Applying the term “concentration camp” to the indefinite detention without trial of thousands of civilians in inhumane conditions — under armed guard and without adequate provisions or medical care — is not just appropriate, it’s necessary. Invoking the word does not demean the memory of the Holocaust. Instead, the lessons of the Holocaust will be lost if we refuse to engage with them.
If conservatives truly think that “concentration camp” is limited to Nazi death camps, where was the outrage when the Trump administration employed it to (correctly) describe the mass detention of Uighurs in Xinjiang? (Naturally, the Chinese government also hates the term concentration camp, preferring to call them “vocational education training centers.”)
Apart from the historical argument, there is a moral and geopolitical imperative for calling the atrocities happening on our southern border by their proper names. The international human rights regime depends on global cooperation, a veneer of accountability, and American funding. Trump eschews soft power in favor of military solutions, and is leading his fellow authoritarians in a race to the bottom. The 1951 Refugee Convention, while imperfect, once offered protections to stateless, persecuted people. That’s no longer true. Asylum seekers at the Mexican border are being treated like criminals despite having broken no laws. Locking up refugees in camps is the real betrayal of the legacy of the Holocaust.
As Hannah Arendt taught us in Eichmann in Jerusalem, perpetrators depend on us being desensitized to the victims’ suffering. Using euphemisms to cover for atrocities is the essence of the banality of evil. This is why perpetrators work so hard to propagandize, criminalize, and dehumanize the Other. Authoritarians require enemies to blame for their inadequacies, and to distract their base from their diminishing quality of life.
The red flags at the border are obvious to those of us raised with “never again,” a phrase Ocasio-Cortez invoked: dehumanizing language, children in cages, families separated, the deaths of trans asylum seekers, rampant diseases, and subhuman living conditions. “Never again” means we must work to deescalate before atrocities rise to the horrors of Auschwitz. Yad Vashem, the Holocaust memorial in Israel, was upset with Ocasio-Cortez for invoking the term, yet its own materials note that concentration camps for undesirables, including Jews, Poles, Communists, gay people, and Roma, opened in 1933, while the death camps were opened starting in 1941.
It’s tragic that Yad Vashem, an institution I’ve venerated and visited, has opted to chasten a young woman for calling out crimes against humanity that mirror what Jews endured less than a century ago, at the same that it embraces visitors like Viktor Orban, the anti-Semitic, ethnonationalist Hungarian prime minister.
In memory of the 6 million Jews who perished because they were considered less human, I will not accept my government treating migrants like animals. And as the daughter of a Soviet Jewish refugee, I will not accept the criminalization of stateless people. Perpetrators depend on complacency, on our inability to care for people unlike ourselves. No person is illegal, or a pest to be exterminated. If you don’t like the term concentration camp, help close them.
Correct, no matter how uncomfortable it makes elite “objective” journalists who have no problem editorializing when somebody makes the mistake of accurately describing a Republican’s public record or actions.
In related news about the Trump concentration camps:
The Trump administration went to court this week to argue that migrant children detained at the United States-Mexico border do not require basic hygiene products like soap and toothbrushes in order to be in held in “safe and sanitary” conditions. Trump’s team also argued that requiring minors to sleep on cold concrete floors in crowded cells with low temperatures similarly fulfilled that requirement.
Arguing in a 9th district San Francisco court about the conditions that they must hold migrant children in, the administration said that they did not violate a precedent set by a landmark 1985 class action lawsuit which established guidelines for the way minors held in federal immigration detention must be treated. The case, Jenny Lisette Flores v. Edwin Meese, created rules around the timely release of migrant minors to their parents, and said that those not released must be kept in facilities that are “safe and sanitary.”
But on Tuesday, the Justice Department’s Sarah Fabian claimed that the ruling did not list specific requirements like “toothbrushes” or “towels,” to establish a sanitary condition.
Note that human right atrocities need the compliance of a lot of people like Fabian.