When Is a Concentration Camp Not a Concentration Camp?
I was a child growing up in the 1940’s. You know, the decade when the world lost its moral compass and everybody’s dad or uncle or grandfather was fighting on some far-flung battlefront or beachhead whose name you couldn’t pronounce? My own father was reported killed in action in France in January 1945.
And then he came back.
He’d been held prisoner in a number of POW camps then moved under guard through Bavaria, including Dachau, ‘for further interrogation.’ The Germans thought he knew how the Allies were transporting their fuel from Marseille to the front lines in Alsace and they were determined to find out. But that’s another story.
Four months later, his own outfit, the 42nd ‘Rainbow’ Division, along with units of the 45th Division, liberated the concentration camp at Dachau. When his former comrades discovered the horrors that were perpetrated on other human beings there, they promptly lined all the camp guards up against a stone wall in the coal yard and machine gunned them.
The interesting thing is that the horrors of the Holocaust didn’t appear full-blown in a single day. In fact, the notorious concentration camp at Dachau was first opened in 1933, the final year of the Weimar Republic and twelve years before the ad hoc execution of its guards.
Dachau was established as a holding center for illegal aliens, common criminals, and political dissenters in much the same way that America’s detention camps along the US southern border were designed to hold undocumented migrants, separating children from their families while depriving inmates of all civil or human rights, labelling them as criminals and social pariahs. The type of person who relishes this kind work today is the same kind that finished unforgiven, up against a cold stone wall at Dachau in 1945.
There is an inherent frontier-style justice in this tale, alluding to the abhorrence on the part of right-thinking people when faced with barbarity.
The mission of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and ICE is to cleanse American society of undesirable elements, primarily undocumented immigrants. These agencies owe their genesis to Heinrich Himmler who amalgamated all the former German Weimar Republic police departments into a single unified force to form what he called a ‘State Protection Corps’ (Staatsschutzkorps). Because the Nazi concept of criminality was race-based, the persecution of the regime’s ideological opponents, Jews, and other ‘non-Aryans’, became a function of policing and the responsibility of municipal and national police forces.
Just as the detention of political dissenters, aliens, the mentally and physically handicapped, priests and nuns, and finally Jews and the Romani, began quietly and without much fanfare or opposition from the German people themselves, America has started down that same slippery slope, crying out for a solution to the so-called migrant crisis. This is nothing new. The program began with the Bush administration, continued under Obama, and was refined to resemble Himmler’s instrument of terror under Donald Trump.
This chameleon-like organism may change its protective colouring under the Biden administration but it won’t go away so long as 73 million Americans insist that their southern border is under attack. This is what they’ve been told and what they believe.
The concentration camps of the Third Reich were nothing new to history. The term ‘concentration camp’ came into the lexicon back in the 19th century when the detaining of large numbers of civilians and prisoners-of-war were a feature of the Boer War and later World War I. In fact, one of histories most horrific concentration camps was Andersonville during the American Civil War.
In 1942, Executive Order 9066 created ‘detention’ camps for Japanese-Americans in both USA and Canada, for the same purpose and in the same spirit that Germany created Dachau. In that scheme, the victims’ property, both real and personal, was sold at auction and paid to them at ten cents on the dollar after release in 1945. Families were devastated. Although there wasn’t a single proven case of treason or espionage brought against any Japanese-American, compensation was never on the table. Little known to most is the fact that leaders of the Italian-American and Italian-Canadian communities were also interned. They were made to wear prison garb with targets printed on the back, to help the guards aim their weapons. We’re talking about both naturalized and Canadian/American-born citizens.
What concentration camps all have in common is the fact that they are predicated on targeting a social class, ethnic group, or race of people, as opposed to the application of criminal justice. The language of suspicion and hatred used to demonize the target becomes weaponized, articulated at high level, then chanted in a bad echo by the largely misinformed, what today might be called MAGA supporters. The principle of White supremacy always looms in the background.
Think it can’t happen here? Well, it already has happened. And now, it’s happening again.
