An Open Letter to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez
To Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez:
You say many outrageous things in your weaponized Twitter account. I read them, sometimes I chuckle, sometimes I get annoyed, but mostly I chalk it up to your need to make your point, which I accept.
But in a recent Tweet, you said something so outrageous that is it almost unforgiveable. I say “almost” because you might be forgiven since, like most millennials, you never learned history, and don’t seem to know about what really happened in Europe during World War II.
You compared the internment camps on our southern border with Nazi concentration camps, where the Jewish population of Europe was systematically and brutally slaughtered, or simply worked to death on a daily basis. But it wasn’t ten or twenty people, it was six million! This was genocide in astronomical proportions!
In your tweet you said:
“The U.S. is running concentration camps on our southern border and that is exactly what they are. … ‘Never Again’ means something … we need to do something about it.”
Yes, “Never Again” does mean something, Congresswoman, but it does not mean what you think it means. It refers specifically to the genocide of Jews by the Nazis and was the raison d’etre for the creation (finally!) of the State of Israel in 1948. Just so you know, “Never Again” refers to the State of Israel, which stands forever ready to ensure that the genocide of the Jewish people will never happen again.
There is no genocide going on at the U.S.-Mexican border. The camps that you inaccurately refer to as “concentration camps” are internment camps. No one is being systematically murdered there, and compared to the camps that were created under the Nazis throughout Europe in the last century, these internment camps are country clubs.
The people interred there are well fed with regular meals, they receive medical care when they are ill, and, above all, they came there willingly and they entered the country illegally. No one forced them to make the terrible trip from wherever they started. And no one forced them to cross into the U.S. without permission.
In fact, the very first steps that they took into our country were illegal ones. They broke the law the moment they put one foot on American soil. We have a process for this – a legal one – but they chose to break the law rather than go through it.
So they are being interred, as is appropriate under the laws of this land, until their status can be verified. That is called legal process, and it’s been working in this country for more than 240 years.
And speaking of “concentration camps”, a word you use so freely and inappropriately, here’s a thought: Words that may once have been generic, can acquire special and specific meanings, which are applied to them by history because of extraordinary circumstances.
The word “ghetto”, for example, has been appropriated by the Black Community, but it once referred only to the small, walled communities in which Jews were forced to live by their Christian rulers, first in Italy, then later in walled cities throughout Europe, and finally, by the Nazis.
And you used another term: ‘concentration camp”. It was first coined in 1897 in Cuba, where such camps were for people who were considered ‘undesirable’ and could be confined in one place. And the term was used generically… until the Nazis appropriated it.
The Germans took that concept and developed it to become a system of prison camps that incorporated the most extreme forms of torture and murder against massive populations. The Nazis’ network of ‘concentration camps’ systematized the mass and brutal incarceration, slavery, and death for millions of ‘undesirable’ people like political opponents, Romani, homosexuals, the mentally and physically disabled, Catholics, and, most of all, Jews.
The concentration camps of Europe, therefore, have a specific connotation. They were not internment camps, but rather they were, from the beginning, “death camps”, whose purpose was the collection, incarceration, torture, and murder of innocent people, mostly Jews.
These were ordinary people, men, women, children, and even little babies, who were ripped from their homes, just because they were Jews, and brought to the camps in cattle cars packed so tightly that they could not sit down. They traveled for hours or days, against their will and without food or water, to the ‘concentration camps’. Those who survived the trip were forced to live in the camps under disgusting, inhuman conditions, sleeping in lice-filled beds, two or three to a bunk, eating gruel and watery soup (when they could get it) instead of adequate food, with no medicine, and no lawyers.
In late 1939, the Nazis began to experiment with poison gas for the purpose of mass murder. At first, they murdered patients with mental and physical disabilities in what they euphemistically called the “Euthanasia Program”. This referred to the systematic killing of those Germans whom the Nazis deemed “unworthy of life” because of mental illness or physical disability.
Then in 1941, they developed the gas chamber to murder the Jews in wholesale murder machines, because it was more efficient that way.
The first gas chambers were created in 1941, by using hermetically sealed trucks, as the first step in their “final solution” to the “Jewish question”. They loaded the truck with captured Jews and then fed the exhaust from the truck’s engine into the back of the truck. No one survived.
After 1941, once the stationary gas chambers were in place, they became the Nazis’ primary weapon for the mass murder of Europe’s Jews.
When the Jews were first brought from the cattle cars to the Nazi concentration camps, those who had survived went through a process called “selectia” (selection). They were separated from each other, husbands from wives, mothers from children, brothers from sisters. Those who were considered strong enough to work went one way. The others, women, the elderly, the young children, went another way. They were stripped naked, their heads were shaved, and they were walked directly into the gas chambers.
The other prisoners (including the children who were old enough) were put to hard labor, and they were expendable. They were worked until exhaustion and, if they faltered, they were shot. And sometimes they were just shot, or hanged, for the amusement of the guards.
And some were set aside for “medical” experimentation that the Nazis performed on unwilling Jews, often without anesthesia, to see how much the human body could withstand.
This, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, is what a “concentration camp” was like. Are any of those things happening in the U.S. internment camps on our border? You can bet your life they are not!
Now I understand that the President of Austria has invited you to visit Auschwitz, the most infamous of the “concentration camps”, so that you can see with your own eyes what I am telling you here. That would be a useful visit, and you might learn something important about what horrifying things some human beings are willing to do to other human beings.
But, you know, Congresswoman, you don’t have to go to Austria or even to Israel to learn about the Holocaust. There are excellent Holocaust museums right here in the U.S. where you can see for yourself what really happened. Why, there are even several in your own home state of New York, and one in Manhattan, an excellent one, and one in the Bronx!, which I’ll bet you never visited. And now that you live in Washington DC, there is an excellent one right in your own city. It’s called the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Have you visited that one?
No, I’ll bet you haven’t, or you would never have referred to the internment camps on our southern border in a comparison with the horrors of the Holocaust
Did you know, AOC, that, since the museum was opened in 1993, it has had nearly 40 million visitors? That includes more than 10 million school children, 99 heads of state, and more than 3,500 foreign officials from over 211 countries. Were you one of these? I guess not. This is an experience you could not so easily forget.
And did you know that fewer than 10 percent of the Museum’s visitors are even Jewish? Or that the museum’s collections contain more than 12,750 artifacts, 49 million pages of archival documents, 85,000 historical photographs, a list of over 200,000 registered survivors and their families, 1,000 hours of archival footage, 93,000 library items, and 9,000 oral history testimonies? It has its own YouTube channel, its own Facebook page, and, guess what? It even has its own Twitter account!
And by the way, museum researchers have documented 42,500 ghettos and concentration camps that were built by the Nazis throughout German-controlled areas of Europe from 1933 to 1945.
So, Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, please just stop justifying your use of words that have such horrendous connotations that strike at the hearts of millions of Jews around the world. There is no justification for them.
Because there was only one Holocaust.
And the memory of that unthinkable crime against humanity – that tore an entire people to pieces – still sears the heart with a pain that never ends.
Do NOT trivialize the experience of an entire people who still bear the scars of that pain and loss that you can never comprehend, but, at least, which you should acknowledge.
Stop pretending that you know everything about everything. You don’t. None of us do. But there is always the possibility that you could be open to learn.
In my quest to set the record straight!