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Commentary

Del. Reznik on the ‘Concentration Camp’ Debate: Like the Frog in a Boiling Pot

Del. Kirill Reznik (D-Montgomery)

“Concentration Camps” is a highly provocative and charged term. It should be.

I have debated with myself for a couple days as to whether or not I should write something about this. I’ve decided to, despite the fact that some may not like what I am about to say.

Several days ago, New York Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez stated that what we are doing on our southern border is tantamount to German concentration camps. As predicted, the response from right-wing media, GOP members of Congress, and even some in the Jewish community was swift in its condemnation.

“How dare she?” the typical response goes. “The Nazis murdered 6 million Jews. Tortured them. Experimented on them. There is no comparison.”

They are correct, what the Nazis did is unparalleled in its horror. As a Jew born in the Soviet Union, whose parents as children fled to Central Asia to escape the war, and whose extended family was killed at the massacres at Babi Yar, I (like every Jew) am particularly sensitive to this history.

But let’s be very, very clear – even the German camps did not start out this way. Jews were first concentrated into ghettos, branded with yellow stars, and otherwise separated from the rest of the population.

Like the proverbial frog in the boiling pot, the Nazis did not jump straight to death camps. The slow ramp-up to mass genocide gave plenty of people the opportunity to turn away for convenience until it was too late.

And yes, we have a history of this in the United States as well. Whether you call them slave quarters, or reservations, or internment camps, or family relocation centers, or the mass incarceration of tens of thousands of young, African-American men for minor marijuana possession while millions of dollars are made off the legal sale of the same product, make no mistake that they are indeed concentration camps.

Our immigration system is broken, and we all know that. As a product of that system, I am grateful that it worked out for my family and me, but I can say emphatically that it is arbitrary and capricious. The fact that immigration has been exploited for political purposes is nothing new, and neither is the fact that the children of the exploited are the ones who go on to do the exploitation.

But let’s ask ourselves, is the water in the pot still not boiling enough for the frog to notice? We have all seen the children who have been taken from their parents and housed in cages with nothing but Mylar blankets. We have all seen the news reports about children who have died in ICE custody, or those that have been sexually or physically assaulted.

I would hope that for most of us that should be sufficient. For others, clearly the water isn’t hot enough. After all, the alternative might cause your income taxes to rise by a percentage or two and you might be forced to get the same health care system as in Israel, ironically enough.

I have no idea where the current administration is going to take this particularly sordid part of our modern history. I’m hoping not much further.

Regardless, we as Americans have an obligation to stop it now, not if it gets worse.  Especially for those of us who gather to remember on Yom HaShoah, the Holocaust Day of Remembrance, and annually utter the phrase “never again,” it must mean never again for everyone – regardless of the country it is happening in, the people it happens to, or the political party in charge.

— KIRILL REZNIK

The writer, a Democrat, represents Montgomery County’s District 39 in the Maryland House of Delegates.