Spicer is Not a Holocaust Denier, Just Ignorant - Which Might be Just as Bad

On Tuesday, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer held a press conference discussing the recent use of chemical weapons in Syria by the Assad regime. The comments made by Spicer have since gone viral - not through an outpouring of agreement with Spicer's condemnation of the attacks, but because of the erroneous blunder he made when he decided to compare Hitler to Assad.

He stated:

"You, look — we didn't use chemical weapons in World War II. You know, you had someone as despicable as Hitler who didn't even sink to using chemical weapons. So you have to, if you're Russia, ask yourself, is this a country that you and a regime that you want to align yourself with?"

Understandably, a number of people in the conference room shifted in their seats, visibly uncomfortable; social media went crazy. Had Spicer been heard correctly? If Zyklon B and carbon monoxide - used to kill hundreds and thousands of Jews, disabled, and Roma and Sinti Europeans during the Holocaust - are not "chemical weapons", what are they?

Spicer was given the opportunity to correct himself shortly afterwards. Instead, he dug himself an even deeper hole.

"I think when you come to sarin gas, there was no—, he was not using the gas on his own people the same way that Ashad (sic) is doing. I mean, there was clearly-, I understand your point. Thank you. Thank you. I appreciate that. There was not-, in the-, he brought them into the Holocaust centres, I understand that. But I'm saying, in the way that Assad used them where he went into towns, dropped them down to innocent—, into the middle of towns, it was brought-, the use of it. I appreciate the clarification. That was not the intent."

There are three fundamental problems with this response. Firstly, the assertion that Hitler somehow didn't use gas "on his own people." Whilst it's true that many hundreds of thousands of citizens from outside Germany and German-occupied countries were targeted, what about the 141,500 German Jews who were murdered? Or the 200,000 physically and mentally disabled patients killed as part of the 'T4' operation (which began before the Holocaust, in 1939)? Spicer's distinction between the people under each leader, and the dismissal of those Hitler and the Nazi Party killed as not "his own people," uses almost exactly the same rhetoric as Hitler and the Nazi Party did themselves.

We then have this vague description of "Holocaust centres." It would almost certainly be too much to ask of Spicer to have at least clarified this point, because it is very doubtful that he would even know the difference between the labour, concentration and extermination camps. Auschwitz-Birkenau was not the same as Treblinka; Treblinka was not the same as Theresienstadt; Theresienstadt was not the same as Breendonk, and so on. Only six camps out of the vast network of Nazi-run camps had facilities with which to gas people; it was only at Auschwitz and Majdanek that Zyklon B was used (the other four murdered victims using carbon monoxide fumes).

The third and final point, following on from this, is that Spicer seems to present that notion that, by forcibly removing people to dedicated sites of extermination - "Holocaust centres" or not - the Final Solution was somehow more removed from society and therefore somewhat less messy. Heaven forbid that people should have been gassed in the streets or in their beds, as happened in Syria last week. At least the killing operations took place away from civilised conurbations (although this doesn't include the massacres that occurred against both military and civilian populations, even if they were not gassed to death).

Sean Spicer has since apologised for his remarks, stating he "made a mistake". Meanwhile, the Anne Frank Center has called on President Trump to fire Spicer over the incident, accusing him of engaging in "Holocaust denial."
It is almost guaranteed that President Trump will not fire Spicer, and Spicer himself has declared he will not resign over the debacle. But do these remarks qualify Spicer as a Holocaust denier? Almost definitely not. Whilst some may argue that Spicer has denied the acknowledgement of Jews and other groups being murdered by the Nazis, I am more struck by the level of ignorance rather than flat-out denial. What it appears Spicer was trying to say was that Hitler didn't use chemical weapons in air strikes in German towns and cities, as Assad has done. In his mind, therefore, the Holocaust clearly didn't even enter the same equation. To Spicer, the Holocaust was a separate part of the war; it happened somewhere 'over there', as we can read in his description of "Holocaust centres". Spicer's comments clearly illustrate his lack of knowledge and awareness about the Holocaust, but this does not mean he denies the fact altogether.

I wish I could say I was shocked by the Press Secretary for the White House coming out which such astounding remarks. But after the omission of Jewish victims of the Holocaust in the Presidential statement for Holocaust Memorial Day, and the recruitment of racist misogynist Steve Bannon to Trump's closest circle, there is really very little to leave me surprised. This latest incident once again highlights the farcical Trump administration and just how ignorant the people running the country really are. There are a number of wonderful Holocaust memorials, museums and charitable organisations working in America, educating young people about the genocide and promoting tolerance, respect and diversity. Perhaps it's time Spicer and Trump's other aides - maybe even Trump himself - were offered a few lessons and a trip to Europe (to the "Holocaust centres", no less) to learn more about this dark period of history to avoid such jaw-dropping gaffes in the future.