GOP antisemitism in Frankfort Skip to content

GOP antisemitism in Frankfort

Anti-Semitism rears its ugly head again, this time in a debate about abortion. Berry Craig says its time for those GOPers to get their facts straight – including about Giftgaz.

5 min read
Canisters of Zyklon B poison gas at the Auschwitz-Birkenau memorial. (photo by Berry Craig) 

Some GOP lawmakers are on an antisemitic roll in Frankfort.

Rep. Walker Thomas (R-Hopkinsville) and Sen. Rick Girdler (R-Somerset) used the old trope “Jew them down” in a committee hearing. During debate on an anti-abortion bill, Rep. Danny Bentley (R-Russell) linked RU-486, an abortion pill, to Zyklon B, the lethal gas the Nazis used to murder millions of Jews and others in death camps during World War II.

Bentley is fiercely anti-abortion.

His absurd remarks grabbed headlines worldwide. Wrote Ron Kampeas in the Jerusalem Post: “‘In fact, the person who developed [RU-486] was a Jew,’ the Louisville Courier-Journal quoted Bentley as saying. ‘Since we brought up the Hebrew family today.’

“He was referring to Etienne-Emile Baulieu, who took the lead in the early 1980s in developing Mifepristone, which became known as RU-486. Beaulieu, who is now 95, is Jewish; he changed his name from Blum while he fought in the French resistance. Bentley, noting Baulieu was Jewish, said ‘he changed his name because he was Jewish.’”

“Bentley said, falsely, that RU-486 was cyanide and ‘that it was developed from the Germans during the war.’ (It is a steroidal progesterone blocker, developed in France in the 1980s.)”

“Bentley appeared to be conflating multiple narratives and Jews. A German Jewish scientist, Fritz Haber, helped develop the cyanide gas, Zyklon B, in the early part of the 20th century as an insecticide. Haber, a Nobelist in chemistry, died in 1934, years before the Nazis used the gas to commit genocide.”

Jewish organizations quickly condemned Thomas, Girdler, and Bentley for their remarks. So did Colmon Elridge, Kentucky Democratic Party chair:

“Three antisemitic episodes in eight days is not an anomaly – it’s an appalling pattern, but Republican leaders are tolerating this hateful rhetoric with their silence and inaction. They are proving this is who they are and how little they care by not condemning the comments until they were forced to, and refusing to immediately accept much-needed training for their hateful comments. We all know if this is what their members are saying in public meetings, there is no telling the extent of their hate and antisemitism behind closed doors.

“As a person of color, I know the stinging effects of bigotry and ignorance. It remains unbelievable that in 2022 we have to contend with ignorance and blatant hostility by those elected to do what’s best for us all. We will continue to work to send people into elected office, at every level, who don’t engage in hate and bigotry. I urge my friends on the other side of the aisle to give up the old southern strategy and do the same.”

After their statements were widely denounced, the trio apologized and trotted out the universal alibi of bigots when their hand is called : they meant no harm. (Maya Angelou famously proposed, “When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.”)

“When they say things like this in public, you wonder what they are saying in private,” said Murray State University historian Brian Clardy. “Did [Bentley] claim to have any kind of scientific basis for falsely linking this pill to Zyklon B? Or was this something out of Tucker Carlson’s post-truth playbook?”

Bentley is a pharmacist, proof that higher education doesn’t always open minds and broaden horizons. After his bizarre conflation of Zyklon B and RU 486, you’ve got to wonder about his general grasp on pharmacology.

But you don’t have to look far to find other examples of truth-torturing bigots in today’s GOP. Sen. Josh Hawley is a Yalie; Sen. Ted Cruz is a Harvard man. Sen. John N. Kennedy went to Oxford. All three are lawyers. Donald Trump, the Yankee George Wallace, is a Penn alum.

Clardy said it’s “a bit much to expect” Republican bigwigs to make forceful denunciations of prejudice in their ranks “because of who led the party for four years in the White House and is still leading the party.”

Thomas, Girdler, and Bentley, like almost all Kentucky Republicans, are ardent Trumpers.

Anyway, after the legislature adjourns, I suggest Bentley — Thomas and Girdler, too — take a trip to Oświęcim, Poland. There is regular airline service from the states to Warsaw, Poland’s capital. Trains run to Oświęcim.

Near Oświęcim is Auschwitz-Birkenau, the largest Nazi concentration-extermination camp. More than one million Jewish men, women, and children, and thousands of others, died in this massive murder factory that is preserved as a memorial and museum.

Displays include victims’ personal belongings, including suitcases, baskets, shoes, eyeglasses, shaving brushes, and other toiletries. Behind glass, too, is a huge pile of small, empty metal canisters, each marked with a skull-and-crossbones and labeled “Zyklon B” and “GIFTGAS!”

“GIFTGAS!” doesn’t mean “abortion pill.” It means “poison gas.”

Even if he doesn’t go, Bentley (and his buddies Thomas and Girdler) ought to read “The extermination procedure in the gas chambers” on the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum website. It tells how Zyklon B was used to terminate lives violently, not terminate pregnancies safely and legally:

SS men escorted the men, women, and children selected for death to the gas chambers – initially to the gas chamber in crematorium I and “bunkers” 1 and 2, and, from the spring of 1943, to the gas chambers in crematoria II, III, IV, and V.

Trucks carried those too infirm to walk, and the rest marched. These people had to disrobe before entering the gas chambers. In crematorium I, they undressed either in the yard (surrounded by a wall) or in the antechamber. Wooden barracks were erected for this purpose at bunkers 1 and 2. There were special undressing rooms at crematoria II-V.

When large numbers of transports were arriving in 1944, the people assigned to death in the gas chamber in crematorium V also disrobed in the open air. After the Sonderkommando was quartered in the undressing room in crematorium IV, the people sent to die there undressed in a specially constructed barracks.

The SS men kept the people fated to die unaware of what awaited them. They were told that they were being sent to the camp, but that they first had to undergo disinfection and bathe. After the victims undressed, they were taken into the gas chamber, locked in, and killed with Zyklon B gas.

After they were killed, Sonderkommando prisoners dragged the corpses out of the gas chambers. They cut off the women’s hair and removed all metal dental work and jewelry. Then they burned the corpses in pits, on pyres, or in the crematorium furnaces. (Until September 1942, some of the corpses were buried in mass graves; these corpses were burned from September to November 1942.)

Bones that did not burn completely were ground to powder with pestles and then dumped, along with the ashes, in the rivers Soła and Vistula and in nearby ponds, or strewn in the fields as fertilizer, or used as landfill on uneven ground and in marshes.


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Berry Craig

Berry Craig is a professor emeritus of history at West KY Community College, and an author of seven books and co-author of two more. (Read the rest on the Contributors page.)

Arlington, KY