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Madoff and Adolf – Bernie, Hitler and the Death of Proportionality

posted by Brad Hirschfield

The Madoff scandal remains in the news and one response that continues to surface, especially among Jews, is as disturbing as Bernie Madoff’s ponzi scheme. People keep comparing the resulting damage from Madoff’s theft of 50 billion dollars to Adolph Hilter and the Holocaust!
I wish I were kidding, but the evidence abounds, including responses to some of my earlier posts about Madoff. Say what you will, but comparing Bernie Madoff to Adolph Hitler is simply nuts. In fact, it’s more than nuts; it reflects at least three pathological trends, all of which must be actively resisted.
First, comparing the loss of any amount of money to the planned destruction of global Jewry and the murder of six million human beings simply because they were Jewish is truly disturbed. Ultimately, however devastating, the calculated theft of billions is not as bad as the calculated murder of millions. Even taking into account the good works which will no longer be supported because of the philanthropic dollars Madoff made off with, the comparison offends any sense of decency.
And for Jews, or anyone else to even entertain the comparison, only fuels the ancient anti-Semitic slur that we love money as much as life itself. Unless one believes that to be the case, there is nothing more about which to speak.
Should any doubt remain, I suggest asking yourself if you would compare Madoff and Adolf to a survivor of Auschwitz. Could you look in the eyes of one who stood in the shadow of the ovens and declare that the damage done by a crook equals that done by Hitler? Either the answer is clearly no, or the anti-Semites may know Jews better than we think.
This leads to the second problem raised by the ugly analogy between Hitler and Madoff, namely the popularity of comparing just about anything bad to Hitler, Nazis, and the Holocaust.


Used as the ultimate insult, and used so easily, that it’s not clear if these words have any real meaning anymore.
Anyone who hates is the next Hitler. Any movement based on racism or ethnic supremacy is a new form of Nazism. And any loss of life on a large scale is compared to the Holocaust. That’ just not right.
To be sure, I am NOT a proponent of the eternal uniqueness of the Shoah, nor do I believe that Jews have cornered the market on human suffering. But for words to have any real meaning they must be employed with some discipline. Too often, they are not.
Is Darful a Holocaust? Arguably, it is. Is, as I was told this weekend, the current Israeli incursion into Gaza? Absolutely not! It may be wrong for many reasons, but it’s simply not a Holocaust and the need to call it one diminishes both the Holocaust and the real tragedies that are unfolding on both sides of the Gaza-Israel border.
If anything, the casual comparison of anything seriously objectionable enables those who should pay close attention to it, to ignore it by hiding behind the ridiculousness of the comparison itself. The comparison is so outlandish that ignoring it seems less perverse than the comparison itself.
This last trend is born out by those who compare President-elect Obama’s choice of Rick Warren to offer the inaugural invocation to him choosing the Grand Dragon of the Ku Klux Klan. More than a few people wrote to tell me that the two are synonymous and that my support of Obama’s choice of Warren was no different than supporting him had he chosen the Klan’s leader.
And you know what? It’s simply hard for most people to take anyone seriously when they fail to distinguish between the sponsors of 100 years of lynching, bombing and terror with a pastor whose politics may be objectionable.
So if such comparisons are neither factually accurate nor tactically effective, why do we engage in them? Because we have lost virtually any sense of proportionality in our culture, particularly when it comes to political and social matters. The more grandiose the comparison, the more we seem to like it. Who cares if it is true, as long as it is big?
We live in a culture of super-sized meals, super-sized ponzi schemes, and pretty much everything else. We have created a culture of super-sized analogies and indictments in which we debate issues without any degree of nuance or proportionality. While that approach will grab a quick headline on talk radio or cable news, it only makes things worse by ratcheting up the tension on precisely those issues which demand that cooler heads prevail.
The award-wining documentary, Super Size Me, showed how super-sizing our meals was killing our bodies. Perhaps it’s time to acknowledge how super-sizing every debate could be killing our culture. But who knows, that may be just another example of super-sized argumentation. But this is not: Bernie Madoff is guilty of some terrible crimes with even worse outcomes, but Bernie Madoff, is not Adolph Hitler. Nor is Rev. Rick Warren the Grand Dragon of the Klan. And the sooner we learn to make these distinctions, the better off we all will be.



  • New Age Cowboy

    It was interesting to see right wing talking heads and hawkish politicians comparing Saddam Hussein to Hitler to make the case for war with Iraq. Look at the results these clowns have given us.

  • New Age Cowboy

    Come to think of it, has Rick Warren compared the practice of abortion to the Holocaust? Certainly a lot of his ilk have.

  • Robert

    Madoff is no Hitler.
    But he is an evil man, and there are those who with reason see him as an icon of their experiences with Jews. Live with it. We have to.

  • Dovid

    “But he is an evil man, and there are those who with reason see him as an icon of their experiences with Jews.”
    That’s because they are stupid and retarded. Live with it.

