Defining "Concentration Camp"
July 3, 2019 10:13 AM   Subscribe

In 1998, as the New York Times reported at the time, An exhibit opening on Ellis Island next month will revisit an ugly chapter of modern history: the story of tens of thousands of families who, because of their ancestry, were forced from their homes during World War II and corralled into camps, encircled by barbed wire and guarded by armed sentries. The exhibit concerns the involuntary incarceration of 110,000 people of Japanese descent, the majority of them United States citizens, from 1942 to 1946, and its title is ''America's Concentration Camps: Remembering the Japanese-American Experience.'' Even before it opens, the exhibit has inspired an emotional debate over those two stark words in the title: concentration camp.

NPR's July 3, 2019 Code Switch podcast covers the controversy over the use of the term concentration camp that erupted after curators at the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles were invited to bring an exhibit on the World War II internment camps to Ellis Island and the current controversy over the camps currently holding tens of thousands of non-Americans seeking asylum in the US.

The following quotes from the podcast are my transcription. “The solution came from a man named Benjamin Mead. He was a Holocaust survivor and for a long time an important and respected figure in the effort to preserve the memories of the Holocaust. And he suggested that the two sides come up with their own definition for concentration camp.”

So they did. They spent more than four hours on one paragraph (edit in brackets and emphasis mine):

“A concentration camp is a place where people are imprisoned not because of any crimes they committed but simply because of who they are. Although many groups have been singled out for such persecution throughout history, the term concentration camps was first used at the turn of the century in the Spanish-American and Boer wars. During World War II, America’s concentration camps were clearly distinguishable from Nazi Germany’s. Nazi camps were places of torture, barbarious medical experiments, and summary executions. Some were extermination centers with gas chambers. Six million Jews and many others, including [Roma], Poles, homosexuals, and political dissents, were slaughtered in the Holocaust. In recent years, concentration camps have existed in the former Soviet Union, Cambodia, and Bosnia. Despite the difference, all had one thing in common: The people in power removed a minority group from the general population and the rest of society let it happen.”

There have been many reports about the inhumane treatment of those being kept in these camps. The mothership of American fashion magazines, Vogue itself, recently posted a news article called The Only Thing That Matters Right Now Are the Concentration Camps at the Border. An increasing number of Americans are protesting the camps and recently several Democratic Representatives reported on what they saw during visits to two camps.

"In the 1800s, Fort Sill was used to jail Native Americans. Then during the Second World War, it held Japanese Americans. Now President Trump is planning to move 1,400 migrant children to the fortified Army post in Lawton, Oklahoma, later this summer," noted NPR on June 30 as part of an interview with Chizu Omori, who was forced as a child to move to an internment camp for Japanese-Americans for three years and is one of many Japanese Americans protesting America's new concentration camps.

On July 2, 2019 a variety of folks participated in #CloseTheCamps protests across the US. In San Francisco, about 400 protesters blocked Market Street. In Boston, "A lively and fast-moving stream of about 1,000 Jewish activists and others shut down traffic in the heart of the city during rush hour Tuesday evening, chanting, singing, and drumming to protest immigrant detention in the city and across the country," according to the Boston Globe.
posted by Bella Donna (51 comments total) 43 users marked this as a favorite
Using Fort Sill will come back and haunt this country.

posted by clavdivs at 10:25 AM on July 3, 2019 [17 favorites]

A concentration camp is a place where people are imprisoned not because of any crimes they committed but simply because of who they are.

The concentration camp definition gets sticky when identity is turned into a crime by a state that then uses that “crime” as a pretext for incarceration. From Hugo Black’s Korematsu opinion:
“Korematsu was not excluded from the Military Area because of hostility to him or his race. He was excluded because we are at war with the Japanese Empire, because the properly constituted military authorities feared an invasion of our West Coast and felt constrained to take proper security measures, because they decided that the military urgency of the situation demanded that all citizens of Japanese ancestry be segregated from the West Coast temporarily, and, finally, because Congress, reposing its confidence in this time of war in our military leaders—as inevitably it must—determined that they should have the power to do just this."
posted by sallybrown at 10:54 AM on July 3, 2019 [2 favorites]

That is still upon a basis of risk derived from identity and not upon what any individual was alleged to have done. That the Court split a hair between “race” and “national descent” doesn’t change that.

Moreover, Korematsu was and is a disgrace and isn’t a strong argument against that definition which presumably wasn’t phrased with US law specifically in mind.
posted by snuffleupagus at 11:34 AM on July 3, 2019 [7 favorites]

If we keep using the definition of concentration camp as a threshold, we'll wind up stepping over that threshold.

Right now, here's what we have:

Detained without trial and not on suspicion of any crime.
With no real timeline for release.
Including children.
Harsh conditions.
Overt hostility from the regime.
Gleeful disregard for the well being of the inmates.

Am I missing some checkboxes that we should require before using that term?
posted by ocschwar at 12:21 PM on July 3, 2019 [12 favorites]

That is still upon a basis of risk derived from identity and not upon what any individual was alleged to have done. That the Court split a hair between “race” and “national descent” doesn’t change that.

