When it comes to the national trend of comparing COVID-19 vaccine and mask mandates to the Nazi Holocaust, Colorado continues to prove that it can keep pace with the best — or the worst — of them.
In July, freshman US Congresswoman Lauren Boebert who represents Colorado’s Third Congressional District, made national headlines when she criticized door-to-door vaccination efforts in her district.
“Biden has deployed his Needle Nazis to Mesa County,” she tweeted. “The people of my district are more than smart enough to make their own decisions about the experimental vaccine and don’t need coercion by federal agents.”
Now, a board member of a Douglas County public charter school has joined the chorus of those who apparently find the equation of pandemic precautions to the Holocaust to be apt — a comparison many Jews find objectionable if not anti-Semitic.
Kay Wan, vice president of the board of American Academy, a charter school with two campuses in Parker and one in Castle Pines, in August posted on her personal Facebook page a meme featuring two photographs — one, labeled “1942,” showing a woman being asked to show identity papers to Nazi soldiers; the other, labeled “2020,” showing a masked woman apparently being questioned by police officers.
“Welcome to the new normal,” the accompanying text reads. “But is it really new?? Show me your papers!! History repeats itself. This is only the beginning.”
The post by Wan — a member of the school board since 2015 who has worked as a broadcast journalist and producer for ABC News, Good Morning America, CNN and FOX News — is apparently only viewable by her Facebook friends.
The post resulted in a complaint filed last month by the parent of a student at American Academy with the Colorado Office of Civil Rights and the Anti-Defamation League, whose Mountain States regional director, Scott Levin, promptly asked Wan to remove the post.
Levin told the Intermountain Jewish News this week that he has yet to receive a reply to his request. Attempts by the IJN this week to reach Wan for comment on her post were likewise unsuccessful.
The American Academy board of directors, however, has commented publicly on the controversy.
In a Sept. 29 letter to school parents, the board emphasized that Wan’s post was a reflection of her own opinion and was “not, in any way, representative of American Academy.”
That clarification notwithstanding, the board’s letter implied that Wan’s fellow board members are more or less in agreement with her when it comes to the Holocaust comparison.
“As we see it,” the letter stated, “the post is intended to show the dangers of government overreach and to that extreme, fascism. While we do not advocate for or adopt Ms. Wan’s comparison between historical fascism and today’s events, we also do not read anti-Semitism into her comments. In fact, we read a strong rejection of the kind of government that perpetrated anti-Semitism and the Holocaust.”
The board’s letter went on to state that Wan is the daughter of a Chinese American mother who fled communism in her native country, and that “her life experiences lend a perspective many do not have.
“We all have a right to agree or disagree with her personal view and to voice our opinions accordingly, to hopefully include avoiding the pervasive (and toxic) cancel culture that persists in today’s society. Such exchange may offend some, but hopefully promote the freedom of ideas that have helped our society thrive.”
The board stated that teaching “the horrific reality of the Holocaust” is part of its history curriculum and that it is “essential for students to learn about the dangers of hatred and discrimination as well as to understand the courage that was required to bring an end to that terrible time in our world’s history.”
The school also strives to teach the importance of freedom of speech, the letter indicated.
“We hope they will never allow themselves to be intimidated into silence,” the board wrote of American Academy students, “as was the case in Nazi Germany and elsewhere at various times throughout history.”
Communicating with the IJN this week, the ADL’s Levin acknowledged that his organization has asked Wan to consider deleting her post that drew an analogy between the Holocaust and pandemic precautions.
“I sent Ms. Wan a letter asking her to consider the impact her objectionable social media post had on those that might see or have heard about it, particularly those who have family members that were murdered by the Nazis,” Levin said.
“I also asked her to consider deleting the post and, if she desired to do so, to replace it with her opinion about masks and requirements for proof of vaccination without reference to the Holocaust era.
“Finally, as a respected leader in the community, I asked her to use her leadership by posting a comment about no longer using Holocaust analogies to express opinions on contemporary issues.”
Adding that he hoped this would be “a teachable moment” for Wan and the school board, Levin said, “To date, I have not received a response from Ms. Wan, although I have seen the letter that the board sent to the parents of the school.”
While that letter did distinguish Wan’s post from the board’s own views, Levin said, its comments about students never allowing “themselves to be intimidated into silence, as was the case in Nazi Germany,” amounted to “its own Holocaust analogy.”
Levin stressed that such analogies between the Holocaust and “contemporary political and ideological debates” should be avoided.
“The murder of six million Jews and millions of others carried out by the Nazis and their collaborators was the largest recorded genocide in modern history. There is simply no equivalent event, historical or current, that compares with it,” Levin said.
“While individuals should certainly learn lessons from the Holocaust and seek to ensure that the actions of Nazi Germany are never repeated, we must also take care to avoid directly comparing them to modern-day events, except perhaps in the most extraordinary of circumstances.
“Failure to do so not only cheapens the memory of millions killed by the Nazis, it also diminishes society’s ability to effectively address the actual substance of the claimed problem.”
That includes, in Levin’s view, attempts to bolster arguments against coronavirus-related mandates or restrictions.
“We have repeatedly asked public figures and politicians, including Colorado’s own US Rep. Lauren Boebert, to stop trivializing the Holocaust in their attempt to score political points,” he said.
“When they wear a yellow star, portray health officials attempting to save lives as ‘Needle Nazis,’ or otherwise compare themselves to the innocent souls forced to wear yellow Stars of David who were later taken away to be killed in gas chambers or shot in open burial pits, it insults and denigrates the memories of those lost in the Shoah.”