As someone whose parents survived the horrors of the Holocaust, I have been repeatedly uneased by the willingness of our politicians to invoke comparisons to this stain on humanity in an attempt to jar the public. Just recently, New York Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez did so while discussing migrant detention centers in our country’s south. She explicitly stated that our government is “running concentration camps” and that such practices have been institutionalized. She summoned people to say “never again,” invoking the post-World War II cry to never allow the systematic slaughter of millions of Jews to reoccur. To say that what is occurring within our immigration system—as awful as it may be--is remotely comparable to mass murder on the scale of the Holocaust is a cheapening of the atrocities and their place in history, as well as of the power of the words we use to capture its unique inhumanity and violence.
I frequently recount the tragedy that my family endured during the Holocaust. My grandfather and uncle were burnt alive and after surviving Auschwitz my parents fled to a displaced persons camp, where I was born not too long after. We got off easy compared to those destined for the concentration camps. As heartbreaking as the images of children in detention centers on our southern border are, comparing them to Birkenau or Treblinka or Auschwitz concentration camps demean the memories of those exterminated thereby attempting to create a moral equivalence in the popular understanding. Representative Ocasio-Cortez’s comments are uneducated and insensitive. A Congresswoman from New York City, with the Nation’s largest Jewish Population, should do her homework before making such outlandish comparisons and learn that to a Jew, being sent to a concentration camp meant a death sentence.
Apologizing is not enough. By making these comments she is displaying ineptitude in representing her city.
American Jewish Congress