Local Jewish leaders denounce Holocaust comparisons made at County Council meeting

Maharat+Rori+Picker+Neiss%2C+executive+director+of+Jewish+Community+Relations+Council+of+St.+Louis%2C+speaks+at+a+press+conference+on+Monday%2C+Aug.+16%2C+2021+at+the+Lawrence+K.+Roos+Government+Building+in+Clayton.+

Eric Berger

Maharat Rori Picker Neiss, executive director of Jewish Community Relations Council of St. Louis, speaks at a press conference on Monday, Aug. 16, 2021 at the Lawrence K. Roos Government Building in Clayton.

ERIC BERGER , ASSOCIATE EDITOR

Jewish community leaders on Monday condemned public comments at a recent St. Louis County Council meeting linking mask mandates and COVID-19 vaccine requirements with treatment of Jews during the Holocaust.

The comments referring to the Holocaust came at an Aug. 10 meeting in the wake of the county’s public health order requiring masks in public places amidst a surge in COVID cases.

One speaker said a requirement that children wear masks reminded her of Nazi Germany; another falsely claimed that the vaccines violated the Nuremberg Code of medical ethics established after the Holocaust; and a third denied that COVID existed and compared it to Nazi propaganda.

The Jewish leaders and St. Louis County Executive Sam Page condemned the comparisons.

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“We have family members that we have loved and lost. Painful memories of oppression, of genocide, of destruction, and we are not political tools in the debate about covid health,” Maharat Rori Picker Neiss, executive director of Jewish Community Relations of Council of St. Louis, said at the Monday morning press conference at the Lawrence K. Roos Administration Building in Clayton. “I understand that there are those who feel that their way of life is being threatened right now, and frankly, all of our ways of life are being threatened but not by one another but by a disease that we are all trying to work together to fight.”

Lawmakers and others across the United States who are opposed to vaccination and mask requirements have in recent months frequently compared those measures to steps taken by Nazis.

For example, in May, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, Republican of Georgia, compared a grocery store’s decision to add a logo to the badges of vaccinated workers to the yellow stars that Nazis forced Jews to wear in Europe.

At a city council meeting last week in Springfield, Mo., about 15 people wore the stars and compared a nonbinding resolution from the city to encourage vaccination to the Nazi regime’s efforts, according to the Springfield News-Leader.

“Today, I am afraid for my Jewish family,” said Rabbi Susan Talve of Central Reform Congregation. “The overt antisemitism displayed at our most recent County Council meeting makes me afraid for my congregation and the Jewish community in our region and across our state. By daring to dismiss the horrors of the Holocaust, by comparing the loss of freedom of over 11 million who were slaughtered, gassed and burned, including a million and a half children, comparing that to a mask mandate is not only disrespectful but is dangerous.”

At the meeting last week, a woman who identified herself as Dr. Mackenzie McNamara, a chiropractor in St. Charles, described the COVID vaccines as experimental and thus claimed that efforts which encourage vaccination were a violation of to the Nuremberg Code, which stated that humans should not be coerced to participate in medical experiments. But the vaccines are not considered experimental because they have already gone through clinical trials and been approved for emergency use in the United States.

Similar false claims have been shared thousands of times on Facebook and Instagram, according to AFP, a fact-checking website.

“In the context of the Nuremberg Code, the best way to think of an experiment is that it is being conducted not primarily for the good of the experimental subject, but to gain scientific knowledge and expertise more generally,” Noah Feldman, a Harvard University law professor, wrote in a Bloomberg column responding to a Texas lawsuit challenging a hospital’s requirement that employees receive the COVID vaccine. “But the hospital isn’t trying to find out what will happen if people take the vaccines. It’s trying to protect patients and employees by blocking the spread of COVID-19 in its facilities.”

Still, McNamara, who closed her comments at the county council meeting by saying, “tyranny will not be tolerated, not now, not ever, and we will not comply,” was met with a standing ovation and thunderous applause.

Another speaker who identified herself as Jessica Crandell, an employee of Special School District of St. Louis County, said at the County Council meeting that forcing children to wear masks “feels more like Nazi Germany, not America, land of the free.”

At the press conference, Stacey Newman, a former state representative who is Jewish, demanded that the County Council cut off hate speech during public comments at meetings.

“There can be no more hate-filled conspiracy theories targeting our medical and public health communities,” said Newman, executive director of Progressive Women, a statewide organization focusing on equality and justice with a feminist lens. “COVID is the evil which kills and harms, nothing else.”

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