Thursday, February 2nd | 11 Shevat 5783

June 20, 2019 5:19 am

What My Grandfather Would Tell AOC About Life in the Nazi Camp System

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avatar by Edward Manor


The main gate at the Auschwitz concentration camp. Photo: Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum.

Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), who was born around the time the Berlin Wall fell and has demonstrated in the past that she’s ignorant about the evils of socialism and Nazism, has struck again — this time comparing US immigration detention facilities to Nazi concentration camps.

It is times like this when I miss grandfather, because he was fantastic at relating the horrors of the Nazi camp system — which he was intimately familiar with — to others who could not fathom them. Had he been alive and able to pull the young Congresswoman aside for a chat, it would go along the following lines:

First, grandpa would remind her that he didn’t migrate in search of a better life, and was subsequently detained. He would tell her that his deportation was part of a premeditated campaign to destroy the Jews of Europe, and that the Nazi camp system was one tool the Nazis used to implement their designs. He would gently tell her it’s preposterous to claim that US immigration detention facilities bear a similar design.

Grandpa would then show her the tattoo the Nazis forced on him in Auschwitz, and tell her that it served several purposes — tracking him like cattle on its way to slaughter, irrevocably marking his flesh in contravention of Jewish law, and reducing him to a number and negating his personhood, both in his mind and in the minds of his would-be murderers.

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He would then pause, and explain to the young lawmaker that the process of dehumanization started long before the tattoo was applied. He’d tell her about the vibrant Jewish community in his town that numbered about 2,000 before the war and only 23 after it. He’d describe harrowing tales of dispossession of property, status, and ultimately, life.

He would describe how they were forced to dismantle the town’s synagogue, the pride of the Jewish community, and use the timber to build the walls of their ghetto where disease, starvation, and filth helped the Polish and Nazi predators kill the Jews (who were all current residents and citizens); a ghetto that quickly turned into a concentration camp for surrounding Jewish communities on their way to other camps that no one returned from — camps like Auschwitz, Majdanek, Sobibor, and others where Jewish “cattle” were slaughtered in systemic fashion as part of a German national project.

Grandpa would then digress and flesh out the timeline that led him from his hometown to Auschwitz, to Bergen Belsen, and beyond. He’d attest to walking for days from Kielbasin to the Grodno concentration camp, barefoot, starving, and under constant threat of death.

Having spent close to three years in Auschwitz, he would place a great deal of emphasis on the almost daily beatings with rods and truncheons by the Gestapo; the daily struggle to resist throwing oneself onto the electrified fence; and the hunger, slave labor, dysentery, lice, and vermin. He would show her the bird-shaped scar above his lip and describe how one SS officer promised to send him to the gas chamber, only to be saved by another SS man who kicked him in the face, knocked him unconscious, and sent him to a sub-camp in a pile of dead bodies, which saved him.

Grandpa would tell AOC he was forced to march from Auschwitz to Bergen Belsen as the Russian army advanced and the German one disintegrated — three months of marching barefoot, freezing, starving, and under constant bombardment. He would shed tears when relating his reunion with a lost brother in Bergen Belsen who died emaciated, covered in filth and lice, only days before liberation.

I wish Ms. Ocasio-Cortez knew history, but it is abundantly clear that no one bothered to properly educate her. On behalf of grandpa, many outraged Jews, and millions that suffered or perished in Nazi camps, shame on you, Congresswoman. Shame on you.

Edward Manor is an Israeli-born American lawyer and political commentator. Follow him on Twitter @SHomer_Israel.

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