Yes, that was my point.
posted by sallybrown at 12:22 PM on July 3, 2019 [2 favorites]

Also the subject of a very good interview on Chris Haye's Why Is This Happening podcast with Andrea Pitzer, who literally wrote the book on concentration camps. I took away six particular points from the interview:
  1. Before Kristallnacht the Nazi concentration camps were built on the same model they had been for the previous half-century around the world, such as those maintained by the British during the Boer War: utterly miserable places in which people were tortured, treated with tremendous cruelty and supplied with little in terms of basic provisions, but which were not explicitly designed to kill people. Jews and others went into the camp system believing that they were political prisoners who would be treated as such, and many of them cycled in and out of the camps between 1933 and 1938.
  2. After Kristallnacht crowding in the camps increased tremendously, along with deaths. Camp guards found guilty in German courts for cruelty and murder were pardoned by Hitler.
  3. During the war concentration camps remained as such, while release conditions disappeared and conditions grew worse. The extermination camps, such as Bełżec, Sobibór and Treblinka were outgrowths of the camp system, built with the explicit purpose of killing people at an industrial scale.
  4. The major exception to this was Auschwitz, which started as a labour camp before being expanded to a death camp. After the war this association, along with the horrifying deaths in internment camps due to disease, malnutrition and suicide, conflated the terms "concentration camp" and "extermination camp" in the popular imagination.
  5. Concentration / internment camps have always had the same basic purpose: removing a people from society, dealing with them "out there", outside of public view.
  6. In Pitzer's words, the Nazi death camps are like huge towers in the psychological associative plain of "concentration camps". They absolutely deserve their prominence in our collective memory, but they've also come to dominate the concept of "concentration camp" to the point that most have forgotten what the term means, and what the camps begin as.
posted by Bora Horza Gobuchul at 12:22 PM on July 3, 2019 [65 favorites]

I feel like there are two conversations going on here, and that this one (about semantics and establishing a literal definition of the words "concentration camp") is muddying the ability to have a conversation about the other one - and on some peoples' parts, deliberately so.

The other conversation is that if you strip the term "concentration camp" of its Holocaust specificity, you are in some way lessening the horror of the victims of the Holocaust, in particular its Jewish ones, and what they suffered in the camps. It's not an argument about definitions - it's an argument about what we owe the dead and the survivors as insurance against it happening again to them.

I am still grappling with this one - I think Bora Horza Gobuchal's 6 points above make a really strong case for why the term literally fits. But emotionally, when (at least in theory) the plan is to send all the people in these camps back to their country of origin, not come up with another final solution for them - I do understand why for a generation of people, this is a hard term to apply. If you trust the government at their word (and I don't), then the comparison rankles because you are saying that Trump's racist idiocy is on a par with Hitler's fully-architected plan for genocide. I don't doubt that it could end there, and I think that is exactly the reason that the term should be used now - before that happens. But I don't think it's wrong to be sensitive to the difference in this moment in time.

Because there are people who want the Nazi camps to be forgotten, to deny they served as extermination camps, or to treat any Jewish outrage over them as so much politically-motivated whining. A lot (not all, probably not most) of the people insisting that the term "concentration camp" be only used if it absolutely applies are people who feel - especially in a time when anti-semitism is rising - that they still have a stake in the outcome. And leaning on dictionary definitions of terms to shut them up isn't helpful.
posted by Mchelly at 12:52 PM on July 3, 2019 [8 favorites]

There was another dimension to the Japanese internment. According to Sarah Taber, it was …a land grab by white farmers. Full stop.
posted by adamrice at 1:13 PM on July 3, 2019 [26 favorites]

Sophie Weiner: Over 140 Holocaust Experts Agreeing With AOC Should Finally Put This Dumb Fight to Rest
Last month, the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum put out a press release criticizing Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez for using the term “concentration camps” to refer to the detention of migrants in horrific conditions at the U.S. border. The museum wrote in the statement that it “unequivocally rejects efforts to create analogies between the Holocaust and other events, whether historical or contemporary.”

Now, over 140 experts on the Holocaust and genocide have written an open letter to the museum, published in the New York Review of Books, urging the museum to reconsider their dumb as hell take on the controversy.

“We are deeply concerned about the Museum’s recent ‘Statement Regarding the Museum’s Position on Holocaust Analogies.’ We write this public letter to urge its retraction,” the academics wrote.

“By ‘unequivocally rejecting efforts to create analogies between the Holocaust and other events, whether historical or contemporary,’ the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum is taking a radical position that is far removed from mainstream scholarship on the Holocaust and genocide,” they continue. “And it makes learning from the past almost impossible.”

The letter continues:
The Museum’s decision to completely reject drawing any possible analogies to the Holocaust, or to the events leading up to it, is fundamentally ahistorical. It has the potential to inflict severe damage on the Museum’s ability to continue its role as a credible, leading global institution dedicated to Holocaust memory, Holocaust education, and research in the field of Holocaust and genocide studies. The very core of Holocaust education is to alert the public to dangerous developments that facilitate human rights violations and pain and suffering; pointing to similarities across time and space is essential for this task.
Sounds about right!
FWIW, that article is from Monday, and as of me this afternoon, the number of signatories for this letter has grown to almost 500.
posted by zombieflanders at 1:17 PM on July 3, 2019 [36 favorites]

More, from Noah Kulwin at Jewish Currents: Whose Concentration Camps?
A key charge in the [Jewish Community Relations Council of NY]’s letter, that the Holocaust (and concentration camps) can be discussed only in direct reference to the Nazi plot of Jewish extermination, was expanded on by the Twitter account of Yad Vashem: “Concentration camps assured a slave labor supply to help in the Nazi war effort, even as the brutality of life inside the camps helped assure the ultimate goal of ‘extermination through labor.’ Learn about concentration camps.” In other words, say Yad Vashem and the JCRC, both the purpose of concentration camps and the nature of the Holocaust were so unique that they are past the point of any possible comparison.

