• Daniel Ethan Finneran

Is "ICE" the New Einsatzgruppen?

June 2018

Are we to believe that I.C.E, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, is akin to the Einsatzgruppen? If one takes earnestly the denunciations by which the agency has been lately pelted, we might do well in believing that the two are one in the same.

The latter, as if one needed to be reminded, existed only so long as did the Third Reich. Falling mercifully short of its promised thousand-year reign, Hitler’s dystopian vision of an Aryan millennium lived quite long enough. Even in the course of a few short years—really a blink of an eye as far as the longevity of empires are concerned—Hitler’s regime succeeding in ravishing the innocence of all posterity and scarring its peace of mind. Under the winking eye of his bespectacled second-in-command, Heinrich Himmler, the Einsatzgruppen operated in Europe with a license so morbidly unconstrained that it might not be wrong to call it carte blanche. The rank and file of the group swelled with the crème de la crème of the German soldiering class. Those men by whom it was composed had a few archetypal (and now stereotypical) attributes in common. They were tall, blond, muscular, gracile, Germanic to the bone and Teutonic to the core.

Most of the terrible crimes to which these homogeneous, flagitious men were never made to answer were not only permitted, but encouraged by their commanding officers. Scruples, as they are for the civilized world, weren’t chains by which their superiors were to be encumbered. By extension, neither were they. Indeed, few excesses were seen to be too much and seldom was a restraint on inhumanity to be found. To be murderous was to be expected, but to be gratuitous in the act was a higher art. Given the go-ahead from the Reichstag under which it operated, the Einsatzgruppen murdered whomever it pleased, stole whatever it wanted, and answered to no feeling of iniquity nor remorse. To deign to scruples would be to invite the unit’s own demise. In time, the group sprawled across the Sudetenland in the east, romped across the Rhineland to the west, and administered with unity and efficacy a throng of concentration camps all the way from Poland to Ukraine. It was, from its beginning till its end, a bestial paramilitary gang of SS thugs—the worst of all humanity that has yet been put on display.

And while I thought that the group had all but disappeared with the fall of Berlin in 1945 and the trials of Nuremberg thereafter, recent media reports have me questioning what I thought was my sound grasp on our historical past.

Apparently, our border patrol agents, on whom we as American citizens have come to place an immense and thankless responsibility, are actually no different from Hitler’s own personal brown shirt brigade. I.C.E agents, so it appears, are the second coming of the Nazis in every manner but name. Yes, our fellow Americans, our protectors of the southern border and—as it currently stands—our defenders of the written law are indistinguishable from those Germans who murdered millions of Bolsheviks, communists, gypsies, invalids, and Jews. They’re on par with those who thought nothing of firing their lugers and letting pour the effluvium from the Zyklon vents. It seems to be the case, if our disinterested talking heads on the evening news programs are to be taken seriously (and why should they not be?), that these brave Americans manning our southern border have become little more than synonyms for Aryans and stand-ins for fascists. The runic insignia “SS” and the three letters, “I.C.E” may as well be one in the same.

This, at least, is the idea that’s been making the rounds. Television host Soledad O’Brien, usually a steady and circumspect voice in the foggy mist, wondered aloud on Twitter if indeed “Nazi Germany” could happen here in America. Her answer, not surprisingly, albeit historically ignorantly, was an unfortunate yes. NPR reporter Maria Hinojosa did O’Brien one better by comparing I.C.E directly with the Gestapo—the secret police force responsible for the deaths of millions of Jews (the Gestapo, it’s worth adding, was eventually subsumed by the SS). Surely, the misdoings of I.C.E, wheresoever they might appear to be, will be measured commensurate to those of the genocidal murderers of an entire ethnic group.

Not a pundit, but someone worthy of note, First Lady Melania Trump’s lawyer, Michael Wildes joined O’Brien and Hinojosa in throwing in his own two cents. Appearing on Fox News, Wildes equated the “inhumanity” at the Mexican-American border with the “detention centers of Nazi Germany”, which served, mind you, as places of exploitation, labor, rape, and almost inevitably of death. And while we don’t hold him, a private and, by all appearances, successful attorney to the same standards to which we hold those who communicate the news, you mustn’t accept falsities from anyone who takes hold the public ear.

Perhaps most distressing of all, though, was the response to the current immigration crisis by General Michael Hayden. A decorated military man and estimable government official who served not only as President Obama’s director of the CIA, but as Presidents Bush’s and Clinton’s director of the NSA, Hayden posted on Twitter an image of Auschwitz with the caption, “other governments have separated mothers and children”. The intimation, if the venerated general wasn’t being overtly clear, was that President Trump’s approach to the current immigration crisis is akin to the way in which the Nazis treated prisoners at that most infamous of all concentration camps. Doubtless, a man of Hayden’s military pedigree would know the historical context well enough to apply it, or to withhold its specious application today.

These four people, of whom three are somewhat prominent fixtures in the public eye, ought to be ashamed of their comparisons of I.C.E with the SS, of our strained and underfunded immigration infrastructure with concentration and death camps, of Trump with Hitler, and of America with the Third Reich. Not only are these comparisons incendiary, but they’re mendacious, slanderous, and historically blind.

