When is a Concentration Camp not a Concentration Camp?

Updated: Jul 27, 2019

Cartoon from Slovakia, a region devastated by the Holocaust.

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 late 1944.

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. It was established as a holding center for illegal aliens, common criminals, and political dissenters in much the same way that Donald Trump’s beloved detention camps along the US southern border hold undocumented migrants, separating children from their families while depriving inmates of all civil or human rights, having labelled 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 the behaviour of ICE and other US government agencies dedicated to cleansing American society of undesirables. Just as the detention of political dissenters, aliens, the mentally and physically handicapped, priests and nuns, POWs, and finally Jews and the Romani, began quietly and without much fanfare or opposition from the German people themselves, today’s White House and its supporters are starting down that same slippery slope, crying out for a solution to the so-called migrant crisis in whatever form it might take. It’s the thin edge of a very sharp wedge signalling the polarization and eventual ruination of American society and what’s left of its democracy.

So, let's peel back the layers, to see how much the Trump Solution and the Final Solution already have in common.

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.

Executive Order 9066 created 'detention' camps for Japanese-Americans in both USA and Canada during WWII, for the same purpose and in the same spirit that Germany created Dachau. In that scheme, the victims' property, both real and personal, were 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.

What concentration camps all have in common is the fact that they are predicated on targeting a social class 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 lower classes. 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 current administration and 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. As Mussolini proclaimed, "Fascism should more properly be called 'corporatism' because it's the perfect synthesis of government and private enterprise." 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 relentlessly vilifies Hilary Clinton and whips 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 in the world. 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 Donald's and Adolph'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.

In the Trump Era, 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 system wherein at least one judge has been sentenced to 26-years without parole for accepting payoffs from the corporate operators 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 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.

Ice detainees in bright orange prison garb walk into the dining area for lunch at a prison-for-profit operated by the Geo Group, Inc. in Adelanto, California. The company has been the subject of civil suits in the United States by prisoners and families of prisoners for injuries due to riots and poor treatment at prisons and immigrant detention facilities which it has operated. In addition, due to settlement of a class-action suit in 2012 for its management of Walnut Grove Youth Correctional Facility in Mississippi, the GEO Group lost its contract for this and two other Mississippi prisons (which it had been operating since 2010). Related federal investigations of kickback and bribery schemes associated with nearly $1 billion in Mississippi state contracts for prisons and related services have resulted in the criminal prosecution of several public officials in the state. Photo by Lucy Nicholson.

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 President Trump 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 educated people - those who have read history, that is - to avoid noticing the similarities between Hitler's SS and Trump'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. Trump uses 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 he deems enemies of the state. It was the SS that the shocked young American soldiers lined up against the wall at Dachau.

And then there's Trump's hawkish senior advisor.

Left, Stephen Miller, 2019. Right, Joseph Goebbels, 1933.

And as we continue to peel back the layers, we see how Mussolini's definition of fascism (the synthesis of private enterprise with government) 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. Trump's 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 succeed in wiping away this latest episode from the cultural record.

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 the Trump administration’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, while the quality of American education is among the poorest in the world. Nonetheless, Americans believe they are in the vanguard of progress. They think they have ‘freedom’ in a society predicated on racism, bigotry and greed. They eagerly hand over their hard-earned dollars to unscrupulous religious fanatics who justify and encourage their racist, anti-intellectual views. They love their guns more than their children. They elected a despicable con man and his porn star wife - a person accused of multiple visa violations - and miscreant offspring to the White House, not to mention the crowd of sycophants and toadies who surround and advise them. 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? Go ask FLOTUS45...

Additional reading:









To honour those impacted by ICE raids, A TYRANNY OF GOD (the novel). FREE DOWNLOAD (July 1-31). https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/730571

#Italy #War #Holocaust. Book Clubs please download the free study guide at www.francescorizzuto.com

For sample chapters of my novels and short story collections, please visit www.francescorizzuto.com

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