Lowering the Holocaust Bar

WHEN IS IT THE RIGHT TIME TO POINT OUT THAT THINGS LIKE DETENTION CAMPS AND MASS ARRESTS ARE COMPARABLE TO THE HOLOCAUST?

Note: I’ve been away on vacation, the best part of which was being away from social media and online drama. Upon return, I was floored by some kind of flu bug. So, I know it has been awhile. I have quite a few thoughts to get caught up on, but this is just a quick observation. For those of you who have been patiently waiting for some posts, stay tuned. More to come. 

Is it fair to compare the Trump Era¹ migrant “facilities” to Holocaust concentration camps as claimed by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez?

Yes.

And by saying this I am not referencing the much-cited historian Andrea Pritzer’s definition of a concentration camp: “detention of civilians without trial based on group identity.”

Um…yeah, that pretty much nails it.

But this also leads to a distracting contextual argument.

It’s always shaky ground to draw comparisons between some social ill and the Holocaust. Some pundits and advocates suggest that the imagery is so charged and the rhetoric often so outrageous that it’s best to just not go there.

And, let’s face it, this is often the case. It’s Godwin’s Law in action. We’ve all been involved in political arguments where, all of a sudden, Hitler is invoked, or the Holocaust is woven into a narrative where it is totally out of place. Remember the “FEMA Camps Scandal” during the Obama Administration? I wrote about the overuse of Hitler and this era as a rhetorical tool, myself. In almost every instance, the thing that is being compared to the Holocaust or to Hitler is not nearly as horrible. That makes the comparison seem immoderate, even cynical. That’s never good.

That’s not to say we should never make references to the Holocaust when we see contemporary crimes against humanity for which such analogy is appropriate. Here are the facts about the detention of immigrants and refugees in the United States. Immigrants and refugees are being targeted based on their ethnicity. They are being detained without due process and without an expectation of release. Children are being separated from their families, in many cases permanently. These camps are under-resourced when it comes to basic health, hygiene, and sanitation. The camps are ground zero for abuse and exploitation, especially sexual abuse. The camps are unsafe and unhealthy and, in some cases, deadly. This is an intentional policy on the part of our government. The camps are specifically designed to be awful in order to serve as a deterrent for future migrants.

So what do you want to call these camps? “Concentration camps” sounds about right. They are camps where a particular, marginalized group is concentrated for the sake of control. Do you want to call them internment camps? That’s what we called similar set-ups that were used for innocent Japanese during World War II. In fact, one of the same internment camps used for the Japanese, Fort Sill, is to be used to hold migrant children. Might as well use the same name. Maybe we can call it a “Fort”, like those used to cage Native Americans before being expelled from their lands.

It doesn’t really matter what they are called. After all, the Nazis didn’t call their camps “concentration camps” at first. They were called “work camps.” Regardless of what they are called, when you round people up and confine them in camps, the camps are awful. They are intentionally awful. A truly civilized and humane nation would never have such structures.

So are these camps as awful as Auschwitz?

Not yet.

Philippine Concentration Camp
U.S. Concentration camp in the Philippines. 

And that’s the point. When should we start making the comparison between American immigration policy and the Holocaust? Just how brutal do things have to get at our southern border before it is “fair” to protest? After all, even the Holocaust didn’t start out as the Holocaust of Auschwitz. Might the Nazis in Germany have made the claim early in their relocation program that, “Yes, we have these ghettos and camps, but it’s unfair to compare them to, say, American concentration camps in the Philippines at the turn of the century, or the British concentration camps in South Africa during the Boer War or the Spanish concentration camps in Cuba. After all, we are not that cruel.”

Until they were that cruel, and then some.

The bottom line is, confining people in inhumane, brutal, exploitative, even potentially lethal conditions is immoral. Period. It was immoral when it was done to the Native Americans in the 19th century. It was immoral when it was done to the Filipinos at the turn of the century. It was immoral when it was done to Jews and Roma in Nazi-occupied Europe. It’s wrong now.

It is incumbent upon thinking, freedom-loving people, to protests the trespasses made against others’ lives and freedoms immediately. We cannot allow there to be an Auschwitz Bar that must be passed before it’s fair to decry inhumanity being carried out in our name.


  1. To be fair, the Obama Administration also oversaw such immoral facilities, and conditions at these facilities/camps under the last administration were not up to human rights standards. Should the same claim have been made during the Obama Administration? Yes. And it was.

One thought on “Lowering the Holocaust Bar

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  1. It is my understanding that you’re absolutely right- after all, there were concentration camps around the Boer War as you underline. This dreadful fact about the British Empire is sometimes given insufficient attention in British schools. A Conservative MP chose to claim these camps were not too bad and compared their death rates with those in a Scottish city at that time. Needless to say, he is an extremist who supports Brexit at any cost. On both sides of the Atlantic, the hard right is causing controversies to cover over the social cost of their governance.

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