Hundreds of Scholars Criticize D.C. Holocaust Museum's Stance on Concentration Camps Comparison

The Holocaust museum's position that nothing can be compared to the Holocaust, including Trump's border facilities to concentration camps, 'makes learning from the past almost impossible,' open letter says

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Rally against a Trump administration plan to use an Oklahoma army base as a detention center for immigrant children and other Customs Enforcement detainees outside the Japanese American National Museum, in California, June 9, 2019
Rally against a Trump administration plan to use an Oklahoma army base as a detention center for immigrant children and other detainees, June 9, 2019.Credit: AFP

Some 375 Holocaust scholars and other adademics from around the world urged the Holocaust museum in Washington D.C. on Tuesday to reverse its position condemning comparisons between concentration camps and the detention camps established by the U.S. government on the Mexican border.

In an open letter addressed to Sara J. Bloomfield, the director of the museum, the scholars say that "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."

Last week, the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum published a statement saying the institution "Unequivocally rejects efforts to create analogies between the Holocaust and other events, whether historical or contemporary," and that "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."

>> Read more: Trump is still setting up concentration camps on American soil | Opinion ■ Why we must keep looking at politics through the lens of the Holocaust | Opinion

The decision, the letter says, "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's signatories span the humanities and social sciences, many of whom study and publish on the Holocaust and genocide.

The museum "is taking a radical position that is far removed from mainstream scholarship on the Holocaust and genocide," the letter states, "and it makes learning from the past almost impossible." The true purpose of Holocaust education, the author and signatories argue, "is to alert the public to dangerous developments that facilitate human rights violations and pain and suffering," as identifying similar events is a fundamental part of this effort.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez after touring the Clint, TX Border Patrol Facility housing children on July 1, 2019.Credit: AFP

The museum's statement came in the wake of Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez's statements that the U.S. was "running concentration camps" on the Mexico border.

“If that doesn’t bother you… I want to talk to the people that are concerned enough with humanity to say that ‘Never again’ means something," she said on Instagram.

The statements proved controversial, with politicians and some Jewish groups decrying her for the comparison. Ocasio-Cortez doubled down, tweeting, “This administration has established concentration camps on the southern border of the United States for immigrants, where they are being brutalized with dehumanizing conditions and dying,” along with an article on the subject. “This is not hyperbole. It is the conclusion of expert analysis.”

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