To equate the arrogant, self-aggrandizing behaviour of POTUS45 with Adolph Hitler and the Nazi party of the 1930s to 40s is almost a slam dunk. To ignore the impact of Hitlerism on the world, and particularly on the USA that lost so many of its citizens in the struggle against it, would be irresponsible and frankly stupid. So-called ‘populist’ presidents like Trump inevitably tear a page from the Hitler-Mussolini playbook. They are politically unsophisticated, insisting that government can be run like private business wherein there are always winners and losers. They think of themselves as deal-makers. In reality, they are merely schoolyard bullies writ large.
They always vilify the free press, insisting that candid, unbiased reporting is ‘Fake News’ while their own propaganda machine speaks truth. There’s always an Emmanuel Goldstein somewhere in the picture, as Donald Trump demonstrated by relentlessly vilifying Hilary Clinton and whipped attendees at his rallies into paroxysms of hatred, shouting “Lock her up…lock her up!” And they always seize on a segment of society, like today’s undocumented immigrants, as the source of all the country’s ills. The solution to that problem is the concentration camp.
To be historically accurate, the concentration camps of Nazi Germany were of two types, although they were all predicated on one and the same goal: the dominance of a single race over all others. Like Dachau, some were established as holding pens for lawbreakers, gradually adding political dissenters and eventually the socially undesirable. The official role of the concentration camp was not to kill the inmates, but simply to isolate them from German society. Everyone loves law and order, right?
Here’s where America’s and Nazi Germany’s interests begin to merge.
Inevitably, Germany’s business leaders recognized that a large number of incarcerated, idle workers represented a pool of free labour at a time when German industry was struggling to meet the demands of an expanding war machine led by a belligerent sociopath with criminal intent. Auschwitz-Birchenau, where by 1944 two thousand a day were exterminated in gas chambers then incinerated or dumped into mass graves, was first established to staff an IG Farben rubber factory and expanded to incorporate large-scale weapons production using prison labour.
It’s foolhardy to ignore the fact that American corporations would be sorely tempted by a similar opportunity. After all, America already has an extensive prisons-for-profit network wherein at least one judge has been sentenced to 26-years without parole for accepting payoffs from the prison’s corporate owners in exchange for sending them feedstock, many of whom were accused of very minor offences but with the single characteristic that they were almost exclusively non-Whites. Many of these so-called immigrant detention centres that some liken to concentration camps are run privately for profit. Along with the Old West badmen, their penchant for corruption and brutality is already becoming a cultural icon.
If history is to be believed, American companies — many of whom have their antecedants in German corporations that profited from the Holocaust or who are owned and controlled by those companies — will follow in the footsteps of IG Farben, Krupp, Siemens, Bayer, Allianz, and Benckiser (now JAB Holdings, coffee giant and owner of Krispy Kreme, Prete a Manger, Dr. Pepper Snapple, Durex Condoms, Coty and Calvin Klein Fragrances), and many other German companies that capitalized on the availability of slave labour to staff their factories.
And then, of course, there’s the infamous UGO BOSS, designer of those spiffy Nazi-Fascist uniforms, a company that among others has taken public relations measures to try and mitigate its shameful history. Ever notice how the coterie of military and police surrounding American presidents are looking more and more like the hideously be-medalled robots positioned behind the world’s most notorious dictators? How about those intimidating black uniforms favoured by American police units, especially ICE? How about the size of the words ICE and POLICE splashed across their backs, as if writing the words as large as possible makes it easier for non-English speakers to understand?
It’s impossible for those who have read history to ignore the similarities between Nazi Germany’s SS and America’s ICE, in the character of its membership and dedication to the cult of the leader, as well as its open disdain for protocol and the rule of law. The Trump administration used ICE like a hammer in the same way that Hitler used the SS and Mussolini used the Blackshirts, threatening massive raids on the country’s urban centres and sowing terror amongst those the president deemed enemies of the state. It was the SS that the shocked young American soldiers lined up against the wall at Dachau.