Children are being separated from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border, that much is true. Yet this is a result not of our deep-seated racial animus nor of our inveterate religious intolerance toward those to whom entry into this country has been blocked (on solidly legal grounds, it might be added). Rather, it’s the result of an ill-conceived court decree—one effectuated by the left-leaning Ninth Circuit in the year 2016. It was a ruling to which even President Obama was forced to abide. Prior to his doing so, Obama and his administration were guilty, albeit inconspicuously, of separating young Central American children from their mothers and fathers at the border. This unsavory truth, however, wasn’t adequately newsworthy at the time. On the contrary, it was brushed aside and counted as yet another unprepossessing story destined to elude the light of day.

And while Obama’s successor might not be going about the execution of this law in the most decorous of ways, he is ultimately doing exactly what Obama was compelled by the courts to do. Like it or not, President Trump is doing that which his job as chief executive demands. In a word, he is executing the law as we’d expect any president to do.

At the border, children are being separated from their parents. The situation is troubling and bleak. The former suffer the transient stresses of detachment from their parents, while the latter face prosecution (as per Trump’s “zero tolerance” immigration policy) for their illegal entry into the country. By and large, these are families coming from Central and South America—usually from contemptible and squalid places—who’ve decided against seeking entry at any number of the licit checkpoints scattered along the Texas border. Conceivably, these desperate and tired families have forgone the checkpoints for one of two reasons: first, it could be a sheer matter of ignorance that leads them to attempt an illegal crossing (that is, because they know not that there are in fact legal checkpoints that even exist) or second, because of insolence (knowing that the likelihood of them being turned away at said ports of entry is inauspiciously high). But because of the court’s decree, the children of these endeavoring, audacious, and—on no small number of occasions—spurious parents can only stay in the detention centers for twenty days. Thereafter, they must be re-located either to foster homes, juvenile holding centers, or to the properties of their next of kin. Of the three options, none is particularly desirable but all beat the countries whence they came.

A simple and an anodyne way to rejoin these children with their parents and nip in the bud this bubbling controversy and its Nazi comparisons would be to do away with the twenty-day cap. First installed by a case named “Flores” in 1997 and, as noted, strengthened a decade later by the Ninth Circuit court, this law puts a premium on expediency (by having the children move through the system so quickly in less than a month) at the cost of humanity (in that it almost always takes longer than twenty days for their parents to be booked).

Really, though, there’s very little that’s simple when you’re dealing small children being separated from their parents for hours, let alone days. This, mind you, comes at the heels of a long, hot, and precarious journey with their now separated parents from Latin America whence they came. Tired and uncertain, these children can be seen in crowded detention facilities overseen by I.C.E. There, images reveal them crying, idling, sleeping on mats, and pacing in cages as they await to be re-united with their parents and deported out of the country or granted admittance into it.

That said, so far as the plights of illegal aliens are measured against the rest of the world and through the lens of history, these children aren’t being abused. On the government’s dime, they’ve been provisioned shelter, sustenance, entertainment, language classes, group activities, and every solicitude that our under-funded government agencies can offer. That’s not to say that I would send my child there for a three-week sojourn, but the conditions through an earnest and panoptic lens must be viewed.

Children at Auschwitz had an altogether different fate. Upon alighting the cattle cars in which they were stowed (usually by that point buried in their own excrement, blood, and sweat), they were lead to the camp and its mocking gates. Arbeit macht frei, read the stolidly orthogonal iron bars, but on the children, the cruel irony of these three words was certainly lost. As such, most children wouldn’t have the opportunity to indulge the illusion of liberation through work—an illusion to which some of their more hopeful elders still grasped.

Then, shorn of their hair, of their clothes, of their valuables, and finally of their pride, these poor children were ushered toward the “showers”. This was done with little delay. It was an act of alacrity, never one of clemency. The elder women, to whom they looked for reassurance and poise over the course of their long journey, were visibly broken. So too denuded, they followed the children closely behind as all were to congregate for one last time in the chambers. The men of “able” body had at that point already been separated from the women and children and sent away to begin their new and abbreviated lives. However, as they were quickly to learn, there was to be in their new line of work no consolation, much less remuneration; the men realized that regardless of their toils, they’d too be made to join the women and children in the breathing of a shared and fetid fate. All were to die in a cloud—to disintegrate in a plume of smoke.

Those children deemed sufficiently anomalous might hope to extend their lives ever so slightly, though no less painfully. If she was a twin or of a curious stature, the child might fall into the hands of a one Dr. Mengele, under whose “care” she would live out the rest of her days. She would suffer unspeakable harm until she was rendered useless in death (although, more often than not, her autopsy would prove her most valuable asset to the deranged physician). The “Good Uncle”, or the guter onkel as the tongue of the time might’ve said, would endear himself to his little subjects by feeding them treats before exposing them to the barbaric, macabre, pseudo-scientific musings that so fervently danced about his head. The number of children who died at his hand is unknown.

Doubtless, it’s a moribund re-telling of the past, but it’s only through this lens we can better appreciate the moment in which we live. The situation at the southern border is embarrassing, frustrating, seemingly intractable, and lamentable, but the one thing that it’s not is comparable to Auschwitz and the Holocaust. That’s something we’d be wise not to forget. I.C.E, in a word, is not the equivalent to the Einsatzgruppen. In fact, thankfully, there is no American organization to which such a dishonest and scurrilous equivalence should be drawn.

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