As with many things relating to Donald Trump and the current iteration of the Republican Party in America, Hitler and the Nazis are a frequent point of comparison. In many instances these comparisons can rightly be written off as hyperbolic hysteria. Much of the same attacks were lobbed at President Obama and continue to be aimed at the Democratic Party even as Trump occupies the White House and the Republicans hold on to majorities in both houses of the Congress while the Supreme Court has an ideological makeup slightly favoring conservatives. But, in light of the recent border crisis, a manufactured problem put in place by the current administration, these accusations have come back in full force.
Recently, The Wall Street Journal published an op-ed piece accusing Trump’s critics of just such hyperbolic hysteria and going so far as to, in its title, say that critics of the forced separation between children and parents and the so-called detention centers are “desecrating” the Holocaust and the memory of what happened. The day before, The Washington Post published an op-ed arguing that it was appropriate to refer to these centers as concentration camps. The Post argued that these camps do fit the literal definition of a concentration camp – that is, camps established to house a concentration of individuals based on who they are. The Journal however, argues that this is inappropriate and even goes so far as to say that such a comparison is a lie.
While the Journal rightly argues that these camps are not Auschwitz, the piece, acting in the interest of defending the Trump administration, misses the point entirely. It is certainly true that the full horrors of Auschwitz are not being replicated here at the border, and it remains true that the Trump administration has not established a policy of industrialized murder at death factories located in and around the United States. However, the Final Solution of genocide and mass murder was not the prevailing Nazi policy until 1941, two years after the war had begun and a full eight years after the Nazi government was put in place. Prior to the establishment of the Final Solution, persecution of Jews was more a matter of law and policy regarding the rights of Jews in Nazi controlled territory. While it is certainly true that the Schutzstaffel engaged in extrajudicial killings of Jews in Nazi Germany prior to the implementation of the Final Solution, these killings were not necessarily done as a matter of government policy, but through the actions of individual members.
What the Journal fails to recognize, perhaps purposely, is that the Final Solution was intended to be, well, a final solution to the so-called Jewish Question, or Judenfrage. That the Nazis viewed Jews as less-than-human animals that were infesting Germany, overrunning their country and corrupting it with untold levels of crime (terms that Trump often uses himself), is not a mystery lost to time. Even the most rudimentary understanding of European history in the early parts of the last century garners an acknowledgement of such. What appears to be in need of reiteration however, is how the Nazis got to the point of genocide in the first place.
US Attorney General Jeff Sessions recently defended his order of “zero-tolerance” in the face of such comparisons by saying that the fundamental difference between the actions of the Trump administration and the actions of the Hitler government is that the Nazis were trying to keep Jews in Germany, while Trump is trying to deport Hispanics out of the United States. Ignoring that Sessions went on to dismiss the Holocaust as something not serious in comparison to Trump’s policies, Sessions, it seems, needs an important history lesson. The reason that the Final Solution is even labeled as “Final” in the first place is that this was not the first attempt at addressing the Judenfrage. One of the very first policies put in place by the Nazis regarding Jews was that of deportation.
In Germany at the start of the Nazi government Jews were, for the most part, not considered German citizens. They were considered a group of residents that were not allowed to have the full rights and privileges of German citizenship. For those that were considered German citizens, new laws were put in place that stripped them of such status. A point of comparison to those unfortunate souls in Germany then and the unfortunate souls in the United States now is that many here now are considered to be here without some right to be. While one can rightly point to US laws regarding to undocumented aliens, the Trump administration has moved to target those individuals who are residing in the United States lawfully, but who are not yet citizens. These include lawful residents, those awaiting Green Cards, asylum seekers and refugees, as well as those here on various visas. Under Trump, the United States government has sought to revoke these protected statuses and in many cases has fully done so. In effect, the Trump government has created a class of stateless people, just as the Nazi government did with their own “undesirables.”
