Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and ‘Never Again’
Having previously accused Israel of a “massacre” of Palestinian civilians on its border with Gaza, Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) is at it again: “I want to talk to the people that are concerned enough with humanity to say that ‘never again’ means something. The fact that concentration camps are now an institutionalized practice in the ‘Home of the Free’ is extraordinarily disturbing and we need to do something about it.”
Andrea Pitzer’s much-cited book, One Long Night (2017), traces the history of “concentration camps” from Spain’s attempt to suppress Cuban rebels in the 1890s, to British internment of rebellious Afrikaners during the Boer War around 1900, to US internment of rebellious Filipinos after the Spanish-American War, to various “civilian relocations” during World War I, to Stalin’s totalitarian gulags, to US internment of Japanese Americans, to Chairman Mao’s “reeducation” camps during the Cultural Revolution.
At the center, of course, was the unique Nazi system of “concentration camps” and “killing centers” between 1933 and 1945.
Before anyone analogizes the Trump administration’s detention centers for illegal immigrants, the unprecedented dimensions of the Holocaust should be recognized. According to the US Holocaust Memorial Museum (I round estimates):
- At least 2.7 million Jews were murdered in five primary “killing centers”;
- At least 150,000 Jews were murdered in what the Nazis officially designated “concentration camps”;
- At least 1.8 million Jews were murdered in various “shooting operations” by the Einsatzgruppen, local militias, etc.;
- At least 800,000 Jews died in Nazi ghettos awaiting transportation to killing centers; and
- At least 500,000 Jews are listed as “miscellaneous” victims.
The combined figures for official German “concentration camps,” where many Jews were worked to death, and “killing centers,” where most were gassed, is just under three million. The concentration camps, which started on a small scale with Dachau in 1933, provided invaluable training to the bureaucratic murderers who presided over the Holocaust during World War II.
How many internees have died in American detention centers for immigrants? I do not think an exact figure is available to the public, and perhaps not even to government officials.
There reportedly have been at least 24 deaths since Donald Trump’s inauguration. These include suicides. At least seven children have died in Federal custody during the past year, some of diseases contracted before their detention. As the number of detained children has exploded, facilities have been overwhelmed and children are sometimes forced to live in tent cities without air conditioning in the sweltering heat.
Altogether, it’s a chaotic, shameful situation and, no doubt, more deaths can be expected. But well fewer than 100 deaths — all caused by accident or neglect — hardly constitute “concentration camps,” much less “killing centers” akin to what the Nazis did.
President Trump should stop threatening the deportation of “millions” — for which no mechanisms or plans exist — and Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez should cease her indefensible invocation of “Never Again.” Rhetorical overkill on both sides is delaying much-needed aid to suffering humanity on the US-Mexico border.
Harold Brackman is coauthor with Ephraim Isaac of From Abraham to Obama: A History of Jews, Africans, and African Americans (Africa World Press, 2015).