There is a sign that stands outside of the gas chambers of Auschwitz, the infamous concentration camp where hundreds of thousands of people were murdered by Germany’s SS troops during World War II. It reads “you are in a building where the SS murdered thousands of people. Please maintain silence here: Remember their suffering and show respect for their memory.”
That request apparently meant nothing to GOP Congressman Clay Higgins of Louisiana during a trip there. For Higgins, this memorial was a stage for him to grandstand about America’s national security. As Politico reported:
During a trip to the concentration camp, Rep. Clay Higgins (R-La.) shot a roughly five-minute video of his visit, filming and narrating as he viewed the train tracks that carried prisoners to the camp and piles of shoes left by prisoners.
Midway through the video, Higgins films himself inside an Auschwitz gas chamber, explaining how Nazi guards would murder their victims by dropping poisonous gas through a hatch in the ceiling as he turned his camera towards the hatch. He then moved in front of the nearby ovens, explaining how the camp’s guards would force other prisoners to load the dead bodies for cremation.
That portion of the video prompted a response from the Auschwitz Memorial and Museum, which wrote on Twitter that “everyone has the right to personal reflections. However, inside a former gas chamber, there should be mournful silence. It’s not a stage.”
That notion of respect fell on deaf ears in the case of Higgins, who used the chamber as a backdrop to sell fear to the American people without any regard to the dead or the memorial’s protocols.
Beyond that, what Higgins did wasn’t only an offense to everyone that died in Auschwitz, the way he sells an equivalency between the Nazi’s and terrorists might be viewed by some as just plain dangerous. Genericizing threats rarely serves people well. No one of sound mind would ever dispute that what the Nazi’s did was horrific and evil. And yes, one could say the same thing about the actions of terrorists. That is where the comparison ends, however.
The people who were murdered by the SS henchmen were employed and backed by the German government They weren’t outsiders, they weren’t a rogue group out in the desert or holed up in caves. They were the government. Higgins, in his video talks about being vigilant in regards to outsiders and those of different beliefs — but what happened in 1930’s and 40’s Germany was a populist movement, not a terrorist invasion. It wasn’t immigrants, it wasn’t people who follow a different religion, it was their own people that initiated and carried out these atrocities. The false equivalencies Higgins makes the offensiveness of his words and actions even worse and more dangerous.
In his video, Higgins remarked as he stood next to the ovens where the bodies of Nazi victims were burned that, “this is why homeland security must be squared away, why our military must be invincible.”
But in 1940’s Germany, what was happening was their military was murdering those they perceived as dangerously different, mainly Jewish people — along with Catholics and other outsiders, labeling them as a threat to their “national security.” It wasn’t outsiders or refugees murdering millions, it was the German government promoting a populist, nationalist movement and demonizing all others as inferior or evil to them.