But if we’re to go by the definition Andrea Pitzer has used, which has the support of other historians, concentration camps are used for “mass detention of civilians without trial.” Although other camps rushed Jews to the gas chamber, consider what the New York Times wrote about Dachau, the first Nazi concentration camp, when it opened in 1933: “Dachau, the site of the concentration camp for those who have incurred the displeasure of the present rulers of Germany but have committed no offense for which they could be tried.”

What, then, is the meaning of a phrase like “never again” when the institutions that proselytize it also argue that Holocaust memory cannot be sullied by the present tense? “Never again” is the common refrain that young Jews are taught, particularly by leaders at groups like the JCRC and tour guides at Yad Vashem. But by the time many of these young Jews become adolescent or twenty-something Jews, the mantra becomes a question: “never again, for whom?” Rather than broaden the scope of the lesson to include injustices not committed by Nazis against Jews, Jewish institutions would rather instead police the boundaries of Holocaust memory. Jewish leaders like the JCRC, like Foxman, like Wolpe, and like many others, in giving the Republicans cover for such a putrid policy, have given their answer: just us.
posted by zombieflanders at 1:21 PM on July 3, 2019 [17 favorites]

> [The Nazi death camps] absolutely deserve their prominence in our collective memory, but they've also come to dominate the concept of "concentration camp" to the point that most have forgotten what the term means

This is the issue, right there. If most have forgotten, then that's what it used to mean, not what it means. I'm not saying the definition isn't apt, it is. And it's accurate, as far as it goes. But in the last 60 years, nobody has used the term "concentration camp" without being conscious (and without the universal effect) of invoking Nazi death camps.

The Nazis made a lot of language mean something new and horrible (e.g. the German word for 'honor' is still basically unusable). I don't want to turn this into the endless prescriptivist vs. descriptivist debate... I'm just saying that using the term and afterwards going "oh no, I didn't mean THAT" is intellectually dishonest.
posted by kleinsteradikaleminderheit at 1:30 PM on July 3, 2019 [3 favorites]

Thanks for putting this together, Bella Donna, particularly for the transcript.

The line from the collaborative definition for concentration camp that hit me the hardest was the one you emphasized, particularly the second half: The people in power removed a minority group from the general population and the rest of society let it happen.

For now, I am a member of the inactive, watching society, looking on from the safety of my relatively secure life.
posted by filthy light thief at 1:30 PM on July 3, 2019 [7 favorites]

We can spend our time arguing semantics or we can do something. Regardless of what they’re called, these camps are morally reprehensible and the folks running the camps, who came up with the idea, and gave the order to create them are straight up evil and need to be sitting in a modern day Nuremberg style tribunal. Before you tell me how the people running the camps “are just following orders.” I suggest to you that that wasn’t an excuse for the guards etc. for the camps run by the Nazis, and it shouldn’t be now. These people need to know they’ll be held accountable. Perhaps it will kick start their ethics.
Write your congresspersons, attend a protest, drive a goddamned truck through the gates if you can, but don’t sit on your ass and be complicit through inaction.
posted by evilDoug at 1:31 PM on July 3, 2019 [13 favorites]

The other conversation is that if you strip the term "concentration camp" of its Holocaust specificity, you are in some way lessening the horror of the victims of the Holocaust, in particular its Jewish ones, and what they suffered in the camps.

Concentration camps were the means. Holocaust was the end. If people start referring to this program as an "American Holocaust," we can talk. For now, no, "concentration camp" is exactly right, and you'll see that American Jews are on the forefront of calling it that.

The only people at all who say this is an affront to Holocaust victims are (largely non-Jewish) apologists.
posted by explosion at 1:35 PM on July 3, 2019 [24 favorites]

No one I know of is saying these concentration camps are the same as the Nazi concentration camps. But they are still concentration camps. And Miller and Trump want to round up 11 million immigrants and deport them, starting with ICE raids across 10 cities as soon as Friday. Which makes one wonder where 11 million people will be detained while an already stressed system is breaking?
posted by ryoshu at 1:41 PM on July 3, 2019 [11 favorites]

A Grim Progression of Bullshit

1. But it's not like he's putting people in camps.
2. But these aren't concentration camps.
3. But they're not that bad.
4. But even if that were true, you can't compare them to the Nazi camps. It's not like these are death camps .
5... [blinking cursor]
posted by DirtyOldTown at 1:50 PM on July 3, 2019 [47 favorites]

I am still grappling with this one - I think Bora Horza Gobuchal's 6 points above make a really strong case for why the term literally fits. But emotionally, when (at least in theory) the plan is to send all the people in these camps back to their country of origin, not come up with another final solution for them

No, the explicitly stated plan is to use these people's suffering in order to dissuade people from crossing the border or seeking asylum in the Untied States. I heard an ICE spokesperson openly defending the family separation policy by saying it would dissuade other immigrants from coming here on NPR for goodness sake.
posted by Zalzidrax at 1:50 PM on July 3, 2019 [27 favorites]

The only people at all who say this is an affront to Holocaust victims are (largely non-Jewish) apologists.

