Opinion Politics & Protest

Why the escalating use of Holocaust images in the Hong Kong protests is deeply offensive

By Erica Lyons

As the protests in Hong Kong continue, I can’t help but notice that the city is littered with Holocaust imagery and references such as “ChiNazi,” “Never Forget” and swastikas. Twitter is too.

Holocaust images are, needless to say, extraordinarily evocative, they carry a heavy emotional currency. The images give us pause. They are powerful but by no means universal symbols. These symbols should not be used to represent all suffering and political discord.

The current situation doesn’t carry enough of its own weight to justify their use, and doing so minimises the actual crimes committed by Nazi Germany and the attempted genocide of the Jewish people.

chinazi graffiti

Photo: Tom Grundy/HKFP.

The most offensive attempts to co-opt Holocaust victims’ suffering are those that directly juxtapose historical Holocaust images, including those taken from inside concentration camps of prisoners near death who had been stripped of their humanity and watched their family members be murdered, against those of protesters. This is both insensitive and shows a lack of knowledge of history.

The protesters’ plight can not be compared to the systematic genocide perpetrated by the Nazis which resulted in the murder of 6 million Jews, including 1.5 million children as well as countless others including Roma, homosexuals, and handicapped people whom they also saw as less than human.

These victims were tortured and then mass murdered in gas chambers. Their possessions were confiscated, their books were burned, their history nearly erased. To continue the decontextualisation of images of Holocaust victims takes in vain the memory of the 6 million and further dehumanises them making them mere symbols of discontent.

This misappropriation didn’t start with the use of these graphic images, though it’s becoming omnipresent and the comparisons more direct. In the early days of the protests, the poem First they came… by Martin Niemoller was cited by both sides in inappropriate appropriations of the poem.

It is a specific reference to genocide, which certainly is not what is occurring in Hong Kong, either to the protestors or to the police.

september 29 china extradition protest admiralty chinazi

Photo: Tom Grundy/HKFP.

I love this city. I’ve spent most of my adult life here. It’s the only home that my four children know and the birthplace of my two youngest. I took my children to see the Umbrella Movement virtually every day and taught them that they do not have the right to be indifferent only because they also hold another passport.

I am certainly not lacking empathy. However, I am deeply offended by the escalating use of Holocaust images.

To the protesters: you should argue your case on the actual facts. Continue to create your own art and imagery to represent your powerful story. Be bold and creative, but the gross misappropriation of the Holocaust by no means bolsters your grievances. It detracts from your legitimacy.

You are living through a moment of history. Tell it for what it is. This is your story. Don’t try to diminish the stories of others.


Erica Lyons is the founder of Asian Jewish Life.

Why the escalating use of Holocaust images in the Hong Kong protests is deeply offensive