But the crime being committed is not genocide. America, though, has its own history with concentration camps, going back long before Hitler rose to power. And the malice, indifference, and deadly incompetence with which these facilities are run echoes that history.
In , Colonel Jacob H. The Supreme Court infamously upheld the internment of Japanese civilians during World War II, including at a site that the government now wants to use to detain migrant children. The precursor to what Americans are seeing at the border is not Auschwitz, but Fort Sill , Batangas , and Andersonville.
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T he fact that the facilities at the border are not death camps means that they have cleared the lowest conceivable bar. Both the mistreatment of migrants in these facilities, and the harsh measures taken in the name of deterrence, predate the Trump administration. The Trump administration has denied reports of shocking conditions at its immigration facilities, but contrary to those denials, the government is fully aware of the atrocious conditions.
The Trump administration has previously deliberately inflicted suffering on children to deter illegal immigration, with its use of family separation. It has altered immigration policy and the asylum process so as to force the authorities to hold migrants, whether they have properly sought asylum at a port of entry or crossed illegally, and has made it more difficult for children to be released to sponsors in the United States by threatening to arrest and deport family members who lack legal status.
By deliberately throttling the asylum process , the administration has pushed desperate migrants to risk death by crossing the border illegally rather than presenting themselves at ports of entry, and has sought to prosecute those who would help migrants survive the journey by leaving them food and water, effectively making the federal misdemeanor of illegal entry a capital crime. In private, some Border Patrol agents consider migrant deaths a laughing matter ; others are succumbing to depression, anxiety, or substance abuse. If these acts do not represent animus toward those human beings the president has described as murderers, terrorists, and rapists, whom he declares an infestation , whom he identifies as the enemy by sending the U.
Army to the border, whose families he has destroyed in a bid to inflict sufficient agony so as to deter future newcomers—if all of this does not make American immigration detention facilities concentration camps, it makes them far too close to the concept for any American to find acceptable.
This is, perhaps, the most daunting element of this entire conversation. If these facilities even vaguely resemble concentration camps, then American society has failed in ways many Americans do not want to contemplate. That resemblance would cast the Republican Party and its president as the perpetrators of an act of historic villainy. The Democratic Party leadership does not want the responsibility of leveling this charge and is incapable of bearing it , and most Republicans seem convinced that the omelet is worth a few cracked shells.
Although the administration has, in the past, misleadingly attempted to present conditions at the border as a crisis, there is now a genuine surge in the number of people fleeing violence and poverty in their home countries and seeking a better life in the United States. The Confederacy faced a genuine shortage of supplies for prisoners at Andersonville—but it also refused the obvious solution, declining a prisoner exchange. Above all else, the Trump administration wants to send the message that immigrants, especially those of African or Latin American descent , are not welcome in the United States, and as far as detention facilities are concerned, incompetence or indifference will serve that cause as faithfully as malice.
That would relieve the pressure on overstressed detention facilities. But it would also be insufficiently cruel, and therefore weak.
And the cruelty is the point. H ow could this be? Though the president himself is from Queens, New York, as Jane Coaston has written, the ideological engine of his administration is rooted in California , once the Reagan heartland, now a conservative wasteland. Trump advisers such as Stephen Miller are convinced that they lost California not through persuasion, but through demographics—that an influx of Latinos forever doomed conservatism.
Cruelty toward migrants, even children, is justified as necessary to preserve the republic against what these advisers see as a foreign invasion. Presenting Latino immigration as an existential threat allows both the president and his supporters to justify anything they might choose to do in response. Yet this is not an inevitability, but a choice—conservatives in California made a political decision to demonize immigrants and paid the price. Demographics are not destiny, unless you make them so. But concentration camps, unlike prisons, were independent of any judicial review.
Nazi concentration camps served three main purposes:.
Already as commandant of Dachau in , Eicke developed an organization and procedures to administer and guard a concentration camp. He issued regulations for the duties of the perimeter guards and for treatment of the prisoners. The organization, structure, and practice developed at Dachau in —34 became the model for the Nazi concentration camp system as it expanded. After , the camp administration, including the commandant, was also a part of the SS Death's-Head Unit. Its officers were recruited from concentration camp service. They also wore the Death's-Head symbol on their lapel.
The first was the camp staff, which covered:. The second group constituted the guard detachment SS-Wachbataillon , which prior to was at battalion strength. The model established by Eicke in the mids characterized the concentration camp system until the collapse of the Nazi regime in the spring of The daily routine at Dachau, the methods of punishment, and the duties of the SS staff and guards became the norm, with some variation, at all German concentration camps.
Gulag from Lenin to Stalin
After , authority to incarcerate persons in a concentration camp formally rested exclusively with the German Security Police made up of the Gestapo and the Criminal Police. The Security Police had held this exclusive authority de facto since Neither order was subject to judicial review, or any review by any German agency outside of the German Security Police.
As the concentration camp system expanded, the camps fell within the exclusive authority of the SS. The German judicial administration had no jurisdiction with the growing camp system. Nazi Germany expanded by bloodless conquest into Austria and Czechoslovakia between and From as early as , concentration camp commandants used prisoners as forced laborers for SS construction projects such as the construction or expansion of the camps themselves. By , SS leaders envisioned using the supply of forced laborers incarcerated in the camps for a variety of SS-commissioned construction projects.
To mobilize and finance such projects, Himmler revamped and expanded the administrative offices of the SS and created a new SS office for business operations. Beginning a pattern that became typical after the war began, economic considerations had an increasing impact on the selection of sites for concentration camps after Likewise, concentration camp authorities increasingly diverted prisoners from meaningless, backbreaking labor to still backbreaking and dangerous labor in extractive industries, such as stone quarries and coal mines, and construction labor.
After Nazi Germany unleashed World War II in September , vast new territorial conquests and larger groups of potential prisoners led to the rapid expansion of the concentration camp system to the east. The war did not change the original function of the concentration camps as detention sites for the incarceration of political enemies. The climate of national emergency that the conflict granted to the Nazi leaders, however, permitted the SS to expand the functions of the camps.
The concentration camps increasingly became sites where the SS authorities could kill targeted groups of real or perceived enemies of Nazi Germany. They also came to serve as holding centers for a rapidly growing pool of forced laborers used for SS construction projects, SS-commissioned extractive industrial sites, and, by , the production of armaments, weapons, and related goods for the German war effort.
Despite the need for forced labor, the SS authorities continued to deliberately undernourish and mistreat prisoners incarcerated in the concentration camps.
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Prisoners were used ruthlessly and without regard to safety at forced labor, resulting in high mortality rates. We would like to thank The Crown and Goodman Family and the Abe and Ida Cooper Foundation for supporting the ongoing work to create content and resources for the Holocaust Encyclopedia. View the list of all donors. You are searching in English. Tags Find topics of interest and explore encyclopedia content related to those topics. Browse A-Z Find articles, photos, maps, films, and more listed alphabetically.
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About This Site. Glossary : Full Glossary. Concentration Camps, —39 During the first six years of the Nazi regime, thousands of Germans were detained or confined extra-legally. Key Facts. More information about this image.