US Holocaust Museum Speaks Out Against ‘Concentration Camp’ Comparisons

June 24, 2019 Updated: June 25, 2019

The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum has condemned the act of comparing the Holocaust to other events after recent comments made by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) comparing the Holocaust to the current situation at the U.S. southern border sparked public outcry.

Ocasio-Cortez received widespread condemnation last week after she made the comment comparing U.S. border facilities to “concentration camps” in an Instagram video. She quoted the phrase “Never again” while referencing America’s detention facilities for illegal aliens; the term is synonymous with crimes committed by Adolf Hitler’s Nazi Germany during World War II. Her comments sparked a debate as to whether the immigration facilities are in fact “concentration camps,” with academics and media personalities openly arguing their understanding of the term.

In the wake of her comments, the museum released a statement on June 24 denouncing the practice of “efforts to create analogies between the Holocaust and other events,” without directly referring to the freshman congresswoman:

The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum unequivocally rejects efforts to create analogies between the Holocaust and other events, whether historical or contemporary. That position has repeatedly and unambiguously been made clear in the Museum’s official statement on the matter–a statement that is reiterated and reaffirmed now. The link to the Museum’s statement is here.

The Museum further reiterates that a statement ascribed to a Museum staff historian regarding recent attempts to analogize the situation on the United States southern border to concentration camps in Europe during the 1930s and 1940s does not reflect the position of the Museum.

The Museum deeply regrets any offense to Holocaust survivors and others that may have been engendered by any statement ascribed to a Museum historian in a personal capacity.

The statement was likely referencing an article on World Israel News, which claimed that a historian at the museum, Dr. Becky Erbelding, appeared to have backed Ocasio-Cortez’s definition of the term “concentration camps.” The article referenced a re-post on the historian’s personal Twitter account of the freshman congresswoman’s definition of concentration camps with the comment “A Geppetto checkmark” on June 18.

It also noted that back in January 2018, the historian had reacted to a Frontline article titled “For Refugees in the Trump Era, a Tougher Path to the U.S..” saying “The parallels to the 1930s-1940s refugee crisis are so obvious. Why can’t we learn?”

Erbelding issued a statement on her personal website following the article where she called Holocaust analogies “lazy, distracting, insensitive, and incorrect.”

Andrew Hollinger, the museum’s communications director, told World Israel News in a brief statement, saying, “The content you are referencing comes from Dr. Erbelding’s personal Twitter account. No content on that account reflects Museum policy.”

The museum in the June 24 statement reiterated that its position regarding the issue was previously stated in a 2018 statement.

“Careless Holocaust analogies may demonize, demean, and intimidate their targets. But there is a cost for all of us because they distract from the real issues challenging our society, because they shut down productive, thoughtful discourse. At a time when our country needs dialogue more than ever, it is especially dangerous to exploit the memory of the Holocaust as a rhetorical cudgel. We owe the survivors more than that. And we owe ourselves more than that,” the statement said in part.

Ocasio-Cortez’s Controversial Remarks

During an Instagram live video on June 17, the self-described Democratic socialist used the term linked to the Nazi camps holding Jews during World War II to describe the holding facilities at the southern border. She also made a direct comparison to the Holocaust, in which six million Jews were killed by the Nazis.

“The United States is running concentration camps on our southern border and that is exactly what they are,” Ocasio-Cortez said. “They are concentration camps. And, um, if that doesn’t bother you, I don’t, I don’t know, I like, we can have, okay whatever.”

“I want to talk to the people that are concerned enough with humanity to say that we should not… that ‘Never Again’ means something and that 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,” she continued.

Her comments attracted criticism from media personalitiespoliticians, and more recently, the head of Border Patrol, Carla Provost.

“I personally find them offensive,” Provost said during a House Homeland Security Committee hearing on June 20. “I’m calling agents who are bringing toys in for children and buying them with their personal money. Agents are bringing in clothes, they’re feeding babies, they’re going above and beyond, day in and day out, to try to care for these individuals.”

Despite the criticism, Ocasio-Cortez has refused to apologize, instead doubling down on her comments and hitting back at her critics.

Similarly, the Yad Vashem museum in Israel also reacted to the congresswoman’s remarks, suggesting that she needed to learn more about the tragedy.

“[AOC] 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,” they wrote in a tweet.

Update: Article updated to include Dr. Becky Erbelding’s most recent statement.

Follow Janita on Twitter: @janitakan
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