Whoopi Goldberg got it all wrong on the Holocaust. But if she can learn, we all can

Whoopi Goldberg blew it big time with her comment on “The View” on Monday that the Holocaust was not about race but “man’s inhumanity to man.” But even though she later doubled down on her misstatements during an interview with Stephen Colbert, it didn’t take her long to come out with a true apology: She had been wrong, downright inaccurate, but now she had learned.

Did that merit a two-week suspension by ABC News? OK, but the important issue is that Goldberg was sadly misinformed about both the Holocaust and how the idea of race was used by the Nazis, and then she realized it and spoke out about it. Most of us have similar lessons to learn about mass acts of violent hatred, and Goldberg’s wrongful statement is one model for how to go about changing our perceptions.


A great deal has been made of whether Goldberg was accurate in not identifying the Jewish people, an estimated 6 million of whom died under Nazi rule, as a race. She wouldn’t be the first to tangle with that complicated issue; it’s widely debated among scholars and within the Jewish community. Certainly, most (but not all) Jewish people are white and thus aren’t targeted for the color of their skin. Race is more of a social construct than a hard-and-fast reality, viewed differently by various people, though often one with terrible consequences for groups that are enslaved, attacked and mistreated. Certainly, the Nazis considered Jews to be a race, one to be targeted for annihilation.

The more troubling aspect of Goldberg’s comment was the part about the Holocaust being an example of man’s inhumanity to man. That’s not untrue, but it reduces one of history’s most awful acts of hatred against specific groups to a large-scale random act of meanness. Genocide is a lot more than an act of inhumanity. The Holocaust was an almost unbelievably massive mass murder of targeted groups. Though Jews were killed in much larger numbers than others, the Nazis also targeted the Roma, gay people and others considered “subhuman.” And it didn’t matter to the Nazis whether people with obvious disabilities were Aryan; they were nonetheless deemed “unworthy of life” and 200,000 of them were systematically killed.

In other words, the Holocaust was a particularly gruesome and awful example of bias and hatred toward certain groups of people simply because of an aspect of their identity. In U.S. history, that kind of hateful prejudice has most affected the Indigenous, Black, Latino and Asian populations. But we all should realize that world history is made up of a long list of genocide and mistreatment by more powerful, dominant groups against those seen as “other.” They continue today in forms both dramatic and subtle.

Goldberg may not be an intellectual, but she is a generally well-informed person. That she didn’t understand what the Holocaust was about indicates that there are many people in our country who are ill-informed on this and other historical and modern events of group mistreatment. It’s clear that we need more of this kind of education.

One good thing about a celebrity mishap is that it prods people into new awareness of the topic in question. They debate with friends and acquaintances; they launch internet searches. Or at least they just hear a well-spoken apology and maybe gain a new glimmer of understanding. Goldberg learned something; the best we can do at this point is not punish her but follow her example.

Karin Klein is a board member who writes editorials about education, environment, food and science.

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