  • francis

    Perhaps we goyim look beyond the Einsteins and Spinozas and concentrate on the Madoffs, Abramoffs,Marc rich,”karl Marx”, etc. This is because there is a perception that there is a group in our midst who in the end are dangerous to our welfare. This group, by any means possible, seek to obtain positions of power and then use the goyim as as resource. There is a perception that, they think they are more intelligent than the rest and this gives them the right to do as they please without regard to others. What doesn’t seem to occur to them is that any group that on a regular basis drives their goyim neighbours to homicidal fury are not very intelligent.

  • FXM

    Proportional response seems to be what you are looking for. It doesn’t exist in our culture. As mentioned, the clowns who gave us the Iraq war cynically lied and revved up the terror that was Saddam by using any and all means to do so. WMD? Whose mass destruction? Anyway, the clowns are exiting to ranch life and the role as sage statesmen for the next gang to hold sway.
    I do not want to sound or be cynical but I have been paying attention. The sound bite, whether from White House or some crank’s house lacks proportion and lacks ethical restraint because it doesn’t cell. I am not a Jew but grew up among Jews. It is easy to characterize and stereotype such group who themselves define so clearly. The pols and the cranks cannot help themselves, they know what works to get air time. Our new president promises a change, I hope he can do it. I think he may be pushed from page 1 from time to time if he tries to change.

  • Cathy

    Madoff: rotten, unscrupulous and cold. Hitler: insane, evil and cold. Both men took from others, one their life savings and the other their lives. I am on the verge of becoming homeless my self, but I’m not dead. It feels like death approaching, but I’m fight to live and to get back on my feet. If I were dead that would be the end of everything. Those effected by Madoff will live, but those effected by Hitler did not. Both are cold, one taking everything and one taking everything plus life.

  • Debra Katz

    The only reason the Jews are “known” for their educational beliefs is that we were told from day 1 to study the Torah, Tanakh (the bible), the Talmud, and constantly question and discuss and learn about what the Word truly meant when it was first placed on parchment up until today. And to be open-minded. Madoff happened to be a sociopathic, sick man who was a Jew.He’ll be judged by his Maker. However, if the “goyim” think they were the only ones affected. Start reading and researching how many Jews and Jewish Organizations were ripped off by him. Haddassah gave him over 90 million dollars to invest. Everyone suffered. He may not have been Hitler, but his mind worked like Hitler’s.

  • Your Name

    A few weeks back I made the comment to a group of friends not comparing Madoff to Hitler but saying “Madoff has done more harm to the Jews as a group since Hitler”. I certainly agree with Rabbi Hershfield that any comparisons to Hitler or the Holocaust are mostly made by individuals who use the veil of semantics to mask a more than likely anti-semitic orientation. However, in today’s world I can’t be the only one who is getting increasingly uncomfortable with the growing anti-Israel, anti-Zionist, anti-semitic coverage of the news (read the NY Times lately?)or the prevelance of hate sites on the internet. So while in agreement with the Rabbi concerning his well made points and dangers of a comparison to Hitler, I stand by the comment I made to my friends on two levels. Firstly, Madoff has done great harm to many of the families that were in a position to support many of the finest Jewish and humanitarian charities. Unfortunately, I feel only the tip of that iceberg has surfaced. In addition and comparibly horrific, he has given fuel to the vile haters and notoriaty to the negative stereotypes they work so hard to manipulate.
    No, Bernie Madoff is no Hitler, he is Bernie Madoff… and that will prove to be an infamous name to our religion and culture for decades to come.

  • isaac gordon

    id like to suggest that you read bruno bettleheim’s essay on using the term “holocaust” before you write your next essay. it’s a politically correct/marxist word that really doesn’t apply to what happened to my family and so many others during ww2.
    as far as comparing madoff to hitler goes, the analogy is not only inappropriate, it is patently stupid. unfortunately, there are many jews who either don’t fully appreciate their own tragic history and what it signifies, or they are blind to the political realities of their own contemporary lives. madoff, like many other jewish individuals (alan colmbes, for one), plays into the hands of jew haters by not recognizing the responsibility they have to behave as “lights” unto the rest of the relatively souless word.

  • Lucy Silver

    You want justice?
    Hitler had to end his life with suicide…It should have been execution. Madoff will probably get prison time. His punnishment should be having EVERY PENNY taken from him…EVERY POSESSION he owns, down to the last tie and tube of toothpaste. He should be forced to live as a beggar without shelter or warmth for the rest of his life, relying on food banks and trashcans for food.
    That’s justice.

