In 1922, long before his family’s wealth was to be severely depleted by the constant tithes and bribes to the Third Reich, philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein articulated a truth: “The limits of my language”, he said, “are the limits of my world”. Nothing, perhaps, represents that limit — the inability to articulate the depth of human cruelty — than the Holocaust and the deployment of a totalitarian society-state to the attempted extermination of an entire people. Over seven decades later, however, the moral challenge to modernity, and even the idea of humanity, that the willful attempt at exterminating an entire people threw up has become, in many quarters, a rhetorical shorthand.
Even as Israel commemorated the Holocaust on April 12, its use as an argumentative tool continues. The invocation of the Holocaust, and Adolf Hitler, to describe acts of violence or authoritarian regimes is at one level merely hyperbole. However, the casual use of such similes does a deeper damage — it robs both the original event, as well as the one being described, of its particular circumstances and puts up a roadblock to genuine understanding. In reducing an event and one of the most dangerous ideologies of the modern world to an epithet, there is a danger that the lessons and warnings they carry will be lost.
In the absence of comparison, casual though it may be, how can the Holocaust be remembered? The answer lies in the facts. A visit to a concentration camp, the stark enumerations of Hitler’s genocide, the democratic route the Nazi’s trod to power, all serve as better tools to excavate the parallels in history than finger-pointing cries of “Fascist!”. As acts of violence and bigotry, of state over-reach and institutionalised barbarity recur, it is by engaging with each event that another impending holocaust can be identified, and prevented.