As we continue to peel back the layers, we see how Mussolini’s definition of Fascism (the synthesis of private enterprise with government interests) is glaringly obvious in the American network of detention camps and private prisons. The American government is bilking the taxpaying public of billions of dollars that it funnels into the pockets of private enterprise while the corporations running this hideous network are chaired by former military personnel.
Besides the Geo Group, and the equally sinister CoreCivic, Caliburn is the parent company of Comprehensive Health Services (an oxymoron if there ever was one) which delivers Homestead, a detention centre accused of child abuse in Florida, as well as three other detention centres in Texas. The Caliburn board is populated with former high-ranking military personnel, such retired General Anthony C. Zinni, Admiral James G. Stavridis, Rear Admiral Kathleen Martin and General John Kelly. Caliburn’s portfolio includes migrant detention centres (e.g., prisons-for-profit) and work in a variety of defence sectors.
The reported daily cost to the taxpayer for housing detainees in the country’s private detention network is approximately $775 per person, while each prisoner could be given a private room at Trump Hotel in Washington at exactly the same price tag. ICE uses a different calculation to determine the so-called ‘bed rate,’ which looks at a much smaller number of factors making up the costs. ICE excludes a significant share of the payroll and operational costs of Custody Operations from this calculation, reducing the daily bed rate — although a significant number of detainees are forced to sleep on concrete floors — to between $126 and $161, depending on the source of the information.
The real costs for maintaining the black-shirted ICE minions who drive this appalling juggernaut toward what some still lucid Americans are predicting will be a rather bad end cannot be calculated solely in dollars. The 73-million-strong MAGA voter base may not know anything of the Holocaust, but Europeans have it seared into memory and are watching as history begins to repeat itself, this time on American soil. Like its shameful history of slavery, Americans will not easily wipe away this latest episode from the cultural record. So far, the Biden administration has produced little in the way of addressing either the concentration camps on the southern border or the larger and more virulent issue of prisons-for-profit.
But I’m digressing, so let’s get back to Dachau.
Extermination of human beings and their processing into matter was simply the logical outcome of a very bad policy decision. After all, what to do with the masses of arrivals who were unfit to work? The most expedient answer: kill them. Thus, detention facilities with their factories became extermination centres. Germany’s largest corporations ended up with blood on their hands. The term ‘banality of evil’ soon came into the lexicon: ordinary people committing extraordinarily horrific acts without any qualms of conscience, while simply carrying out their civic duties under the laws of their country.
If any German citizen in 1933 had been asked their opinion of what was to transpire, they would surely have denied that anyone would ever be put to death in those places. Or that children would be separated from their parents. Or that people would be held in solitary confinement. Or made to sleep on concrete floors with only a foil blanket. Or that anyone would be sexually molested. Or that they would be denied toothbrushes, soap or even the most rudimentary beds. Or that caged children would be stripped of their meagre amenities and forced to sleep on a bare concrete floor for the crime of having lost a lice comb. Or that in the end masses of displaced persons would emerge from the system while their own country lay in ruins.
So, here’s the point. People who claim that Democratic Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s reference to concentration camps when addressing America’s policy vis-à-vis migrants is not apropos, had better think again. In the words of the late Holocaust survivor and Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal: “For evil to flourish, it only requires good men [and women] to do nothing.”
That may be asking too much.
The USA has more persons incarcerated per capita in its prisons-for-profit network than any other country in the world, while the quality of American education is among the poorest in the world. Black Americans are incarcerated in state prisons at an average rate of 5.1 times that of White Americans, and in some states the rate is 10 times or more. The US is 63.7% non-Hispanic white, 12.2% black, 8.7% Hispanic white and 0.4% Hispanic black, according to the most recent census figures.
Americans believe they are in the vanguard of progress. Yet among Millennials and Gen Z, 1 in 10 have never heard about the Holocaust. It’s no wonder that neo-Nazis, Holocaust deniers, and other hate groups attract such a large audience. Most Americans don’t even know what’s inscribed at the base of the Statue of Liberty, the country’s most important monument. And worst of all, they don’t read history.
Surely even they know that those who don’t read history are doomed to repeat it.
But do they even care? Perhaps the Biden administration will tell us.
Some additional resources:
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