ROME – In the days before the French parliament passed a bill tightening vaccine requirements and making a “green pass” mandatory for access to certain public spaces and events, protestors took to the streets, with some comparing the vaccine requirements to Jewish persecution under the Nazi regime.

As the debate mounted, the French bishops called any comparison to the Holocaust “a serious confusion of thought.”

“The Shoah represents an absolute horror from which our political conduct must be judged, and not become a toy for the benefit of any cause,” they said, insisting that anti-COVID vaccines are “the medical response available to deal with an epidemic which risks further paralyzing economic life but, above all, social life and exchanges of affection and friendship.”

“It does not deny the dignity of human beings by justifying their elimination,” they said.

In a move aimed at combatting a fourth wave of the coronavirus, the French parliament Monday passed a bill making anti-COVID-19 vaccines mandatory for all healthcare workers and requiring a health pass to access to several social venues, such as museums, cinemas, and swimming pools, among other things.

Visitors to these venues will now be required to show proof of either vaccination or a negative COVID test to be allowed entry.

These rules had already been in place for large-scale gatherings such as festivals or nightclubs, but the new regulations make them far more widespread.

As of August, the vaccine pass or negative COVID test will also be required to enter restaurants and bars, and for long-distance travels on a train or an airplane. Set to expire Nov. 15, the measures need the final approval of France’s constitutional court before they can take effect.

Other European countries, including Italy, have passed similar measures in recent weeks as case numbers internationally begin to climb following a loosening of restrictions and broad travel during the summer holiday.

France itself has faced a sharp increase in its own COVID numbers this month, going from around 4,000 new cases a day at the beginning of July to roughly 22,000 last week, due in part to the spread of the highly contagious Delta variant, which first presented in India, but which has become widespread.

Earlier this month opponents of the bill and the anti-COVID vaccines launched a large-scale protest movement, taking to the streets and comparing themselves to Jews persecuted by Nazi Germany during the Second World War.

Some protestors wore yellow stars reminiscent of those the Nazis forced Jews to wear during the Holocaust, carrying messages such as, “not vaccinated,” or something similar.

The comparison between vaccine requirements and the Jewish Holocaust has drawn widespread criticism in France, including from Holocaust survivors themselves.

During a July 18 ceremony commemorating victims of antisemitic and racist acts by the French state, Holocaust survivor Joseph Szwarc referred to the gesture, saying, “You can’t imagine how much that upset me. This comparison is hateful. We must all rise up against this ignominy.”

“I wore the star, I know what that is, I still have it in my flesh,” Szwarc said, adding, “It is everyone’s duty to not allow this outrageous, antisemitic, racist wave to pass over us.”

The comparison is not new, but has been a trend since last year, when several people in Germany protesting coronavirus restrictions donned Stars of David, a move which prompted Josef Schuster, a prominent Jewish leader in Germany, to denounce it as a “disgusting instrumentalization” of the symbol.

In their statement, the French bishops said that by making vaccines compulsory and by requiring a health pass for certain activities, and by imposing restrictions on those who refuse the vaccines, “the government is fulfilling its legitimate responsibilities under the control of the parliament.”

“It is up to the judicial bodies of our state of law to verify that the imposition of the health pass is in accordance with the law, limited to the duration of the epidemic in a seriously contagious form and that the restrictions on the freedoms to come and go are proportionate,” they said.

The bishops urged citizens to not confuse freedoms such as traveling or going out to eat with “the freedom to exist, nor the freedom to go to the cinema or to the café and the freedom to praise God or not to praise him, even if it is clear that neither the state nor the citizens must neglect that all freedoms are held.”

“This epidemic makes us all feel how responsible we are to one another. It is like an announcement of the unity of mankind and of intimate union with God,” they said.

The statement was signed by Archishop Éric de Moulins-Beaufort of Reims, President of the Conference of Bishops of France, as well as the conference’s two vice-presidents, Bishop Olivier Leborgne of Arras and Bishop Dominique Blanchet of Créteil, and the conference’s secretary general, Father Hugues de Woillemont.

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