Don’t Trivialize The Holocaust

Some Vanderbilt students are planning an immigration protest with Never Again Action. However, it is deeply disrespectful to compare U.S. immigration policy to the Nazi genocide.

Vanderbilt University. (Photo courtesy Claire Barnett)

Vanderbilt University. (Photo courtesy Claire Barnett)

Jared Bauman, Guest Writer

I’ve recently heard, through a combination of individual students, Instagram stories and GroupMe messages, that several Vanderbilt students are working alongside a group called Never Again Action to organize an anti-U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) protest in a few weeks.

On a normal day, I’d applaud my fellow students for using their free time to rally around an issue about which they feel passionate, even if I don’t particularly agree with them. I happen to support immigration enforcement for security, economic and ethical reasons, but I digress – open political dialogue remains a crucial component of our democracy even if I think open borders should not.

However, these are not normal days, and I feel the need to speak out against this event. The premise of this protest is crude and offensive, and I cannot sit idly by while this event permeates throughout my newsfeed and my community.

Allow me to explain.

My primary issue with this protest – and with Never Again Action as a whole – is its callous and irresponsible deployment of Holocaust remembrance rhetoric to advance political goals. In particular, the protest’s official Facebook event equates the #abolishICE movement with a fight against “fascism” and another Holocaust. More notably, Never Again Action’s national website states, “What the U.S. government is doing at the border and in immigrant communities all around the country is nothing short of a mass atrocity… As Jews, we were taught to never let anything like the Holocaust happen again… Never again is now.”

Herein lies the issue: it is deeply problematic to compare the immigration policies of presidents Donald Trump and Barack Obama (yes, the Obama administration also utilized ICE and detention camps to enforce immigration law) to the genocidal policies of someone as evil as Adolf Hitler. Bernie Faber, a progressive Canadian human rights advocate, put it best in a 2012 blog post about comparing current events to the Nazi genocide: “There can be no comparison… The attempt to annihilate an entire people is beyond such facile analogies and any attempt to do so sadly trivializes the act of genocide.”

Of course, there are valid discussions to be had about immigration policy. There have indeed been troubling reports of poor conditions in some detention centers, and I understand arguments both in favor of and against deporting illegal immigrants from the United States. However, to resort to Holocaust analogies in order to debate a nuanced issue diminishes both the quality of our current discourse and the memory of the millions who were dehumanized, abused and murdered.

Not only are these analogies disrespectful – they are also woefully inaccurate. Even some of the most progressive voices in the country agree that Holocaust comparisons are extreme. More importantly, many of the most prominent institutions for Holocaust commemoration, research and anti-Semitism awareness – including the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., Yad Vashem in Jerusalem and The Simon Wiesenthal Center for human rights in Los Angeles – have gone on the record to speak out against such rhetoric.

It is also important to note that this rhetoric can have dangerous consequences. Although media coverage was sparse, just last month a member of the extremist left-wing group “Antifa”  attempted to murder ICE agents in Tacoma, Washington because he was convinced it was his duty to stop another Holocaust. He thought he was an anti-Nazi freedom fighter – precisely the image that Never Again Action paints with its fearmongering. 

Initially, I was tempted to start this piece with something along the lines of, “As a Jewish person with family members who both perished in and survived the Holocaust, I feel…” However, I decided against that, for one simple reason: this is not an issue of feeling. Rather, it is an issue of fact.

Simply put, there is no U.S. government plan to exterminate millions of human beings. Full stop. Our detention centers, as imperfect as they may be, are not concentration camps, where Jews, other minorities and dissidents were kept as slaves and starved to death. Full stop. And although our president’s rhetoric surrounding the immigration issue may sound uncomfortable at times, it is nowhere near the level of the Nazi propaganda that depicted Jews as subhumans who needed to be exterminated. Full stop.

Even though I said I wouldn’t discuss my personal feelings, I will leave you with this thought, just in case it resonates more than anything else I’ve said: It is deeply, deeply hurtful when you imply that I, as a supporter of border security and the rule of law, am no better than the enablers of the tyrannical regime that murdered my own family members. 

Jared Bauman is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at [email protected].