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Jewish leaders denounce comparing mask mandates to Holocaust

CLAYTON (AP) — St. Louis County Executive Sam Page and several Jewish leaders have criticized comments at recent County Council meetings that compared mask mandates to the Holocaust.

With the Delta variant of COVID-19 surging in St. Louis County, Page, a Democrat, sought to require masks in indoor public places. A judge issued earlier this month a temporary restraining order against the mandate after the County Council voted to overturn it.

The last two County Council meetings have drawn large crowds of people opposed to the mask requirement, including some who compared it to the Holocaust.

Rabbi Susan Talve, speaking at a news conference, called the comparison “overt anti-Semitism.” Talve and other Jewish leaders were critical of County Council Chairwoman Rita Heard Days, a Democrat, for failing to intervene and “gavel out” those making the Holocaust comparison.

Rori Picker Neiss, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council, said that people making such comments were “minimizing the atrocities against the Jewish community to make a political point.”

Progress Women Executive Director Stacy Newman said, “We insist that the St. Louis County Council, along with chair Rita Days, apologize to the Jewish community, and we demand that you all cut off and refuse to allow any further hate speech in public commentary at future meetings.”

Ethical Society of St. Louis Senior Leader James Kroft spoke of badges similar to the yellow stars Jewish people were forced to wear in concentration camps.

“Those badges were meant to denigrate and demean people – to strip them of their individuality and reduce them to just numbers members of a type marked for slaughter,” he said. “This one is a political prisoner; this one is a homosexual; this one is a Jew. They are symbols of dehumanization, reminders of some of the worst parts of human history, and they are not to be used in a game of political dress-up.”

Helen Turner, director of education and interpretation at the soon-to-be-open St. Louis Kaplan Feldman Holocaust Museum, said: “Well I think some people are getting into Holocaust analogies. The Holocaust has a complicated, very difficult history. We must be so careful when talking about this history, making any kind of analogy about today. We need to approach it with respect and understand the complexity of what we’re talking about. Which is why Holocaust education is so important.”

Days, in a statement, said racial and religious epithets and “cheap comparisons to the Holocaust” were unacceptable. She did not respond to the concerns that she had failed to stop such comparisons at recent meetings but said she would “swiftly use my gavel and admonish” anti-Semitic comments.

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