More than 140 historians across the U.S. and in several countries around the world just co-signed a letter to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM), asking it to retract a previous statement denouncing Holocaust analogies.
On June 24, the USHMM issued a statement denouncing Holocaust comparisons in the midst of the national conversation that came about from Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez calling immigrant detention centers along the southern border “concentration camps.”
“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 museum stated. “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.”
In the letter, which was published Monday in the New York Review of Books, historians who specialize in the study of the Holocaust and other genocide campaigns throughout history wrote that it is not only correct to use Holocaust analogies when appropriate, but necessary to prevent future genocide.
“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,” the historians wrote. “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,” the letter added.
Conditions immigrants are facing in the Trump administration’s detention camps were roundly criticized by members of Congress after visiting several facilities on Monday. Members of Congress described situations in which migrants were kept in severely overcrowded cells, and deprived of basic needs like water and medical care. One migrant detainee told Rep. Judy Chu (D-California) that when she asked for water, a guard told her to just “drink from the toilet.”
The Oxford English Dictionary describes a concentration camp as “a place in which large numbers of people, especially political prisoners or members of persecuted minorities, are deliberately imprisoned in a relatively small area with inadequate facilities.”
Signatories on the letter include historians from the U.S., as well as from Canada, the United Kingdom, France, Australia, Germany, Norway, the Czech Republic, Belgium, Switzerland, and Israel. The historians listed include professors specializing in Jewish studies, the Holocaust, and genocide, and come from prestigious colleges like New York University, Yale, and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
Carl Gibson is a politics contributor for Grit Post. His work has previously been published in The Guardian, The Washington Post, The Houston Chronicle, Al-Jazeera America, and NPR, among others. Follow him on Twitter @crgibs or send him an email at carl at gritpost dot com.