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 to say the least. Was she wrong to use this specific term? Was she “stupid,” as I’ve heard some liberals say, to use the term?

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 on 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 migrant children 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— the glove fits. Liberals and critics who have taken up arms to coddle people’s feelings (people I’m almost certain don’t exist in meaningful numbers) or piously claim that somehow 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 all to ourselves? Why would we even 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. The same exact thing 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. 

The Nazis understood the power of language. Why don’t we? 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 Jews know they were: death camps. The Japanese-American “internment” or “work” camps were concentration camps. And so are these Trump camps on our border.

No one is calling the migrant situation a holocaust, or The Holocaust— because it isn’t The Holocaust. Nor is it the Armenian Genocide. Or Cambodia. Or Darfur. But this is America, and our bar should be a hell of 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. And don’t think this is about not “diluting” the suffering Jewish people endured in the Nazi death camps— because it isn’t. It’s about diluting the suffering that’s going on right now, right here in the United States.

Jews didn’t die by the millions so that we could think, when other minorities suffered, “my suffering was worse than your suffering.” Being Jewish, and 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 (if hurt at all) will survive. Worry about the humanitarian crisis at the border. Children have already died in ICE custody — I believe the count right now is 7— for lack of sanitation and medical care. Many may never see their parents again. 

If you are of Jewish decent, like I am, 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.