Separating Families, Invoking the Holocaust

The Trump administration’s inhumane policy of separating children from their parents seeking asylum in the United States by illegally crossing the border has ignited outrage and scorn across the country. Across the world. That outrage, all things considered, is good. Because separating up families, and holding kids in cages while they sleep on the cold concrete floor, all things considered, is bad. Quite bad. According to the  Associated Press, nearly 2,000 kids “have been separated from their families at the U.S. border over a six-week period.” Disgusting.

I won’t spend anymore time trying to extrapolate just why this policy of family separations is morally repugnant. It just is. Like, come on, it’s obviously disgusting.

Some people, in trying to understand this abhorrent policy are making parallels. Making comparisons and parallels and analogies is human, as it simplifies and clarifies what exactly is happening. It gives context. But the parallels being drawn for this inhumane policy has been mostly to the Holocaust. The Holocaust, need it be reminded, was when millions and millions of people, namely Jews, died at the hands of the Nazis over a sustained period of time. The Nazis, and by default, many complicit Germans, maintained a structured and systematic killing and plundering of a people, with petrifying and barbaric efficiency.

People of all different backgrounds are comparing Trump’s inhumane policy to that of the Holocaust. There is former CIA Director Michael Hayden, blithely saying that  “other governments have separated mothers and children,” next to a photo of Auschwitz. There is Sen. Dianne Feinstein, one of the first Female Jewish Senators in the US, who told Chris Hayes that “this is the United States of America; it’s not Nazi Germany. We don’t take children from their parents.” Then there is this viral tweet that says “remember the piles of wedding rings taken from Holocaust victims,” with an accompanying picture of rosaries confiscated at the Arizona and Mexico border. The images painted in these comparisons are stark. Auschwitz. Nazis, with blood in their eyes, treating Jews as subhuman, separating those poor parents from their weeping children.

But the comparisons of Nazi death and concentration camps to Trump’s inhumane policy of inflicting irreparable pain on children and their families are less clear. Yes, this policy and these camps filled of innocent kids seem similar to concentration camps as they have historically been thought of as, for forcible relocation and imprisonment. Yes, there is a certain level of dehumanization and isolation at these camps. It seems as though, with these camps that resulted from this inhumane policy, the US is, undeniably, headed towards a path of greater vulgarity and intolerance towards those that are most desperate for an opportunity to achieve the American dream. Just look at the way President Trump speaks about immigrants. In an unhinged tweetstorm, referring to immigrants, typically thought of as the backbone to America, as infesting the US. That word infest, typically meant to talk about cockroaches in your attic, dehumanizes people. Infest makes it easier to carry out and follow through with brutal and ever-more morally dubious policies.

But, we are nowhere close to this episode in American history being parallel to the Holocaust.  Why is the scale so small? Where are the laws that have institutionalized gross racial theories? Where are the laws that are excluding peoples of Central and South American ancestry from American citizenship and prohibiting them from marrying or having sexual relations with persons of “American or related blood”? Where are the truly awful subhuman conditions? Where are the deaths?  To broadly paint what is happening now to that of the Holocaust is not only historically inaccurate, but diminishes and bastardizes the traumas of the Holocaust and actually gives the Trump administration and its vacuous supporters more room to argue that what is happening is OK.

When people try to compare what is currently happening to the Holocaust, I get angry and disappointed. I get offended. Not nearly as offended and angry as when I first heard that the US, my country, is separating children from their parents in order to keep immigrants and asylum seekers, future Americans, away. But nonetheless, seeing this being compared to the Holocaust is appalling.

Every Jew, no matter their family history, has to grow up with the fact that 6 million people died just beauce they happened to also be Jewish. Every Jew has to reconcile the fact that not only did people hate us, but they wanted to see us exterminated (because we were infesting the German nation, so the Nazis claimed), and when we were being exterminated, the world, by and large, did not lift a finger. Not even America. The traumas of the Holocaust have been passed down to me, through first hand accounts (the pains, the smells, the screams), through movies, through books, and through pictures. To be a Jew, especially in the Diaspora, is to become well versed (some would say too much) in the atrocities of the Holocaust. It is to know the details of Auschwitz, of Dachau, of Bergen-Belsen, of Chelmno, of Majdanek, of Sobibor, of Treblinka. To be a Jew, is to live with the pain and trauma of the Holocaust.

To see people use the Holocaust and everything associated with it be thrown around when trying to make sense of this inhumane policy is disheartening, to say the least. It is, in my mind, a clear exploitation of the genocide of my people’s trauma.

And not only is it a clear exploitation of the genocide of a people’s trauma, it undercuts the argument that Trump’s inhumane policy, is well, inhumane. We shouldn’t have to refer to the trauma of the Holocaust – the deadliest genocide in modern history –  in order to point out that splitting up families and holding children in internment camps and cages is wrong. That’s just intellectually lazy. As bestselling author Ijeoma Oluo notes, “if we can voice our outrage at what the Trump administration is doing and demand action without exploiting the trauma of others, we should.” Not only that, but invoking the Holocaust into this ‘debate’ gives the Trump administration and its disingenuous and angry supporters more room to argue. To invoke the Holocaust is to turn the debate away from “is separating kids from their parents and putting the kids in internment camps good?” to an obtuse argument over whether the invocation of the Holocaust is historically accurate. Just look at this wild outburst from Attorney General Jefferson Beauregard Sessions. This policy is despicable regardless, so bringing up that it might be similar to the Holocaust is superfluous. By invoking the Holocaust into this ‘debate’, the conversation is shifted away from the central question of “is separating children from their parents and putting them in cages a thing that the United States should be doing?”

As the Orthodox Union wrote in condemning this policy, “As Jews, we understand the plight of being an immigrant fleeing violence and oppression. We believe that the United States is a nation of immigrants and how we treat the stranger reflects on the moral values and ideals of this nation.”

But, if we must talk about the Holocaust, then lets remember to always feel empowered to speak out against clearly despicable policies. To never forget, to never remain silent, and to know that your voice matters.

About the Author
Brett L. Kleiman is currently a student at Emory University in Atlanta, GA, where he studies political science and international relations. He is a research intern at the Institute for the Study of Modern Israel and is also the president of the Emory Democrats. Born and raised in Houston, Texas, Brett attended The Robert M Beren Academy for 12 years. From September 2015 to June 2016 Brett lived in Israel through Young Judaea's gap year program, Year Course. Brett is interested in Israel, America, diplomacy, podcasts, Game of Thrones, The Wire, politics, reading, sports, and peace.
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