Prominent Brazilian Doctor Suspended for Making Nazi-COVID Analogy
July 21, 2020
A prominent doctor at the most highly-regarded Jewish hospital in Latin America has been suspended after drawing a comparison between fear of COVID-19 and the Holocaust on a Brazilian TV show.
Dr. Nise Yamaguchi is an oncologist and immunologist at the Albert Einstein Israelite Hospital in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Now, after working at the hospital for 35 years, an appearance on “Impressoes” (a Brazilian TV show) has cost Yamaguchi her job temporarily. The JTA reported that the incident has garnered significant attention in Brazilian media, given the Hospital’s sterling reputation as not only a place for medical care, but an enduring Jewish institution.
On the TV show, Dr. Yamaguchi attempted to describe the overwhelming fears that people have about contracting COVID-19. In a way that was in-artful at best and anti-Semitic at worst, Yamaguchi invoked the Nazis. Describing the impact of fear, she said, “First, it paralyzes you. It makes you easy to manipulate. Anyone. Do you think that a few Nazi soldiers would be able to control the hungry Jewish herd if they did not subject them to that daily humiliation?” While it is always advisable to avoid making comparisons to Nazi Germany, this slip-up comes at a time of rising anti-Semitism, particularly related to the pandemic.
Sidney Klajner, the Hospital’s president, told a local paper that Yamaguchi’s comments were “unfortunate and an unfounded analogy.” Klajner continued, “The Holocaust is an extremely important moment for us, where 6 million Jews were killed, and many survivors contributed to the foundation of our hospital.” This condemnation was echoed by the Sao Paulo Jewish Federation, which accused Dr. Yamaguchi of minimizing the horrors of Nazism and offending Hitler’s victims, according to the JTA.
Shortly after the incident, Dr. Yamaguchi apologized and paid tribute to her Jewish mentor and sister who had converted to Judaism. Felix Soibelman, the president of the Brazil Israel Zionist Association, defended her. Soibelman called the Hospital’s decision, “a new inquisition held on behalf of Albert Einstein’s name.” He also rejected the claim that Dr. Yamaguchi spoke in a way that dishonored Jews, Soibelman believed the contrary was true.
While the employment status of Dr. Yamaguchi is unclear, this incident has rattled a stalwart Jewish institution and brought anti-Semitism to the forefront of the conversation in Brazilian media.