Roman Kent was stunned to hear what press secretary Sean Spicer had to say about the Holocaust on April 11, 2017.
Speaking with reporters, Spicer suggested Syrian President Bashar al-Assad was an even greater threat to humanity than Adolf Hitler because the former Nazi leader “didn’t even sink to using chemical weapons” on his own people.
Hitler, of course, did use chemical weapons on his own people, as the Third Reich murdered millions of Jews and members of other groups deemed “unworthy of life” using poisonous gas. Many of them were, in fact, German citizens.
Kent, a survivor of the Holocaust himself, told Mic that Spicer’s comments were simply “incomprehensible,” as Spicer was speaking on behalf of the president of the United States.
“That’s not a mistake — that’s an ignorance,” Kent explained. “A complete, total ignorance of the most important issue that prevailed during that last war, from which so many people died.”
Kent spent time in Auschwitz and lost both his parents to the Holocaust before immigrating to the U.S. after the war. He eventually married, started a family, and went on to become a successful trader.
But the 87-year-old — now the president of the International Auschwitz Committee — has spent much of his later years reflecting on his own experiences during World War II and the dangers of hate speech, hoping our memory of the past will prevent a future atrocity.
“Of course, a word is not a gun,” he once explained to UNESCO — but they can create conditions where unconscionable violence is accepted: “In the end, words can do far greater damage than a bullet.”
Spicer apologized for his insensitive comparison of Assad and Hitler the day after making the statement. But to Kent, the damage may already be done.
“To have a person ignorant like this at the helm of our government — because press secretary is very important — it’s tragic,” Kent noted to Mic. “It’s not a mistake. It’s a tragedy.”
Watch Kent’s interview with Mic below: