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Remarks at Williamsville Village Board meeting under fire

"These analogies absolutely can not continue"
Posted at 5:57 PM, May 12, 2022
and last updated 2022-05-12 18:00:48-04

WILLIAMSVILLE, NY (WKBW) — Some leaders on Williamsville Village Board are under fire following controversial comments made during a meeting Monday night.

Buffalo's Jewish community is reacting to the comments which revolved around a discussion of state isolation and quarantine procedures related to the pandemic and its comparison to how Jewish people were treated in Nazi Germany as well as citizens under communist rule in China.

Williamsville Village Board meeting.

“The Nazi's introduced more and more laws and regulations that made the lives of Jews more difficult,” remarked David Sherman, Board trustee.

During the board meeting this past Monday, board trustees held a lengthy public discussion about a state emergency health regulation on isolation and quarantine.

That’s when some board members used problematic comparisons to communism, Nazi Germany, and the Holocaust.

“The Jews were no longer allowed to run their own businesses. That folks is from the diary of Anne Frank,” explained Sherman.

Anne Frank.

Village board member Sherman referred to Anne Frank, a Jewish teenager who died in a Nazi concentration camp.

“We just want to make people aware because we have a Holocaust survivor in our community that grew up in the same community as Anne Frank,” replied Wendy Weisbrot, chair, Holocaust Resource Center of Buffalo.

Wendy Weisbrot, chair, Holocaust Resource Center of Buffalo.

Weisbrot says these analogies are hurtful.

The Jewish Federation issued this statement saying it “unequivocally rejects the comparisons made between COVID-19 rules and the holocaust.”

Jewish Federation statement.

“It’s personal. It’s personal — my father was a Holocaust survivor. I’m a second-generation Holocaust survivor,” Weisbrot.

Williamsville Mayor Deb Rogers also made remarks, that the Jewish community says it finds offensive.

“And the three branches were put in place for checks and a balanced system, so you would not have a dictator like Hitler,” stated Rogers.

A picture taken just after the liberation by the Soviet army in January, 1945, shows a group of children wearing concentration camp uniforms behind barbed wire fencing in the Oswiecim (Auschwitz) nazi concentration camp. More than 1.5 million people were killed in this camp during the terror nazi regime. Pasa Balter, fourth from left, who is now known as Paula Lebovics, is 61 and living in Encino, Calif., a survivor who bears the heartbreak of having lost most of her family. Germany on Monday, Jan. 27,1997, observes the country's Holocaust memorial day in memory of victims of the Nazis, which was declared a special day of reflection by President Roman Herzog last year. (AP Photo/HO)

“We also feel that comparison to Hitler as a dictator are also extremely inappropriate. He was head of the Nazi regime,” Weisbrot noted. “Annihilation of six million Jews and five million others, who were part of a marginalized community — very different than needing to quarantine.”

But in a written statement Mayor Rogers told me she did not make a comparison between COVID-19 rules and the holocaust, that she only made a comparison to present-day communism in China.

Here's what she said at that meeting.

“This is exactly what we saw happening in communist China, where people were being taken from their homes, against their will, and placed into quarantine camps,” said Rogers.

Rogers also had some harsh words for two board members who support the state regulation.

“I will just say that I’m embarrassed to be sitting up here with two trustees, who I will say, are nothing short of communists in their ability to vote no on this opposition,” Rogers described.

The mayor says what she said was “alarmingly misrepresented.” She says she and her family have become targets of anger, hatred, and hostility in the community.

"I have deep consideration and respect for Holocaust victims, survivors, and their relatives. I did not make a comparison between Covid-19 rules and the Holocaust. My comparison was that of present-day Communist China. What I said was alarmingly misrepresented and unfortunately, now I, along with my family have become targets of anger, hatred, and hostility in the community."

Mayor Deb Rogers,
Williamsville Village Board

But Weisbrot says they want to reach out to the mayor and board for a discussion to help better educate our community.

wendy .jpg
Wendy Weisbrot, chair, Holocaust Resource Center of Buffalo.

“We appreciate the fact that the mayor was reaching out to explain where she was coming from,” Weisbrot replied. “We’re just asking people to be mindful of their language and be respectful. But these analogies absolutely can not continue to happen.”

In a statement issued by the Williamsville Village Board, Village of Williamsville Deputy Mayor David Sherman says he is seeking to clarify his remarks during the meeting when the mayor and four trustees each provided their opinions of a state law that passed in April. The law is titled “Isolation and Quarantine Procedures.”

The statement says Trustee Sherman said he feels the state’s law has eerie parallels with the rise of Nazi rule in Germany, an era of evil that marked some of the worst human-to-human atrocities in world history, and that during his remarks he was reading a passage from “The Diary of Anne Frank.”

“I have nothing but respect for the Jewish community here in Western New York and around the world,” Sherman said. “In drawing a comparison between the actions of Nazi Germany and the state law, I was spotlighting the similar processes for identifying and removing those who may be considered a ‘threat.’ Both are undemocratic. My father marched from Omaha Beach to the Rhine to set other people free. Freedom is never free.”
David Sherman,
Deputy Mayor
Village of Williamsville

The Village statement also noted it "wants the public to know that the state's law is not specific to COVID-19; in fact, it does not make mention of the current pandemic."

The Village Board’s May 9 meeting was live-streamed for public viewing. A full recording of the meeting can be accessed by clicking here.