I’m Jewish, and these are Concentration Camps

A recent statement by the notorious AOC that we are running concentration camps on our Southern border has sparked an explosion on this subject in the press. The conversation it has started however, especially amongst liberals, has been strange. Was she wrong to use this specific term? Was she “stupid,” as I’ve heard some liberals say?

First, from the mile-high view, it wasn’t stupid at all. Even if much of the liberal conversation has devolved into arguments over semantics, at least it’s back in the news. More pictures and articles are being shared on social media. Awareness is being raised, once again, across the country.

If using a hot-button phrase is what it takes to get the spotlight back on overcrowded, unclean facilities where our government is holding human beings indefinitely, then, to my mind, all coverage is good coverage. 

Second, even though concentration camp may be a hot-button term, it isn’t wrong. Look in any dictionary— you’ll see that the glove fits. Liberals and critics who have taken up arms to coddle people’s feelings or piously claim that using the term concentration camp is insensitive, imprecise, or just incorrect, are wrong

When it comes to usage, this is the right term.

When it comes to human rights, this is the right term.

Do people think that concentration camp is a term that should belong exclusively to Jews? Is that what we get for suffering the Holocaust? To “have” the term concentration camp to ourselves? Why would we want it? 

Concentration camp isn’t a term created by Jewish people for Jewish people, it’s a Nazi propaganda word. It was political jargon meant to cover over the horror of what was happening in Auschwitz and Treblinka. It’s the same kind of linguistic covering-over we would be doing if we insisted on calling our slipshod border facilities in Texas “containment centers” or inventing some other ridiculous term meant to trivialize the suffering of people separated from their families and made to sleep on concrete. 

Republicans intuitively understand the power of language and good branding, which is why it’s so important to them that we not call these facilities what they are. But liberals, in a misguided attempt to protect the feelings of Jewish people, are arguing for the same thing. It illustrates perfectly what I’ve felt for a long time: that if you go far enough left, you end up on the right.

If you want to be truly precise, call the Nazi concentration camps what they were: death camps. The Nazi’s weren’t “concentrating” people, they were systematically killing them. The Japanese-American “internment” or “work” camps were concentration camps. And so are these Trump camps at the border.

No one is calling the migrant situation a holocaust, much less The Holocaust— because it isn’t. Nor is it the Armenian Genocide. Or Cambodia. Or Darfur. But this is America, and our bar should be a lot higher than “NOT THE HOLOCAUST.”

This is a Republican talking point in disguise. Don’t buy into it. Don’t help them make it. Don’t think for a moment that this is about not “diluting” the suffering of Jewish people in the Nazi death camps— it is not. It’s about diluting the suffering that’s going on right now, to South American migrants, right here in the United States.

Never forget that not so long ago, Jews also made long journeys to The United States in droves. Never forget that there was a crack propaganda machine in place that convinced much of the world that we were criminals, rapists, and parasites of society. In short, “bad hombres.” Never forget that there was a healthy Nazi party alive at the time here in America. Most importantly, never forget that many who tried to obtain asylum legally were turned away, and sent back to Europe.

When I first visited the Holocaust museum in Washington DC, I was struck by their motto: “Never again.” I was deeply moved because to me that motto meant that my heritage had something to teach the world forever. It meant that our people would serve as the world’s watchmen now, to make sure that humanity never goes down that path again. To any extent. It never occurred to me that “never again” could refer to just us. To me it meant never againto anyone.

Jews didn’t die by the millions so that we could think, when other peoples suffered, “my suffering was worse than your suffering.” Having this heritage doesn’t mean we should say “we’ve seen worse.” It means we can say we’ve seen this. We recognize other human beings people being treated as less than deserving of human dignity.

Don’t worry about our feelings about the past. Our feelings will survive. Worry about the humanitarian crisis in our country right now. Women are being raped in custody (as is what happens in any concentration camp). Babies and children will face permanent psychological damage and trauma after undergoing family separation. Children have died in ICE custody for lack of sanitation and medical care. Many children, as a result of systemic incompetence, may never see their parents again. 

No political ideal is worth that.

If you are of Jewish decent, like me, and there are strong and brave people in your family you’ve heard stories about and wish you could have met, say it with me: these are concentration camps too. 

Author: Maria Jacqueline Hauser

Maria Jacqueline Hauser is a writer and Shakespeare scholar from Jackson, Mississippi.