This is not true. Just because a large number of Jewish groups agree the term fits does not mean they all do.

In case I wasn't clear enough in my post, I do agree with the term's use, and I don't agree that you can take anything the government says about its intentions at face value. I'm just asking for a bit more sensitivity because there are Jews who are descendants of survivors who see this as yet another means of erasure - and that's what they're fighting. There are ways to have that conversation, and still fight the camps and the policy, and still use the term. Insisting that anyone who objects is acting in bad faith is part of the problem here.
posted by Mchelly at 2:04 PM on July 3, 2019 [4 favorites]

For the last couple of decades I've been spending a lot of time trying to remind people, and not least young people, that the Nazis didn't start out with the gas chambers. That is not how the Holocaust starts. If they had been killing people systematically from February 1933, they would not have remained in power, and millions of Jews would not have been killed. It was the slow normalization of atrociousness that made the Holocaust possible, and you have to be alert at the first instance of dehumanization, if you really mean "never again".
The Nazis tested all sorts of ideas for what to do with the Jews, including shipping everyone to Madagascar. Only very few people inside and outside of Germany imagined how things would end, which is why most countries felt comfortable in refusing entry to Jewish refugees. And which is why hundreds of thousands of German Jews stayed on in Germany, waiting for the horror to pass. My granddad saved some of his family, with great difficulty. But some didn't want to be saved. They couldn't believe normalcy wouldn't return. At the Jewish Museum in Berlin, there is a wall with all the names of the Germans who were killed in the camps. I found them there.
Another thing: there weren't that many German Jews. And some of them agreed that the Jewish immigrants from the East were a threat that required harsh measures. They didn't see themselves as part of the same group, even as they did know anti-semitism.
Third: it has been mentioned several times, but bears repeating: plenty of people who weren't Jews were sent to Nazi concentration camps for all sorts of reasons.

I wonder if this discussion is different in different countries: I remember learning about the camps in South Africa during the Boer Wars in school in England during the early seventies. I remember learning about the Gulags in Denmark later during the seventies. I didn't learn about what actually happened during the thirties till I was adult, though, and I don't think many do.
posted by mumimor at 2:06 PM on July 3, 2019 [37 favorites]

I'm just asking for a bit more sensitivity because there are Jews who are descendants of survivors who see this as yet another means of erasure - and that's what they're fighting. There are ways to have that conversation, and still fight the camps and the policy, and still use the term. Insisting that anyone who objects is acting in bad faith is part of the problem here.

Mchelly, what would a bit more sensitivity look like from your perspective? Sorry if that is too 101, and if it is, just tell me.

What interested me about the Code Switch podcast was that a group of American Jews (sorry, don't remember the organization involved) and the Japanese American curators had a significant disagreement about the use of the term concentration camps and yet were cordial and met privately to try to come to some kind of an agreement. Shockingly, they did.

But that happened when there were no (as far as I know) concentration camps actually operating in the US at the time. That is not where we are right now. So I tend to agree with evilDoug: We can spend our time arguing semantics or we can do something. It has been heartening to read about so many Jews protesting and seeing photos of signs that say "Never again means never again." I have been equally heartened by the elderly Japanese Americans who were incarcerated in camps and still mustered the energy to go protest.

I don't live in the US anymore. When I ask my friends in the US what they are going to do to close the camps, they get defensive. I understand why. But I think non-marginalized, able-bodied middle-class and well-off white Americans need to get off their duffs and donate money, picket outside ICE offices, picket outside of camps, pressure consulting companies and other companies that are profiting off these camps, etc.

Jews are protesting. Japanese Americans are protesting. Lots of people are protesting. I want everyone to do something, no matter how small, to shut down the camps. I don't have any money, I can't donate, and I can't protest in person. But I can lobby my elected officials and pressure greedy companies to try to shame them out of their contracts.

Nobody is going to stop these camps unless we stop these camps. Individual Americans, working alone and collectively. Those children in cages are going to stay in cages, more and more of them are going to be caged, and more and more of them are going to die unless American citizens stand up and shout NO. Over and over again in a million small, large, and medium ways.
posted by Bella Donna at 2:51 PM on July 3, 2019 [17 favorites]

Zalzidrax and ryoshu get at a pivotal part of the issue for me, somewhat apart from but still related to the nomenclature: the plan, from the beginning, has been to bust down doors all across the country and round up 10 million or more people. Has anything like that ever been accomplished without camps and facilities that will meet the definition of concentration camps?

That's what I've found most alarming starting back in 2015, that a vast chunk of the electorate appeared to knowingly give their blessing to a project that, even were it carried out perfectly and scaled up existing systems with no problems, would still involve extending ICE and CBP's death and casualty and child trauma rates up to a 10-million-plus population.

But nothing like that has ever gone perfectly in human history, nor even just been orchestrated with a real intent to avoid harm to the people getting fed into the machinery of camps and transportation networks. There isn't any good version of rounding ten million people up they could be thinking of.

