The New York Times’ Nicholas Kristof published last month a column with the stomach-turning headline, “Anne Frank Today Is a Syrian Girl.” Last week, he continued with this analogy, asking his readers, “Would You Hide a Jew From the Nazis?”
Kristof goes into detail about the many nations of the world that refused to provide refuge to the Jews. He then tells the stories of a few brave souls – Martha Sharp, Witold Pilecki, Jozef and Wiktoria Ulma, Aristides de Sousa Mendes – that defied their governments to aid Jews, in some cases paying the ultimate price. Those stories are certainly worth telling and remembering.
Not surprisingly, however, Kristof never mentions the Times’ own role in intentionally downplaying and obfuscating the Holocaust as it was taking place. In 2005, journalist Laurel Leff exposed a “deliberate effort by The New York Times to withhold news of Hitler’s destruction of European Jewry.”
Kristof ignores this, writing, “[i]t was the Nazis who committed genocide, but the U.S. and other countries also bear moral responsibility for refusing to help desperate people.” The Times, of course, bears responsibility as well, for failing to inform the public about what was really happening.
Kristof’s next move is even worse: turning the Holocaust into a cautionary tale about the treatment of today’s migrants.
There are many differences between the migrants currently pouring into Europe and the Jewish refugees of the Holocaust. Perhaps the most salient is that, while all casualties of war are of course tragic, Syrians are not being specifically targeted for extermination due to their ethnicity. And, while it is true that some of the migrants coming to Europe today are fleeing the brutal five-year long war in Syria, more than half are economic migrants from peaceful North African countries.
Kristof’s argument would also be far more persuasive if he addressed people’s legitimate concerns about even true refugees, rather than writing those concerns off as bigoted. The primary fear that many people harbor about these refugees is not, as he claims, that some are “spies,” it is that some of them will commit acts of terrorism in their new country. Instead of downplaying these concerns by mischaracterizing them, Kristof could have suggested ways that vetting procedures could be enhanced. Suggesting concrete solutions to people’s worries about the antisemitism, homophobia, and misogyny that some of these refugees are likely to bring with them, such as a diversity training for the immigrants, might also have better served Kristof’s point.
The situation in Syria is indeed dire. The argument in favor of offering a haven to those afflicted by the fighting there can stand on its own merits. There is no need to turn every victim into the “new Jews” as Kristof does here.