Very little compares to Holocaust horrors

For years, the Palestinians have equated Israelis with Nazis. The People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals has compared the slaughter of animals to the Holocaust. U.S. Rep. Charles Rangel, D-N.Y., has compared the Iraq War to the Holocaust. And, most recently, U.S. Sen. Richard Durbin, DIll., has compared U.S. troops at Guantánamo Bay to Nazis.

One problem is that what actually transpired during the Holocaust is so horrifying that the details are rarely discussed outside of books on the subject. The Holocaust often is used as a statistic to reflect the death of many nameless, faceless people or as shorthand for largescale persecution, murder and human-rights abuses.

At the risk of upsetting readers, let me offer a few examples of Nazi atrocities. And then you can decide whether any current events are comparable to the Holocaust.

The prosecutor at the Mauthausen war-crimes trial noted that virtually every conceivable method of killing was used at the camp. "To list some," he said, "inmates were killed by gassing, hanging, clubbing, heart injections, driving (them) into the electric fence, kicking in genitals, being buried alive and by putting a red-hot poker down the throat."

The Nazis routinely murdered people by shooting them. Sometimes, Jews would dig their own graves before the Nazis shot them so their bodies would fall in them. Groups of Jews also were corralled into buildings and locked inside before the buildings were set on fire. One million Jewish children were gassed, burned alive, stabbed or starved to death.

In one town, Jews were taken to the butcher's slaughterhouse. They were stripped and forced to crawl on their hands and knees up the ramp used for animals. When they reached the end, their heads were chopped off and put in baskets. Their bodies were taken and hung on meat hooks with signs that said "Kosher Meat."

Then there were the medical experiments. Here are a few examples:

• At Auschwitz, Josef Mengele injected twins and dwarfs - age 2 and above - with various substances. He then killed them so he could conduct comparative pathological examinations of their internal organs.

• Carl Clauberg injected chemical substances into the wombs of thousands of Jewish and Gypsy women to determine how long it would take to sterilize 1,000 women.

• Horst Schumann sterilized men and women by pointing X-rays at their sexual organs. Many subjects died after great suffering.

Here's a description of one of the high-altitude experiments carried out at Dachau: "It was a continuous experiment without oxygen at a height of 12 Km. (7 miles) conducted on a 37-year-old Jew in good general condition. Breathing continued up to 30 minutes.

"After 4 minutes, the experimental subject began to perspire and wiggle his head. After 5 minutes, cramps occurred. Between 6 and 10 minutes, breathing increased in speed, and the experimental subject became unconscious. From 11 to 30 minutes, breathing slowed down to three breaths per minute, finally stopping altogether."

The eminent Jewish philosopher, Emil Fackenheim, suggested four distinguishing characteristics of the Holocaust:

The Final Solution was designed to exterminate every single Jewish man, woman and child. The only Jews who would have conceivably survived had Adolf Hitler been victorious were those who somehow escaped discovery by the Nazis.

• Jewish birth (actually mere evidence of "Jewish blood") was sufficient to warrant the punishment of death. Fackenheim notes that this feature distinguished Jews from Poles and Russians who were killed because there were too many of them. With the possible exception of Gypsies, he adds, Jews were the only people killed for the "crime" of existing.

• The extermination of the Jews had no political or economic justification. It was not a means to any end; it was an end in itself. The killing of Jews was not considered just a part of the war effort but was equal to it. Thus, resources that could have been used in the war were diverted instead to the program of extermination.

• The people who carried out the Final Solution were primarily average citizens. Fackenheim calls them "ordinary job holders with an extraordinary job." They were not perverts or sadists.

Other examples of mass murder exist in human history, such as the atrocities committed by Pol Pot in Cambodia and the Turkish annihilation of the Armenians. But none of those other catastrophes, Fackenheim argues, contain more than one of the characteristics described above.

The word "Holocaust" is not sacrosanct. It may be possible to find situations that merit a comparison to the actions of the Nazis. But first, you need to know what the Nazis did to 6 million Jews who had names, faces, families and lives that should not be trivialized by specious analogies.