It seems to me that we shouldn't just be grappling with the terms for the present conditions, but with the term for the version of these camps that will exist at the 10M scale, and not be timid nor belated in employing that term for what the dehydrated sick kids sleeping on floors and in cages will become in the fullness of the openly stated goals, whatever the term may be.
posted by XMLicious at 3:00 PM on July 3, 2019 [18 favorites]

Another thing: there weren't that many German Jews. And some of them agreed that the Jewish immigrants from the East were a threat that required harsh measures.

Right now, most of my relatives are the Latinx equivalent of this.
posted by palmcorder_yajna at 3:08 PM on July 3, 2019 [9 favorites]

Aaaand in the main uspolitics thread someone just posted: Sites in 3 states eyed for permanent child detention centers
posted by XMLicious at 3:10 PM on July 3, 2019 [6 favorites]

Thanks, XMLicious! Was just going to post that. Someone also posted this, from The Atlantic, What a Pediatrician Saw Inside a Border Patrol Warehouse. Dolly Lucio Sevier evaluated dozens of sick children at a facility in South Texas. She found evidence of infection, malnutrition, and psychological trauma.

There is no shortage of evidence. An Inspector General's report just documented that officials who said children and others were being treated well at the camps are lying liars who lie. I want to know when Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer and a bunch of Senators are going to do what some Democratic Representatives did and go visit some camps and make a lot of noise.
posted by Bella Donna at 3:45 PM on July 3, 2019 [17 favorites]

Yeah I don't know what Pelosi has been up to. Do something or step aside.
posted by Glinn at 3:55 PM on July 3, 2019 [6 favorites]

The only credible theory I have seen regarding Pelosi that isn’t absolutely infuriating is that Trump’s cognitive decline is so steep that he wouldn’t be competent by the end of an impeachment process, and so they’re waiting it out.

A lot of people can die in concentration camps before that happens.
posted by maxsparber at 4:10 PM on July 3, 2019 [4 favorites]

mumimor, I went to high school in California in the early 1990s with the children and grandchildren of survivors from both German and American concentration camps. Though at the time we did call the American camps "internment" camps to distinguish them for purposes of discussion and eventual outcome.

As you might guess from what I said above, we did learn about them. In detail. With photos. We studied them in History classes, and we read books relating to them in English classes.

Contrasting the experience of Anne Frank hiding from the Nazis against Jeanne Wakatsuki's experience being interned in a camp in the US... is a good way to make Americans sound better than Nazis, while also talking about how we are not that different. And often not that far from becoming that which we, as righteous Americans, know we should fight against. But just because we know, it doesn't mean we can admit it to ourselves.

After watching a few scenes from Triumph of the Will, I vividly recall a class discussion where only two of us in a class of 30 would even admit to the possibility that we could have become swept up in the patriotic fervor of the German nationalist movement of the late 20s - 1932, that turned into a flood of government propaganda starting in 1933. The two of us who dissented, one was a recent Russian immigrant, and I had already started to understand the power of ideas and how they influence people, especially hope and promises of a better future. Everyone else thought that they were immune and would know better and be hiding their neighbors and fighting in the Resistance, despite it being contextually absurd before 1933. Emotion beats reason almost every time.

Maybe the American teenagers of today are getting taught the Vietnam war the way I was taught WWII, and WWII the rather vague, distant, and relatively quick treatment that we got of WWI to set up for WWII. I don't know. Probably not. We didn't look very good in Vietnam.

So I am not at all surprised at what is happening now, given what has happened here since 2001.

Yes, I believe that concentration camps are accurate descriptions of what we have here. Using that term is important because it does not allow any niceties or pretenses. Words have power. Calling them concentration camps is a nagging subconscious reminder to the majority of the population that really doesn't want to think about such distasteful notions, but might vote differently if they are worked on slowly, that we might be turning into everything we were taught in school to scorn and despise: collaborators. Or worse.
posted by monopas at 4:11 PM on July 3, 2019 [12 favorites]

Mod note: Let's not pivot into another Trump Impeachment Y/N argument in here.
posted by cortex (staff) at 8:03 PM on July 3, 2019 [3 favorites]

Mchelly, what would a bit more sensitivity look like from your perspective? Sorry if that is too 101, and if it is, just tell me.

Honestly, just more listening. Not assuming that when someone says "how dare you use the term 'concentration camps'," they are coming from a place of faux-outrage (even though sometimes they will be). Pointing out why you believe in this instance the term fits, and that you're not using the term lightly - that you understand the full weight of the comparison. And more than anything else - since the goal here is to fight these camps, to stop them, to free their inmates and return them to their families - if the fight comes down to semantics, then ask that person what term they would prefer, and then use that term while still showing why the camps - whatever you call them - need to be abolished.

Because some people are fighting on semantics because they don't have a moral leg to stand on, and if switching terms makes that argument go away, then you've already shifted the argument in your favor because the camps are completely indefensible on their own terms. And some people are fighting on semantics because they are genuinely scared that this is one more step in systemically erasing the Holocaust (and paving the way for a next one) - and for those people, I really believe that reaching a common place of understanding can actually help create allies to fight these camps. Because if you acknowledge the differences, it will become far easier to talk about the dangerous similarities.
posted by Mchelly at 10:52 PM on July 3, 2019 [7 favorites]

Thank you, Mchelly. That makes sense.

