“Reports on regularly imposed mistreatment is thus part of the land of fables . . . I had the impression — and various prisoners explicitly confirmed it — that some of them were better off than at home. . .”
“That is why I would like to stress here that everything that I saw and heard, and also living conditions, the material and hygiene facilities of the camp, including treatment, the nourishment made a positive impression on me.”
These quotes could very well be from people who’ve toured immigrant detention centers along our southern border and have a perspective to spin, but they are not. They’re quotes from C.V. Tourenbut, a Dutch pastor, and Guillaume Favre, a member of the International Committee of the Red Cross, describing living conditions at the Dachau, Germany concentration camp during World War II. There are countless similar quotes found throughout the eerily silent halls of Dachau.
My family recently returned from a trip to Europe where we visited Dachau. The similarities between Dachau and what’s happening along our border continue to haunt me. At this point, I feel certain that some have stopped reading because, to them, it’s disgraceful for me to compare Hitler’s atrocities in Germany to Trump’s atrocities in our United States of America. They’re thinking, “It’s not the same. They were innocent Jews, Jehovah’s Witnesses, gypsies and political prisoners. They were sent to the gas chamber. We would never do that!”
Fact is, the Dachau gas chamber was never used. Tens of thousands of prisoners died from unsanitary conditions, disease, overcrowding and starvation while tens of thousands of “decent” Germans stood by and did nothing, either by deceiving themselves the way many of us do now about conditions in detainee facilities or somehow rationalizing the sins of the incarcerated and the abused. Film footage taken after the Allies liberated Dachau shows Germans with tears streaming down their faces as they view with stunned disbelief the dead and broken bodies of those who inhabited Dachau — which was literally in their own backyard, just a few kilometers from Munich:
“The frequent tours of the camp by German and foreign visitors were an important component of the Nazi propaganda. They must have appeared to the prisoners as a cynical mockery. The SS presented to Nazi officeholders, journalists and representatives of charitable organizations an orderly model camp with apparently humanely treated prisoners. Using specially selected groups of prisoners whose appearance corresponded to certain racist clichés, they tried to demonstrate to the visitors the ‘racial inferiority’ of the prisoners.” Prisoners were described as “rabble rousers, grumblers and work-shy.” Sound familiar?
Fear of the other was instilled in the hearts and minds of the German people just as fear of the other is being instilled in the hearts and minds of many Americans today — fear that these “criminals” will kill and rape, fear that “those people” will take “our” jobs, fear that those described by Focus on the Family founder James Dobson in his July newsletter as “the lowest rung of their society” will take away “our” sacred way of life. Instead of seeing refugees at our border as human beings deserving of dignity, compassion, care and open hearts, many see them as criminals who should never have fled the horrors occurring in their home countries.
Consider for a moment the observations of Democratic Congressman Joaquin Castro after touring overcrowded border patrol detainee facilities less than two weeks ago: “They didn’t have a sink that was working to provide water to wash their hands after they had used the restroom or for easily attainable drinking water. Several said they had not had their medications given to them in days. Some said they had gone 15 days without being able to take a bath or shower. And the reason I bring these things up is because it’s not just a matter of a system being overwhelmed or having to pump a lot more cash into the system. The system is completely broken and I agree that, right now with the Trump administration, that’s by design.”
And because Castro lives in an era when, to quote a Trump advocate, “truth is not truth,” the congressman defied border patrol officials and used his cellphone to document cramped, miserable living conditions at detainee facilities on the Texas borderland.
Consider for a moment the remarks of Republican Congressman Chip Roy, also of Texas, during this week’s House Oversight and Government Reform Subcommittee hearing. Just days after pressing the president to defy the Supreme Court on a citizenship question on 2020 census forms, Roy displayed a photograph of immigrant incarceration at facilities during the Obama administration — as if this somehow absolves the Trump administration of correcting matters amid a clearly worsening situation. Roy added: “As a member of Congress, I have been to the border many times and, to this day, I have never seen a kid in a cage the way these words seem to indicate.”
Consider for a moment Democratic state Rep. Lina Ortega’s observations of a migrant mother with two children in a holding cell, apparently isolated for the flu. One child appeared less than a year old, the other about 3: “Inside the holding cell, what I saw was two very thin mats on the floor, the only thing they could use to sit on. But they were sitting instead in the corner. There were two folded Mylar coverings. I asked about blankets. They really didn’t have an answer. There were no blankets in there. I didn’t see any drinking cups. There was a sink in the back. What was not visible was what they told me was a toilet. I didn’t see any toilet paper, I didn’t see any washcloth, I didn’t see any soap, I didn’t see any toothbrushes, just those two thin mats and the Mylar coverings.”
The crushing weight of history will one day render a verdict in all this. Meanwhile, how can some politicians continue to be complicit in what we see in cellphone photos and hear in sworn testimony? How can we not be moved to action? Unless we join together to find positive solutions to this tragedy, our children’s children will hang their heads in shame, disbelief and sadness knowing that we stood by and did nothing. In years to come, are we going to be seen on film footage with tears streaming down our faces as we view with stunned disbelief the dead and broken bodies of innocent children of God? The United States of America, while not perfect, is still the greatest nation on earth. We are most definitely better than this.