What is the Difference Between a Migrant Detention Center and a Nazi Concentration Camp?

Concentration Camp

Detention Center

I was reading a rather light book, American Ghost, by Hannah Nordhaus, enjoying her explorations into her family’s history as she tried to find out more about an ancestor, Julia, who was supposed to be haunting the building that had been her home and was now a  hotel.

As she delved further into Julia’s German Jewish family, some of whom had immigrated to New Mexico and some who stayed in Germany, she came upon Julia’s youngest sister, Emelie, who lived in Germany, and who was sent to a concentration camp at the age of 80+. The Nazis called the camp a “Jewish retirement ghetto,” a “holiday camp”.  Suddenly I had a much harder time reading the book as I saw the parallels for our time.

I quote: “… the town’s stern grid [the town became the camp, fenced in and guarded by soldiers], designed to house 5,000 people, held 50,000 instead.”

A month later it was 60,000.

“There was nowhere to put them.  They slept wherever they could find a spot …  Emelie could have expected to occupy about five feet of floor space… There was a desperate shortage of water, of sinks, of toilets… They were allowed to wash three kilograms of laundry every six weeks… they were covered in bites: bedbugs, fleas, lice… They were starving…” (p. 237)

When I read this I had just finished reading the New York Times exposée of the Clint detention center in Texas, “Hungry, Scared and Sick: Inside the Migrant Detention Center in Clint, Texas.” https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2019/07/06/us/migrants-border-patrol-clint.html

Some quotes from that article:

“Outbreaks of scabies, shingles and chickenpox were spreading among the hundreds of children and adults who were being held in cramped cells, agents said. The stench of the children’s dirty clothing was so strong it spread to the agents’ own clothing — people in town would scrunch their noses when they left work. The children cried constantly. …

…some children had no beds to sleep on, no way to clean themselves and sometimes went hungry. …

…The station was never intended to hold more than about a hundred adult men, and it was designed with the idea that migrants would be detained for only a few hours of processing before being transferred to other locations …

…The number of children in the site is thought to have peaked at more than 700 around April and May, and stood at nearly 250 two weeks ago …

…One day this month, about 20 girls were crowded into one cell, so packed that some were sprawled on the floor. Toddlers could be seen in some cells, cared for by older children…”

 And for those who think this is an exaggerated account:

“The accounts of what happened at Clint and at nearby border facilities are based on dozens of interviews by The New York Times and The El Paso Times of current and former Border Patrol agents and supervisors; lawyers, lawmakers and aides who visited the facility; and an immigrant father whose children were held there. The review also included sworn statements from those who spent time at El Paso border facilities, inspection reports and accounts from neighbors in Clint …”

 The parallels between the concentration camps of Nazi Germany and the migrant detention centers here in the U.S. are too obvious to ignore.  Will the future see you as one of those who turned their eyes away and pretended it wasn’t happening, as many did in Germany, or will you be one of the heroes who brings this to an end?


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