Okay, so I am going to try to stop posting this stuff because it is just preaching to the choir but I saw this and it's just one more example of I can't fucking even ... Drawings by migrant children in detention show them in cages from NBC News. CW: The illustration is what it says on the tin, a heartbreaking child's drawing showing people in a cage. Of course it does. From the article:

Migrant children should not be held in detention centers, the incoming president of the American Academy of Pediatrics said Wednesday after touring Customs and Border Protection facilities last week.

“Children do not belong in Customs and Border Protection facilities, or in any detention facilities,” Dr. Sara Goza told NBC News. “No amount of time spent in these facilities is safe for children.”

“More children will continue to die if we do not make sure that every child who passes through federal custody is seen by a pediatric-trained medical professional,” she said. “I personally toured two CBP facilities and did not encounter a single pediatrician at either one.”

On this Independence Day, let each American MeFite, in our own way, work to free children from cages. Many thanks to any and all who have been doing that work or plan to begin that work. You can start anytime on any day, including today. If you are not sure how to start, just ask.
posted by Bella Donna at 4:49 AM on July 4, 2019 [7 favorites]

Clarification: I am not an expert on how to fight the concentration camps. But I am working to understand more and I am happy to share what I find out.
posted by Bella Donna at 4:50 AM on July 4, 2019 [1 favorite]

That was an amazing sentiment, and thank you for articulating it so well.
posted by mikelieman at 6:11 AM on July 4, 2019 [1 favorite]

General strike, people. We need to start organizing a general strike.
posted by ocschwar at 2:22 PM on July 4, 2019 [1 favorite]

And some people are fighting on semantics because they are genuinely scared that this is one more step in systemically erasing the Holocaust (and paving the way for a next one) [...]

I know people who believe this. I think they're mistaken, and the argument ultimately comes from people pushing a bad agenda, but it's what they believe. It's not an unreasonable belief, either. It's what actually happened to the word "ghetto", which only took a couple of decades to move from a technical term about restrictions imposed on Jews to, e.g., terms like "ghetto blaster".
posted by Joe in Australia at 8:06 PM on July 4, 2019

Well, that happened because the term was usefully applied to the way American Blacks were redlined into degraded communities, and then the term was appropriated by racists.

Ghettoization may have started specifically with the Jews, but it was a useful structure to discuss the way, through force of law, official policy, and unofficial patterns of behavior, American Blacks were forced into ethnic enclaves in the US.

We do get to have shtetl, though, which was actually almost never an exclusively Jewish village (most actually has a gentile majority), but has become exclusively Jewish since.
posted by maxsparber at 7:22 AM on July 5, 2019 [1 favorite]

Doesn't shtetl basically mean shack, and only village by way of contextual synecdoche? It doesn't carry the same locked-in connotation either.

I find the semantic drift of "ghetto" pretty fascinating as a Jewish person, and I think if anything its enlarged usage gives the historical Jewish experience a potential wider relevance to ghettoized people anywhere, whether by economics or force or both.

I don't feel like it detracts from Jewish history, and it seems like genuine linguistic evolution not some kind of direct appropriation.
posted by snuffleupagus at 8:17 AM on July 5, 2019 [5 favorites]

As I recall, shtot means city, so shtetl just means small city, or town, in the way hunt means dog and hintl means puppy or bobbe means grandmother and bubbuleh means literally anything.
posted by maxsparber at 3:34 PM on July 5, 2019 [4 favorites]

Ghettoization may have started specifically with the Jews, but it was a useful structure to discuss the way, through force of law, official policy, and unofficial patterns of behavior, American Blacks were forced into ethnic enclaves in the US.

I don't dispute that. In fact the term "ghetto" itself is a generalisation of a once-particular term to include, e.g., the Frankfurter Judengasse. It's a valuable concept, perhaps particularly valuable when the ghetto's existence is defined by prejudice and poverty rather than walls. But that expansion hasn't come without a cost: many people have a distorted notion of historical prejudice because they don't immediately recognise the term's connection with the Jewish experience. That is, ghettoised Jews weren't living in "the bad part of town": they weren't allowed to live anywhere else; the ruler might expel them at any time; and other Jews (or even the children of existing Jewish families) didn't have an automatic right to live there.

As a matter of public policy, we should strive to retain these meanings in current usage. I mean, the USA needs foreign workers and it doesn't want to give them citizenship. Some of those workers are presently tied to a particular employer, but what could be easier than tying them to a particular neighbourhood instead? That restriction would stop them going underground amongst the general population, but it would give employers more options and give the migrant workers the freedom to change jobs as necessary. Well, we used to have a term for places like that ...
posted by Joe in Australia at 8:04 PM on July 6, 2019 [1 favorite]

I am posting this both here and in the political megathread for folks outside of the United States who want to join the Lights for Liberty vigils and protests against the concentration camps this Friday, July 12th. Democrats Abroad is helping organise support for the July 12th action globally. In Stockholm, for example, there's a vigil scheduled for 16:30 on Friday at Raoul Wallenbergs torg. Folks are also encouraged to join the Virtual Virgil if they cannot attend an action in person and/or take other actions. Democrats Abroad have also compiled a list of Immigration Talking Points as well. It is not officially affiliated with Lights for Liberty but notes:

As American citizens, we are horrified at the atrocities being carried out at the US Southern Border in our name. Millions of Americans live overseas and have been welcomed in the countries where we live today.

