Letters to the Editor: ‘Concentration camps’? No one forced migrants to come to the U.S.

Otay Mesa Detention Center
A demonstrator holds a poster in front of the Otay Mesa Detention Center for immigrants in San Diego on July 2, 2019.
(Etienne Laurent / EPA/Shutterstock)

To the editor: Some of my relatives were forcibly removed from their homes and relocated to Nazi concentration camps because they were Jews. Members of my wife’s family were forcibly removed from their homes and relocated to concentration camps in America in 1942 because they were of Japanese descent. (“What is a concentration camp? It’s an old debate that mostly started in California,” July 26)

What is happening at the border with migrants today does not involve concentration camps.

Historian Andrea Pitzer defines concentration camps as places of forced relocation of civilians on the basis of group identity.

While migrants are being forcibly detained, they relocated themselves when they chose to come to America. And unlike the Jews in Europe and the Japanese Americans in the United States, migrants are not being detained because they belong to a specific group. No migrant is being held because of who he or she is. Migrants are being detained because of what they are attempting to do.


It is understandable that emotions are heightened when describing the treatment of migrants on our border. But, to ensure that the lessons of history will not be lost, we must refrain from obscuring the context of terms such as “concentration camp” by misusing them to express how we feel about events of our time.

Josef Colman, Santa Monica


To the editor: The Nazi concentration camps started out as prison camps. But they are infamous for becoming death camps.

The transition from concentration to extermination is what we should be concerned about. This in no way minimizes the Holocaust (in fact it does the opposite), but it reminds us how dangerous it is to minimize the forced imprisonment of a targeted group of civilians.

Denise Nardi, Woodland Hills


To the editor: As a Jew who is the son of a Holocaust-surviving mother and family, I also recoil at the sound of the term “concentration camp.” I want all to understand why: The Nazis used the term as a euphemism for “death camps.”


I am willing to let go of the term “concentration camp” so it can be applied to other circumstances such as those discussed in the article, but only under one very significant condition: that usage of the term “concentration camp” not be connected to Nazi death camps, and that efforts should be made to make the distinction.

Never again should the term “concentration camp” be used to describe Nazi death camps.

Jeff Drobman, Chatsworth