Rabbi Abraham Cooper: Ocasio-Cortez’s claim that US runs ‘concentration camps’ is absurd and insulting

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s claim Monday and Tuesday that the U.S. government “is running concentration camps on our southern border” is obscene, shockingly ignorant, and an insult to the memory of the 6 million Jews and millions of others murdered by the Nazis.

The comparison is also a terrible insult to the dedicated men and women in U.S. law enforcement agencies enforcing our immigration laws, likening them to Nazi mass murderers and war criminals.

And the comparison insults every American who fought in our military in World War II – including the more than 400,000 killed and nearly 700,000 wounded – to defeat Nazi Germany and its allies Japan and Italy.


President Trump’s policy of cracking down on illegal immigration on the border with Mexico and detaining some migrants is certainly a legitimate topic of debate. The conditions under which the migrants are being held can be debated as well.

But comparing U.S. detention facilities operating today to the Nazi concentration camps where millions of innocent men, women and children were tortured, starved, beaten and murdered during World War II in the Holocaust is breathtakingly absurd.

During a livestream on Instagram Monday night, Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., said of the U.S. detention facilities: “The fact that concentration camps are now an institutionalized practice in the home of the free is extraordinarily disturbing, and we need to do something about it.”

And then continuing with her hyperbolic attacks, Ocasio-Cortez defended her “concentration camp” comparison by saying:  "I don't use those words to just throw bombs. I use that word because that is what an administration that creates concentration camps is. A presidency that creates concentration camps is fascist and it's very difficult to say that."

Ocasio-Cortez doubled down in a tweet Tuesday, writing: “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. This is not hyperbole. It is the conclusion of expert analysis.”

But calling Trump a fascist and implying he is following in the footsteps of Nazi Fuhrer Adolf Hitler has no basis in reality.

The congresswoman also sought to make a nonexistent distinction, tweeting Tuesday: “And for the shrieking Republicans who don’t know the difference: concentration camps are not the same as death camps.”

For the record, starting with Dachau in 1933, Nazi concentration camps were opened where German socialists, communists, labor leaders, dissidents, and Jews were targeted for persecution, torture and even death.

Future heads of all the Nazi killing centers of the 1940s all honed their brutal skills at breaking inmate’s bodies, spirits, and souls in Dachau. After the 1938 Kristallnacht pogrom in Germany, some 10,000 Jews were rounded up without a pretense of judicial process and dispatched there. Some perished.

During World War II, Nazi concentration camps were death camps where innocent Jewish men women and children were murdered or died of disease or starvation. The camps were an integral part of the Holocaust and Hitler's "final solution" to kill every Jew on Earth.

Fast forward to today. No American with a heart is satisfied with the disastrous situation on our southern border. Unquestionably, migrants are suffering. But they are not being murdered by the millions, their bodies then turned to ashes in crematoria.

Like his policies, President Trump is open to legitimate criticism. Every president is and should be in our democracy, where we have the freedom of speech and free elections.

But calling Trump a fascist and implying he is following in the footsteps of Nazi Fuhrer Adolf Hitler has no basis in reality.

Before others join the chorus proclaiming that President Trump is a Nazi bent on murdering millions of migrants, they would do well to brush up on what actually took place in Nazi concentration camps during World War II.

I imagine that the Ocasio-Cortez can still find an elderly Holocaust survivor and a member of America’s greatest generation who liberated those camps to talk to. And the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum is with walking distance of her Capitol Hill office.

We also invite her to also visit the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles run by the Simon Wiesenthal Center. We would be happy to make our Holocaust educational materials available to her.

As a public service, I would like to recall a 2013 ceremony that took place six years ago when we at the Simon Wiesenthal Center honored Ed Royce – not the recently retired California Republican congressman, but his father.

The elder Royce was one the American GIs who helped liberate the Dachau concentration camp in April 1945. Ed took pictures that day and what he saw was seared into his consciousness for the rest of his life. In his own words he recalled an experience that almost defied description:

“I saw heaps of clothes in front of the building with bad – German for bath – painted on the door, the shower heads that pumped deadly gas instead of water, the room filled halfway to the ceiling with naked bodies and the room with ovens for burning the bodies,” Royce told the gathering at the  Museum of Tolerance. “There was an entire trainload – hundreds of emaciated bodies – on a nearby rail spur. Evidently they had starved to death on the train.”

Royce’s black-and-white photos documented the ovens and corpses of murder victims at the camp. An estimated 30,000 prisoners died at Dachau from extermination, disease, starvation and suicide. Yet that horrific number was tiny compared with the estimated 1.1 million people who died at the Auschwitz concentration camp.

There were two elderly Jewish Holocaust survivors, Albert Rosa and Morris Price, who came to the event at the Museum of Tolerance to thank the 88-year-old Royce.

Price recalled the arrival of American troops at the camp and the possibility he’d seen Royce. “Whether it was him I saw or somebody like him, it was a happy sight,” Price said. “We knew the American Army was close – we just didn’t know if we’d still be alive when they got there.”

Last year, when the Trump administration inaugurated a policy – which it subsequently rescinded under public pressure – of “zero tolerance” and family separations on the U.S.-Mexico border, American media were rife with historical comparisons to the time when black people were enslaved in America, when Japanese Americans were placed in internment camps during World War II, and to the Nazi concentration camps.

At the Wiesenthal Center we spoke out, sharing the dismay of millions of Americans at the federal government separating parents from children as a solution to “the immigration crisis.”

But we were and are also concerned about dangerous historical analogies between what is being done to immigrant families at the U.S. border today and the Holocaust.

The truth is that the burgeoning disaster at our southern border is not the result not of a monstrous plot by President Trump to build concentration camps, but of a real humanitarian crisis overwhelming the federal immigration bureaucracy and a deep and toxic national political divide.


One sure way to guarantee more political gridlock, more innocent people needlessly suffering and perhaps even more children dying in custody at our southern border is to falsely accuse the Trump administration of unspeakable Nazi-like actions.

Memo to politicians: The images of incarcerated kids and adults who fled other countries desperately trying to gain entry into the U.S. should generate action – not false and incendiary rhetoric. It behooves a divided Congress to rediscover a bipartisan way to solve our immigration crisis, rather than using it for political warfare.