As Americans abroad, we understand what it’s like to live between cultures and countries. And a great many of us live in countries that continue to wrestle with immigration issues of their own. But nowhere in the world is it acceptable to be separating or incarcerating families - indefinitely, at that. Our members, like Americans across the U.S. and our friends around the world, will not stand for this treatment. We’re speaking out because it’s right. Because we must.

posted by Bella Donna at 7:50 AM on July 7, 2019 [1 favorite]

Hungry, Scared and Sick: Inside the Migrant Detention Center in Clint, Tex. (NYT)
[...] inside the secretive site that is now on the front lines of the southwest border crisis, the men and women who work there were grappling with the stuff of nightmares.

Outbreaks of scabies, shingles and chickenpox were spreading among the hundreds of children who were being held in cramped cells, agents said. The stench of the children’s dirty clothing was so strong it spread to the agents’ own clothing — people in town would scrunch their noses when they left work. The children cried constantly. One girl seemed likely enough to try to kill herself that the agents made her sleep on a cot in front of them, so they could watch her as they were processing new arrivals.

“It gets to a point where you start to become a robot,” said a veteran Border Patrol agent who has worked at the Clint station since it was built. He described following orders to take beds away from children to make more space in holding cells, part of a daily routine that he said had become “heartbreaking.”

[...] a review of the operations of the Clint station, near El Paso’s eastern edge, shows that the agency’s leadership knew for months that some children had no beds to sleep on, no way to clean themselves and sometimes went hungry. Its own agents had raised the alarm, and found themselves having to accommodate even more new arrivals.

The accounts of what happened at Clint and at nearby border facilities are based on dozens of interviews by The New York Times and The El Paso Times of current and former Border Patrol agents and supervisors; lawyers, lawmakers and aides who visited the facility; and an immigrant father whose children were held there. The review also included sworn statements from those who spent time at El Paso border facilities, inspection reports and accounts from neighbors in Clint. [...]

Mary E. González, a Democratic state lawmaker who toured the Clint station last week, said that Border Patrol agents told her they had repeatedly warned their superiors about the overcrowded facility, but that federal officials had taken no action. “They said, ‘We were ringing the alarms, we were ringing the alarms, and nobody was listening to us’ — agents told me that,” Ms. González said. “I genuinely believe that the higher-ups made the Clint situation happen.”
posted by Little Dawn at 9:09 AM on July 7, 2019 [4 favorites]

My gradfather was arrested and taken to Dachau after Kristallnacht. This is much on my mind both because of the relevance to American current events and because in less than a week I'll be visiting Munich (and going to Dachau). He was there for six months prior to being deported and relocating, with sponsorship, to America. His story is a not-atypical narrative of Central European Jewry, but it's somewhat overshadowed, I think, by a different genus of survival story, set in Auschwitz and ending with the liberation of the camps (e.g. Maus, Night, Sorstalanság). It's easy to forget that for many of the camps' prisoners, the risks of death were mostly from overcrowding, squalor, deprivation, and exhaustion rather than an active extermination process, and that for the earliest prisoners, there was even a viable means of eventual release (through deportation). Remember that and what America is doing now doesn't look that different.
posted by jackbishop at 1:52 PM on July 7, 2019 [15 favorites]

Immigration Officials Use Secretive Gang Databases to Deny Migrant Asylum Claims - "The information in the databases comes from foreign police and militaries, and it is being used to detain migrants and separate them from their children. Legal experts and human rights advocates say they were not told about the databases and question their reliability."
posted by the man of twists and turns at 12:39 PM on July 8, 2019 [4 favorites]

Adam Serwer (@AdamSerwer): A Crime by Any Name - The Trump administration’s commitment to deterring immigration through cruelty has made horrifying conditions in detention facilities inevitable.
The reaction to Ocasio-Cortez is unsurprising. Whatever the merits of her criticism, when those in power are caught abusing that power in ways that are morally indefensible and politically unpopular, they will always seek to turn an argument about oppression into a dispute about manners. The conversation then shifts from the responsibility of the state for the human lives it is destroying to whether those who object to that destruction have exhibited proper etiquette. If congressional Republicans—or, for that matter, their constituents—had expressed a fraction as much outrage over the treatment of migrant children in American detention facilities as they did in response to Ocasio-Cortez’s remarks, she would never have had cause to make them in the first place.


Yet as horrifying as the conditions in these facilities are, this is not the Shoah, when the bureaucracy and industrial capacity of a modern state were marshaled to wipe the Jewish people from the Earth forever, and those who equate the two are mistaken. The Trump administration wants to preserve the political and cultural hegemony of white Americans, and by extension the Republican Party, over the United States, and is willing to break the law to do so. But the crime being committed is not genocide. America, though, has its own history with concentration camps, going back long before Hitler rose to power. And the malice, indifference, and deadly incompetence with which these facilities are run echoes that history.

In 1901, Colonel Jacob H. Smith was court-martialed for his use of “reconcentration,” among other brutal tactics, during the American occupation of the Philippines in 1901. The Supreme Court infamously upheld the internment of Japanese civilians during World War II, including at a site that the government now wants to use to detain migrant children. The precursor to what Americans are seeing at the border is not Auschwitz, but Fort Sill, Batangas, and Andersonville.