  • Ruvain

    January 7, 2009 Ruvain BeliefNet posting
    re Madoff as a Gambling Addict
    In defense of Bernie Madoff. While the story is yet to be told, it is possible that Bernie Madoff is an example of the Road to Hell Being Paved with Good Intentions. Madoff probably had early success with his investments and when some were not as successful as he wished, he may have temporarily dipped into new money to shore up the dividend payments to older investors. He might even have been able to escape from the downward spiral which flows from sch stupid practices.
    It could have become a type of addiction like Gambling coupled with Ego of being the guy who always made money. Were does one exit from such a scheme? When you’ve used $1M to pay older investors their dividends? When you’ve used $10M? A good solution is to raise hundreds of millions so you can both invest, pay dividends, and start to repay the stolen principal. Did I say “good solution”? No, it is a fool’s solution.
    Of course Madoff knew he should stop, but addicts seldom do. The rationalizations would be so easy. “If I stop now, charities will lose millions and peoples’ retirements will be wiped out. Something will happen and I will repay all the money.” Naturally, Madoff was deeply into the middle of a Ponzi Scheme where he’d have to make money than anyone else in the world had ever made in order to extricate himself, but when one is an addict, one does not think too clearly. Gambling addicts seldom stop until they loose all their money — only Bernie was gambling with a limitless supply of other people’s money.
    None of this means that Bernie was a nice guy or that he should go home. The persons about whom I would like to hear more are the SEC investigators who had been told about the Ponzi Scheme and exactly how it was operating and did nothing. While we are asking questions, how about asking some questions about L.A. County Superior Court judges who knew about Countrywide’s massive loan fraud and covered up for Countrywide. Why do we pay no attention to the “cops” who knew what Madoff and Countrywide were doing and let them continue?
    Why the justifications of anti-semitism because of Madoff? Did people turn on Protestants when Ken Lay bankrupted Eron? No the anti-semitism is a reflection of the people whose minds flow in this direction.

  • LAURA MUSHKAT

    one killed people the other hopes and dreams-bad but not equal

  • Regis Possino

    A sociopath recognizes no religious , political, or social barriers to anti social behavior. Bernie Maddox may have focused primarily on the Jewuish community to further his crime spree, however anyone who sought to invest, Jewish or not, was fair game.
    Many investors may have been guided by the possibility of reaping large rewards that were so unrealistic that should have given rise to suspicions that something was amiss, however they chose to look the other way.
    Others still may have been guided by the good faith belief that Madoff’s well publicized good works and donations to the Jewish community were worthwhile and created a sense of security and affinity, thus warranting investments that would be used for good purposes.
    Still other more prudent investors may have fallen prey, after due diligence that showed no reason to be concerned, after all, the SEC is watching over the investment community ,and if anything was amiss, the SEC surely world notify the world at large, wouldn’t it??
    Whatever the reason, Madoff was on a feeding frenzy that lasted for decades. Anyone who came close enough was fair game.
    Unfortunately, the Jewish community will bear the greatest brunt of the burden in terms of financial losses, and prestige, which includes those worthwhile institutions and causes, now defunct, which in good faith relied on commitments which will never be kept.
    Madoff was recently caught giving away nearly $1million of his personal possessions to friends and family, in anticipation of going to prison, where he will no longer need them. A true sociopath to the end.

  • Laurie Stein

    No one other than a survivor can fully comprehend the Holocaust. All we will ever know is the hows and not the why’s of the Holocaust. Today there is genocide, today there is deceit, there is theft, and there is politics. All of these existed except for genocide, that term was coined because of the Holocaust. It is becoming increasing clear that the evil doers of today are compared to Hitler, and that atrocities committed today are compared to the Holocaust. We are certainly a world of ego driven individuals, but whatever it is that drives the ego, please, let’s use a little intellect, lets take a moment and see if we can use our words by not comparing what is happening today with the destructive evidence of the Holocaust. It was incomparable. The Holocaust was not mans greatest act of hatred towards man, it was mans greatest act of hatred towards the Jews. Please don’t belittle the Holocaust by comparison of tragedies.

  • Laurie Stein

    No one other than a survivor can fully comprehend the Holocaust. All we will ever know is the hows and not the why’s of the Holocaust. Today there is genocide, today there is deceit, there is theft, and there is politics. All of these existed except for genocide, that term was coined because of the Holocaust. It is becoming increasing clear that the evil doers of today are compared to Hitler, and that atrocities committed today are compared to the Holocaust. We are certainly a world of ego driven individuals, but whatever it is that drives the ego, please, let’s use a little intellect, lets take a moment and see if we can use our words by not comparing what is happening today with the destructive evidence of the Holocaust. It was incomparable. The Holocaust was not mans greatest act of hatred towards man, it was mans greatest act of hatred towards the Jews. Please don’t belittle the Holocaust by comparison of tragedies.

  • Robert

    And please don’t aggrandize the Holocaust by insisting the Jewish experience is unique. Cambodia, Dafur, the atrocities in El Salvador, the list should not be limited to the Jewish holocaust. But I agree with you, comparing Madoff with Hitler is stupid at best and antisemitic at worst.

  • http://worsethanhitler.wordpress.com/ Richard Huffman

    Bravo Rabbi Hirschfied;
    I run a blog, Worse than Hitler) that notes instances of comparisons to Hitler, the Holocaust, and the Nazis (http://worsethanhitler.wordpress.com/). It’s mostly for fun, used to point out the ridiculous and inappropriate extremes that people will go to. Everyone once in a while someone will analyze these analogies and point out why they are so bad and should be avoided; this exactly what you’ve done so well in this piece. You’ve hereby been accorded our “Note of Sanity Award”.

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  • http://Godwin'slaw Lincolnlogs

    Godwin’s law is a humorous observation made by Mike Godwin in 1990[2] which has become an Internet adage. It states: “As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches 1.

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