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July 9, 2019 Sarah Jake Fishman

I Walked Away Furious from an Auschwitz Exhibit: Here’s Why

On June 26, my mother—the daughter of Eta Wrobel, a partisan fighter in the Holocaust—took me to the Auschwitz exhibit at the Museum of Jewish Heritage in Manhattan. While many people who visit Holocaust museums and memorials leave feeling sad or moved, I walked away deeply furious.

The museum was full of artifacts from Auschwitz, photos of prisoners, and videos of survivors, all with accompanying descriptions. Many of the videos featured survivors who felt not just an urge, but a need to use their voices to ensure this type of inhumane and cruel treatment never happens again. As I heard their stories, all I could think about were the Jews that I have encountered who are anti-immigrant, pro detention center. The thought flooded me with anger. 

As a member of antisemitism awareness groups on Facebook, I have seen more Jews opposed to helping the Latin American refugees than I thought was possible. So here is a message to those people: your parents and grandparents who survived the camps and your ancestors who didn’t would be disgusted by you. Do you think there is a difference between the boats of Jewish refugees turned away from entering the US and the refugees trying to enter through the southern border? Do you know what happened to the Jews on those boats? Most of them were put to death at the hands of the Nazis. What if that had been one of your ancestors?

In comment threads I have been called a liar, a “libtard,” a conveyor of fake news, all for sharing legitimate facts I learned while at the Jewish Heritage Museum (and subsequently found in scholarly sources). Did you know the camps began as places to imprison major players in political, social, and cultural organizations that Hitler believed to be a threat to his regime? Did you know that in these early camps there were secret, nonconsensual, and forced sterilizations of hundreds of thousands of people who posed a threat to Hitler’s superior race? 

The concentration camps, which are so named due to the physical concentration of a group of people, existed for nearly a decade before they became death camps. In the beginning, most Germans believed these camps could never take such a turn, just like some Jewish Americans today speak of the camps at the border. Propaganda in the 1930s convinced Germans that Jews were the enemy, coming for their jobs and endangering their children, just as the propaganda of today has convinced Americans the same about Hispanics.

After Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez tweeted about the concentration camps at our border, she was met with outrage and death threats, but I am one of many Jews who feel that the association is valid. The inhumane treatment at the migrant detention centers is comparable to the early treatment of prisoners at the Nazi camps. When do we, as Americans, as Jews, decide it’s time to intervene and liberate the camps? Do we wait for them to become death camps before we decide to care? For an entire culture of people who recite “never again/le-olam lo,” you’d think we’d recognize the signs when it is, in fact, happening again.

According to the Smithsonian, “World War II prompted the largest displacement of human beings the world has ever seen – although today’s refugee crisis is starting to approach its unprecedented scale.” So I ask you, descendants of Holocaust and pogrom survivors, descendants of refugees and immigrants, who turn a blind eye to the conditions of the detention centers along the Mexican border, who support their existence and chant “build the wall” like brainwashed minions and want to turn away refugees seeking asylum, how dare you?

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The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of Lilith Magazine.