The fact that the facilities at the border are not death camps means that they have cleared the lowest conceivable bar. Both the mistreatment of migrants in these facilities, and the harsh measures taken in the name of deterrence, predate the Trump administration. Yet the same immigrant advocates who protested Obama’s record deportations over the course of eight years have warned that Trump’s approach represents a steep escalation in cruelty.


The argument over whether or not these facilities amount to concentration camps is almost beside the point. The semantic dispute obscures the true conflict, over whether the Trump administration’s treatment of migrants amounts to a historic crime, whether future generations will wonder how those involved could possibly have gone along with it, whether there will one day be memorials erected to commemorate it, whether historians write solemn books about it, whether those looking back will vow never to repeat it.

These facilities are just such a crime, by whatever name you choose to call them.

"The Judge Advocate General, Joseph Holt, strongly believed that 'cruelty was the point' at Andersonville. That was an interesting comparison."

Longer extract.
posted by homunculus at 8:30 PM on July 8, 2019 [2 favorites]

.mp3 link to the “A History of Concentration Camps with Andrea Pitzer” episode of the Why Is This Happening? podcast mentioned by Bora Horza Gobuchul.
posted by XMLicious at 9:59 PM on July 11, 2019

There Are Two Types of Detention Facilities at the Border, “Iceboxes” and “Dog Pounds”
We have been very focused on a few facilities, like Clint, where inspectors have begun to report on horrific conditions. But you have been to a lot of places that aren’t getting attention. What are you seeing that has been underreported in the media?

The impact that long-term detention and a constant state of confusion and mistreatment is having on a large number of adolescent children who will likely remain in our country following this long period of trauma. The continuing separation of families. The complete and utter lack of mental health support within the facilities, even though the government is also required to provide qualified psych services pursuant to the terms of the Flores agreement. Also, the way that people are living at the border can’t be amplified enough. It’s unsafe.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 8:40 AM on July 12, 2019 [4 favorites]

Mairav Zonszein: Why Jews Are Getting Themselves Arrested at ICE Centers Around the Country
Jewish outrage has been steadily growing since Trump took office in 2017. Jews have watched as Trump called Mexican immigrants “rapists,” described African and Caribbean nations as “shithole” countries, said there were “very fine people on both sides” after neo-Nazis marched in Charlottesville chanting “Jews will not replace us,” and directly targeted Muslims and refugees with hostile rhetoric. They’ve worried over the staggering rise of white nationalist speech and explicitly anti-Semitic hate crimes. And they’ve shown up to protests: at airports in the early aftermath of Trump’s Muslim Ban, at the national mall during the Women’s March, and in Pittsburgh, after the massacre of 11 Jews in in the Tree of Life Synagogue in October.

But all of this seems to have crystallized into this current moment, provoking wide swaths of mostly young Jews to not just join actions but also lead them.

“We are seeing an overlap of anti-immigrant and anti-Semitic rhetoric,” said Ellman-Golan, one of the organizers. “We have seen how the [George] Soros conspiracy theory targeting thousands of immigrants has led to Jews being murdered. There is deep outrage.”

Nearly every day, people are turning out to protest in their cities, big and small, with actions planned this weekend in Michigan and New Hampshire. Organizers are planning a large action in D.C. on Tuesday, July 16.

The pressing questions now are: Where are these protests headed and will they create broader action outside left-leaning Jewish circles? Thus far, aside from J Street, most major American Jewish organizations that normally influence Washington’s position on these issues have been noticeably quiet. While resolutely condemning conditions at the border and calling for an end to detention of asylum-seekers, immigration is not a core issue for them, and they do not appear to be taking institutional action. (The AJC did not respond to multiple requests for comment. The ADL, meanwhile, said that they “don’t have much to say about these actions.”)

Rubin, from Never Again Action, said the Jewish mainstream condemned Ocasio-Cortez’s comments almost more forcefully than the detention centers themselves.

“If they truly felt these camps are concentration camps, they might put a little more institutional force behind pressuring Congress to do something more drastic,” she said.

Their inaction, however, has opened the door for other parts of the Jewish community to take the lead.

“I think they’ve ceded the mic to us,” she added.
posted by zombieflanders at 2:29 PM on July 12, 2019 [4 favorites]

But the crime being committed is not genocide

Yet. It wasn’t genocide in Germany either, until it was.
posted by maxsparber at 3:11 PM on July 12, 2019 [5 favorites]

The Child-Mothers Of America's Concentration Camps - "“Child-mothers” doesn’t mean mothers of children. It means mothers who are children. And they’re locked up in the child detention camps, too. Many of them are survivors of sexual abuse, many have already undergone some kind of horror on their journey, and the conditions in the camp now put them and their babies at risk."

Let The Doctors In - "I was one of the lawyers who visited the Clint detention facility. I want to know why the government won’t let independent physicians assess the sickest children."
posted by the man of twists and turns at 11:30 PM on July 13, 2019 [4 favorites]

Referencing the Holocaust, Lawyers, Guns and Money, Paul Campos
posted by the man of twists and turns at 12:07 PM on July 14, 2019 [1 favorite]

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