In her diary, Anne Frank immerses the reader in her daily life as a Jew in early 1940s Amsterdam, providing an intimate glimpse into the atrocities of racial segregation. In one particular extract from June 1942, Anne describes the systematic imposition of anti-Jewish laws by Nazis in an effort to exclude them from Dutch society:
Jews were forbidden to be out on the streets between 8:00 p.m. and 6:00 a.m.; Jews were forbidden to go to theatres, cinemas, or any other forms of entertainment; Jews were forbidden to use swimming pools, tennis courts, hockey fields or any other athletic fields; You couldn’t do this and you couldn’t do that, but life went on...”
Seventy-nine years later, in the midst of a global pandemic, Anne’s words have been wrenched back into focus in an unexpected context. On the encrypted messaging app Telegram, the Italian group “Basta Dittatura” (“Stop the Dictatorship”) shared Anne’s extract, adding in a prophetic tone:
“History is repeating itself. Italy’s Green Pass will bring us back to the Holocaust.”
After Italy imposed the controversial “Green Pass” restrictions on non-vaccinated people on August 6, prohibiting them from sitting in indoor restaurants, cinemas, stadiums, and other public places, absurd historical parallels with the Holocaust have been drawn.
As thousands of people took to the streets to demonstrate against the implementation of the Green Pass, some protestors wore a yellow Star of David badge reading “Not Vaccinated.” The Italian anti-Green Pass movement is therefore instrumentalizing the Holocaust in a grotesque effort to distort reality and fuel a sense of victimhood among the non-vaccinated population. In their view the Green Pass would be a direct assault on individual liberties: if in the past Jews could not go to cinemas and theatres, today non-vaccinated people are suffering just the same fate.
“They are madness, gestures in poor taste that intersect with ignorance,” commented Italian senator Liliana Segre, who is also a 90-year-old Holocaust survivor, “it is such a time for ignorance, for violence, that it is not even repressed anymore, that has become ripe for these distortions.”
Italy’s protests are instrumentalizing Jewish discrimination. (Credit: Riccardo De Luca, Times of Israel)
Although the Green Pass has been an overall successful endeavor, with vaccine rates rapidly increasing, anti-vax resistance still remains strong, with 80.000 people taking to the streets in the last weekend of July. In a typical snowball effect, the anti-Green Pass movement has also quickly incorporated many conspiracy theorists, libertarians, far-right movements.
On the same weekend, neighboring France counted 230.000 protestors, with some of them also wearing the yellow David stars.
“I wore the star, I know what it is, I still have it in my flesh,” said Joseph Szwarc, a French Holocaust survivor, “it is everyone’s duty to not allow this outrageous, antisemitic, racist wave to pass over us.”
Meanwhile, Italy’s healthcare system has also been hit by the worst ransomware attack it has ever experienced. In early August a group of unknown hackers penetrated the IT system of the health department of the Lazio region and blocked its COVID19 vaccination booking system. This attack substantially delayed the vaccination campaign, forcing people to queue outside of the facilities and medical staff to write patients’ medical information with pen and paper. As hackers are demanding a ransom payment, investigations on their identity are still ongoing. Yet, on social media, Italian people have been quick to draw conclusions. With many suggesting, “it must have been a group of anti-vaccine hackers.”
The latest demonstrations are the symptom of a troubling trend. The outrageous comparison to the Holocaust not only represents an insult to the past, but it is also an indicator of a disturbing phenomenon that perhaps calls for some national soul-searching. On one side, the developing world has been facing severe vaccine shortages – in July 2021, Africa delivered only 4 vaccines per 100 people. On the other side, the developed world sees an abundance of vaccines, with European governments introducing coercive measure to encourage their citizens to get inoculated. Yet, a substantial portion of those citizens are now waging a noisy campaign against those same governments. Drawing absurd parallels with the Holocaust, these citizens are seeking a victim status, fueling a sense of injustice that could easily become a breeding ground for violence and chaos. Exploiting the suffering of the Holocaust to serve an anti-vaccine agenda is a misplaced and insulting move – one that has the audacity to claim that being encouraged to get a vaccine during a global pandemic would be just as brutal as the ethnic cleansing of almost 6 million Jews.
Carlotta is a MA candidate in International Affairs at the Defence Studies Department, King’s College London.