Wilhelm column: Wonder no more why we call them ‘concentration camps’ | PostIndependent.com

Wilhelm column: Wonder no more why we call them ‘concentration camps’

Colin Wilhelm
Guest Opinion
Colin Wilhelm

In a recent letter to the Post Independent, titled “Detention centers are not concentration camps” (Marc Adler, 7/19), a well-intentioned gentleman expressed that words are powerful and should be chosen wisely.

His letter questioned my use of the term “concentration camps” in regards to the historical context of the Holocaust. Further, he asked me what I would say to any of the Holocaust survivors alive today.

When speaking to a Holocaust survivor, I would first apologize. Being of German heritage, I feel shame for the Holocaust, although my family had emigrated to the United States prior to the 20th century.

I would want to learn and take notes to preserve so much of their story and the trials and tribulations they went through and any pain they continue to carry to this day. I would engage in a conversation to find out what their opinion is on the actions of the Trump administration, and their opinion on the use of the term “concentration camps.”

I am sure we would agree that no matter what we call these places, they shouldn’t exist.

I choose my words very carefully. Mr. Adler is correct; words are powerful a can be a useful tool when making a point.

The term concentration camp is not limited to the Holocaust. In fact, there have been concentration camps in this very country: during World War II, between 110,000 and 120,000 Japanese American’s were held in concentration camps in the United States.

You may object to the use of the term, but the American Jewish Committee in 1998 issued the following statement:

“A concentration camp is a place where people are imprisoned not because of any crimes they have committed, but simply because of who they are. Although many groups have been singled out for such persecution throughout history, the term ‘concentration camp’ was first used at the turn of the [20th] century in the Spanish American and Boer Wars.

“During World War II, America’s concentration camps were clearly distinguishable from Nazi Germany’s. Nazi camps were places of torture, barbarous medical experiments and summary executions. Some were extermination centers with gas chambers.

“Six million Jews were slaughtered in the Holocaust. Many others, including Gypsies, Poles, homosexuals and political dissidents were also victims of the Nazi concentration camps.

“In recent years, concentration camps have existed in the former Soviet Union, Cambodia and Bosnia. Despite differences, all had one thing in common: The people in power removed a minority group from the general population and the rest of society let it happen.”

Yes, one of the major Jewish organizations in our country uses the term concentration camps not just for those that existed during the Holocaust, but for those in the United States, the Soviet Union, Cambodia and Bosnia.

Now, for the important part.

We can continue to argue semantics and what to call these terrible fenced-in properties where people as young as infants are being held against their will in inhumane conditions, or we can follow the lead of the Never Again Action organization. This is a group of young Jewish people who don’t care what these places are called — they only care about ending this inhumane treatment of undocumented immigrants.

For them, there are clear and painful parallels between their relatives’ past and the present treatment of undocumented immigrants. These people are taking action.

Instead of arguing over what to call these inhumane centers we — those of us with morals and ethics — who oppose the racist policies of the Trump administration, need to stand up and be heard.

We need to stand up and make known that we will not let this administration continue its racist policies — policies that detain legal asylum seekers and undocumented immigrants in inhumane conditions, simply because they had the audacity to want to give their children a better life.

Colin Wilhelm is an attorney practicing in Glenwood Springs and a 2018 candidate for the Colorado House of Representatives.


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