A Republican state lawmaker in Wisconsin is facing criticism for comparing a nonprofit museum’s policies on masking to Nazism. And judging by his latest comments, he is showing no sign of taking back his comments.
Assembly Rep. Shae Sortwell, a Republican from Two Rivers, Wisconsin, shared a Facebook post from the Central Wisconsin Children’s Museum at Stevens Point, regarding their policies on masks. The museum requires anyone over the age of five to wear a mask if they are not vaccinated against COVID-19. Those who are vaccinated and wish not to wear a mask must provide proof of their inoculation before being allowed to enter, the museum stipulates.
According to museum director Cory Rusch, the policy is aimed at protecting the health and safety of vulnerable grandparents who come to the museum with their grandchildren.
Sortwell took issue with the policy of the museum, which is situated more than 100 miles away from his home. “The Gestapo wants to see your papers, please,” the Republican lawmaker wrote in his post.
According to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, “the Gestapo was Nazi Germany’s infamous political police force” that “was a reliably brutal tool that enforced Nazism’s most radical impulses” against certain groups while the Nazis were in power.
“One of the Gestapo’s main responsibilities,” the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum adds, “was coordinating the deportation of Jews to ghettos, concentration camps, killing sites, and killing centers.”
Sortwell’s comments resulted in hundreds of responses on his Facebook page, many of them condemning his words and demanding an apology. But his post also had a negative impact on the Central Wisconsin Children’s Museum, which was inundated with comments on its own social media site from those against masking policies and those against getting vaccinations.
Stevens Point Mayor Mike Wiza blasted Sortwell for attacking the museum’s policies, and questioned why he had targeted an institution he had no affiliation with.
“To the best of my knowledge, [Sortwell has] never been to the children’s museum…. I’m wondering what personal beef he has with Stevens Point or the children’s museum in making a comment relating to the Gestapo,” Wiza said.
Rather than stepping back on his comments, however, Sortwell doubled down on them, stating in a Facebook video post on Tuesday that he “absolutely” stands by what he said.
The Nazis and the Gestapo “collected records from people,” Sortwell tried to explain in his message. “And if you couldn’t provide proper records, the proper documentation to prove that in fact you were not a ‘filthy Jew,’ as they would put them out … if you couldn’t do it, all the sudden you had to put on something that declared to the world, declared to the German people anyways, that you were somehow subservient, you were somehow not as good.”
Democratic lawmakers in the State Assembly denounced Sortwell for his ignorance on the issue.
“At a time when antisemitic incidents continue to rise, hyperbolic rhetoric by Republican elected officials about the Holocaust needs to end now,” said Rep. Lisa Subeck, a Democrat from Madison, Wisconsin, who is also a board member of the National Association of Jewish Legislators. “These types of statements pile onto ever-increasing antisemitic incidents in our state, and continue to create divisions in an already ultra-divided country.”
Comments about mask-wearing similar to Sortwell’s were made last month by U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Georgia), who went on a tirade against a policy in the House of Representatives, wrongly comparing the rules to the Holocaust. A petition calling for Greene to be expelled from the House over her comments and other behavior has since amassed hundreds of thousands of signatures.
Holocaust remembrance organizations have decried comparing mask-wearing to Nazism or the Holocaust before. The Auschwitz Memorial, for instance, responded to testimony from a woman at a city council meeting in Springfield, Missouri, for making a similar claim.
“Wearing a mask is a sign of our responsibility for the safety of us all. It protects health & lives,” the Auschwitz Memorial wrote on its Twitter page. “A mask is not a yellow star. Such a comparison is disrespectful to Jews humiliated by it during the Holocaust.”