Almost 150 historians who specialize in genocide are asking the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum to retract its statement condemning the use of Holocaust analogies when describing inhumane conditions in migrant detention centers.
The scholars penned an open letter on Monday acknowledging support for the museum in Washington, D.C., but also expressing concern regarding its June 24 statement.
“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,” read the letter, published in the New York Review of Books.
“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 letter stated.
The clash came after Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) spoke out last month saying the Trump administration has established “concentration camps” along the U.S.-Mexico border where migrant families and children are “brutalized with dehumanizing conditions and dying.” She also used the phrase “Never Again,” a slogan associated with the Holocaust and other historical instances of widespread human rights violations.
Republicans like Rep. Liz Cheney (Wy.) attacked Ocasio-Cortez’s comparison and the Esquire article she shared that cited concentration camp expert Andrea Pitzer. Pitzer has emphasized that concentration camps ― sites for “the mass detention of civilians without trial” ― are very much in place at the border.
While people often equate concentration camps with Nazi death camps, the definition is broader than that, the Esquire article points out. Historical organizations like Densho note that the term “concentration camp” can be a euphemism when a term like “death camp” more truthfully describes a place where people were rounded up and systematically murdered. “Not every concentration camp is a death camp,” the Esquire article states.
Reports have long detailed the horrific conditions that migrants, especially children, are experiencing in Customs and Border Protection facilities at the U.S.-Mexico border. After more than a dozen House Democrats, including Ocasio-Cortez, visited detention facilities in El Paso, Texas, on Monday, they said detained women there were called derogatory names and told to drink water from a toilet. According to CBP, detained migrants drink from a sink attached to the toilet.
In May, a Homeland Security watchdog found that detained migrants have been kept in unsanitary and overcrowded conditions in which some people have to stand on toilets to be able to breathe. A group of lawyers recently filed a lawsuit against the Trump administration after interviewing minors at the facilities who described being hungry, cold, sick, sleep-deprived and lacking basic hygiene.
Last month, four toddlers were so sick and neglected at a facility in McAllen, Texas, that lawyers had to force the government to hospitalize them last week. Five migrant children have died in Border Patrol custody since December, and a sixth was recently discovered to have died in September.
On Sunday, dozens of Jewish protesters were arrested after blocking an Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention center in New Jersey. The protesters are part of the Jewish organization NeverAgain Action.
“As Jews, we’ve been taught to never let anything like the Holocaust happen again,” the group wrote on its Facebook page. “Now, with children detained in unacceptable conditions, ICE raids targeting our communities, and people dying at the border while seeking safety in the U.S., we are seeing the signs of a mass atrocity. We refuse to wait and see what happens next.”
The group of historians on Monday urged the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum’s director, Sara J. Bloomfield, to reverse the museum’s position based on careful historical analysis.
“The very core of Holocaust education is to alert the public to dangerous developments that facilitate human rights violations and pain and suffering,” the letter read. “Pointing to similarities across time and space is essential for this task.”