Graffiti on Vancouver’s seawall equating provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry to a notorious Nazi concentration camp doctor is drawing widespread condemnation.
The hateful message, reading “Dr. Bonny (sic) Henry Mengele” was one of several slogans painted in the area of David Lam Park over the weekend.
Josef Mengele, known as the “angel of death,” was the chief physician at the Auschwitz concentration camp, where he performed horrific and deadly experiments on prisoners and participated in selecting victims to be murdered in the Nazi gas chambers.
“It needs to stop,” said Ezra Shanken, CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver.
“I understand how people may feel during this time. We’re all feeling this incredible strain from COVID and its effect on us and on our families and on the lives that we wish we were able to live – but it is no comparison,” he said.
“It is no comparison to being hauled off in cattle cars and taken to death camps where people like Josef Mengele would do horrendous experiments on you, children included, for nothing but his own amusement.”
There are still holocaust survivors living in Vancouver, Shanken said, to whom seeing the offensive and inaccurate comparison would be deeply hurtful.
“You are traumatizing seniors. You are making a comparison that is completely inaccurate. And you’re defaming the Holocaust at the same time, which should have a sacred place in our society,” he said.
The message drew anger and revulsion after Marsha Lederman, the Globe and Mail‘s western arts correspondent, who posted an image on Twitter.
— Marsha Lederman (@marshalederman) April 25, 2021
“This was particularly awful for me to see — and it’s personal. My mother encountered Mengele on the ramp in Auschwitz in August 1944,” she wrote.
“The angel of death. She survived. Most didn’t.”
The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs also condemned the graffiti, calling it “a horrible reminder of history’s darkest chapter” with “no place on public property.”
Vancouver City Councillor Sarah Kirby-Yung responded by calling the message “disgusting.”
Other messages scrawled in the area include the words “COVID CCP” painted on the Proud Youth statue, and a message that appears to read “Furher Horgand,” a possible effort to equate B.C. Premier John Horgan to Adolf Hitler.
A spokesperson for Vancouver police said Sunday they did not have any information immediately available.
It’s not the first time Henry has been targeted with hateful messages.
In September, she revealed that she had been forced to acquire security for her home and had been targeted with death threats and abusive letters and phone calls to staff.
In February, Henry spoke out again, saying the abuse had taken a toll on her staff and family.
“I recognize that when people are in crises, part of the way they react is to lash out,” Henry said at the time.
Shanken had a simple message for anyone upset over COVID restrictions thinking of equating the situation to the mass murder of six million people under the Nazi regime.
“We have a Vancouver Holocaust education center and I invite people who are confused about this to get in touch with me,” he said.
“We would be happy to take you through the museum to help you understand what the Shoah was and why it is that we feel it’s so important to keep words like names like Josef Mengele and words like the Holocaust sacred in these days and age.”