LEXINGTON, Ky. (LEX 18) — Robert F. Kennedy Junior, the nephew of former President John F. Kennedy and a prominent anti-vaccine activist, has apologized for remarks he made during a rally in Washington. D.C. Sunday, when he suggested that unvaccinated Americans have less freedom than Anne Frank did under Nazi control.
Kennedy, the son of former U.S. Attorney General and presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy, posted a tweet Tuesday, apologizing for his reference to Anne Frank, "especially to families that suffered the Holocaust horrors."
His comments, which were widely condemned as offensive, came during a rally organized by his anti-vaccine non-profit group.
"Even in Hitler's Germany, you could cross the Alps into Switzerland," Kennedy told the crowd of thousands. "You could hide in an attic like Anne Frank did."
Frank, who was a teenager when she and her family hid in a secret annex of an Amsterdam building, was later found by the Nazis and died in a concentration camp. Frank's father was the only surviving member of their family.
The Auschwitz Memorial tweeted Monday that his comments exploited a tragedy and were "a sad symptom of moral & intellectual decay."
The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum noted Tuesday that there has been an "increasing misuse of Holocaust history."
In the wake of this latest controversy, LEX 18 spoke with Rabbi David Wirtschafter, of Temple Adath Israel in Lexington. Rabbi Wirtschafter suggested that Kennedy and others like him have appropriated the devastation of the Holocaust for their own political purposes.
"To use the language of hiding and fleeing when no one is coming to your door with a gun telling you, 'Do this or we'll kill you,' is woefully inaccurate and deeply disturbing," Wirtschafter said.
Wirtschafter, who is a proponent of COVID-19 vaccines, said he recognizes that people have a right to object to public health guidelines, but the language they often employ to criticize mandates is destructive.
"We need to be sure to use language that challenges one another's thinking without demeaning one another's humanity," Wirtschafter said.
Told of Kennedy's apology on Twitter, Wirtschafter said it was comforting, but noted that an apology without atonement is insincere.
He said "real atonement" would be a sustained practice of not repeating the same mistakes.
"The real question is will Mr. Kennedy discipline himself and his supporters in making sure that such comparisons and analogies are not used in the future and also attempt to better educate himself about why such comparisons and analogies are so hurtful?" Wirtschafter said.