What came next for these stateless peoples in the Nazi era was mass deportation. This often came at the hands of the SS, a paramilitary force that was sanctioned by the government to enforce immigration law, among other things. These individuals were arrested and processed for immediate deportation “back” to wherever they were alleged to have come from. Indeed, one of Adolf Eichmann’s first tasks, and one that he genuinely felt pride in accomplishing to a great deal, was to handle the processing of such claims and find places outside of Germany for these people to be deported to. In revoking asylum status for thousands of people who were previously granted residence in the United States such as those, for instance, from Honduras, Trump has created a new class of stateless people who are no longer legally permitted to reside in the United States, but are no longer considered Honduran citizens. Where are these people to be deported to, you might ask? That seems to be a problem that the Trump administration has not considered.
This, of course, brings us to the next step in the treatment of Jews under the Nazi government. Once it became apparent that deportation was not a tenable solution to the Judenfrage, Germany faced a new problem. This was met with their second solution: Concentration.
It was here that concentration camps began to be established. The goal of such camps was not extermination. It was also not that of deportation. If these people could not be properly removed from Germany, as they had nowhere to be sent to, it seemed only appropriate, for the Nazi government, to concentrate them all somewhere outside of the territory that was to be enjoyed by German citizens, outside of the Lebensraum. These camps held thousands of Jews and other non-citizens where they languished in a sort of hell that was not quite as bad as outright death, but was certainly more than just a prison.
In the United States now we can see a similar problem brewing. Trump has effectively created a criminal class of people that were previously law abiding. Since they have no place to go, and apparently cannot remain here, the obvious solution would be to detain them and hold them as prisoners. This has already begun as ICE has begun to detain people who were, up until recently, legal residents and are now illegally here in the United States. Just yesterday, a report came out that ICE had sought to detain hundreds of people who were previously here in accordance with US law, but who are now outside the law. This change in status for them was accomplished with a stroke of the pen, a decree from the head of government. That the targets of ICE in these circumstances seems to be solely those of Hispanic origin, as opposed to those of White European descent, only makes the comparisons clearer.
ICE, in the United States have also gone after American citizens, those born here in the United States and those who have been naturalized through US law, illegally detaining them on such suspicions of speaking Spanish in public and not having proper papers with them at the time of being stopped – itself being usually done simply for such transgressions as not looking like “Americans” and speaking Spanish in public, neither of which are crimes according to US law, yet. This, of course smacks of Gestapo tactics. And for good reason. These are Gestapo tactics.
ICE agents have been accused of rape, sexual abuse, unnecessary violence, abuse, intimidation, and so forth. Again, these are Gestapo tactics.
What is truly disturbing for those of us living in the United States now, is that these are things that are slowly becoming normalized. One could make the case that people who illegally cross the border into the United States may or may not be here for nefarious purposes such as human trafficking or drug running. Yet, the main focus of ICE and the “zero-tolerance” policies put in place by this administration are those who present themselves at the border as seeking asylum. They are doing so in accordance with US law. They are frequently met with verbal abuse, if they are lucky, and more often than that with such abhorrent actions as those described above: Beatings, molestation, rape, drugging, and imprisonment. That they are separated from their children, seemingly illegally and through such deception as “needing a shower” is but one further point of comparison.
When all of this is taken in conjunction with other actions by this administration such as the attacks on a free press, freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom to protest and redress grievances, freedom from unreasonable search and seizure, subjugation of women and children, attacks on education, the demonization of the poor, mass murder by this government’s supporters without condemnation, extrajudicial killings in the street of people of color by law enforcement that are heralded as actions of heroes, the killing of political opponents that are not denounced by this administration, the acceptance of endorsements by groups such as the KKK and individuals such as Richard Spencer, racist and sexist attacks against critics, alienation of our allies and embracings of brutal dictatorships, et al, it is no wonder that critics of this administration and its supporters go for the Nazi card. To do otherwise would be irresponsible.
Auschwitz wasn’t built in a day. Where we are now is not Auschwitz, that much is true, but it isn’t as if we aren’t several steps along the way.