widened so is the range of culprits. For example, as Judith Basad points out, trans-activists have no compunction in accusing ‘TERFS’ - that is the derogatory term for women who believe in the reality of biological sex - of being akin to the Nazi murderers. Holding the common sense belief that people with penises are men makes a person morally equivalent to a Holocaust perpetrator. This of course happens in other countries too but in Germany this accusation, implicitly at least, now has official backing. In any event the effect is once again to diminish the meaning of the real experience of Nazism.
This development follows last year’s scandal over the Documenta Fifteen international art exhibition. The event, which received lavish funding from the German government, included some blatantly anti-Semitic images. In that case they were included in the name of giving artists from the ‘global south’ a voice in their criticisms of Israel.
Despite the criticism the exhibition received at the time the newly appointed chief executive, Andreas Hoffmann, recently described last year’s event as “inspiring”. He was speaking in an interview in the Neue Osnabrücker Zeitung, a regional daily newspaper.
Those who praise Germany for coming to terms with its Nazi past should look more carefully at what is happening there. Although Germans still tend to feel revulsion at their history there are other ways in which anti-Semitism is being diminished and even rehabilitated.
Correction: The text has been corrected to reflect the fact that Andreas Hoffman's correct title is chief executive rather than director.