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[THREAD] More on the @HolocaustMuseum statement and the letter of concern from the scholarly community.

There are some misunderstandings going on that need to be addressed.

Let's talk about this. Warning: long #thread
Here is the official USHMM statement.

Here is the Letter of concern by concerned scholars written and coordinated by @DrO_aorzoff and @Anika_Walke. As of now, over 375 have signed.

In many ways,what spawned this sequence of events was the statement of @RepAOC @AOC calling ICE detention centers concentration camps in which she referred to the determinations of @andreapitzer and myself in an @esquire article on the topic of comparison. esquire.com/news-politics/…
Ocasio-Cortez's statement simply brought an ongoing discussion into the public eye in a big way, generating huge amounts of publicity, and thrusting the scholarly discussion of appropriate analogies into the spotlight. The furor created much heat and not so much light.
Scholars, Holocaust survivors, members of the Jewish community, and MANY uninformed and ignorant voices on both sides weighed in. I can only imagine that it was this that caused the USHMM to issue its regrettable June 24, 2019 statement.
This is the key element at the heart of the debate. USHMM statement on the left, scholarly response on the right.
Thus, while many of the signatories of the letter DO support the nuanced, historically informed comparison with immigrant detention centers, the critique first and foremost was that the USHMM in this statement seemed to be contradicting much of its own purpose for existing.
Good, historically-grounded analogies to the #Holocaust are made all the time in order to meet the challenge issued by "Never Again."
"Never Again" does not mean "Never will Jews be gassed by Nazis in extermination centers in Poland." It is a challenge to APPLY the history we know in our analysis of current events to speak out BEFORE we repeat the Holocaust (and not all similar situations will lead there)
The @HolocaustMuseum which we love, support, and which has made OUR work possible through its materials, scholars, and programs itself routinely conducts training to better our future by analogy to the past. A few examples:
There is this "Never Stop Asking Why Initiative" which seems in direct contradiction to the Museum's June 24 statement.

Military programs

Law enforcement programs

Judiciary programs

Moreover, the Museum does great work in actively attempting to recognize and prevent genocide, an implicitly comparative mission.

One of the saddest elements to the Museum's absolute and categorical statement is that it seems to undermine the amazing work of its own staff and scholars, many of whom I continue to work with personally.
So, THIS above all else is the reason for letter, not direct support for @AOC's words as the press has assumed, even though, yes, most of the signatories on the list DO believe it is valid to make careful comparisons b/w the centers and the camps.
But there is another element to the statement, thankfully hidden a bit, that deserves discussion and critique as well. In the official statement, we are referred to another statement that is longer and much more problematic.
THIS compounded the error of the June 24 statement by referring the reader to a December 12, 2018 statement by an historian in the Museum's education division entitled "Why Holocaust Analogies are Dangerous."

One of the major problems with this Dec statement is that it is portrayed as responding to the detention center discussion when it does nothing of the kind. It, rather, refers to the general (and ignorant) misuse of #Holocaust comparisons in politics and pop culture.
The piece references the most egregious (and stupid) abuses of Holocaust memory and history. It is also more op/ed than official institutional statement (or should be).
It uses the words...

sloppy analogizing
grossly simplified
flattened morality tale
rhetorical cudgel

...to describe Holocaust analogies (many of which ARE bad in all kinds of ways)
The truly dangerous effect of this language and the examples is that the Museum chose to associate this polemic with its official statement as another official statement or rather a further clarification of the position. I can't imagine this is what the Museum intended.
But this implies that these adjectives characterize ANY analogy to the Holocaust, including that b/w it and the detention centers. Whereas, quite to the contrary, scholars are making those comparisons in nuanced and complex ways within the bounds of what history will support.
This is disingenuous at best. None of the signatories on the letter would call animal rights issues in the food industry a "Holocaust on a plate" even if they do find them deeply disturbing.
In addition, there is more problematic language in this December statement. There is a clear appeal to emotion by invoking survivors and their families. This should not prevent making nuanced comparisons. (And, indeed, there are survivors on both sides of this debate)
The author claims that (grossly simplified) analogies demean the dead. Agreed. But that is not what is going on here or in the Museum itself. Scholars make reasoned, informed comparisons. That doesn't demean the dead but seeks to apply their experience to the present.
This Dec 2018 statement seems to uphold a belief that the Holocaust is a somehow sanctified event that lies beyond comparison (or even, perhaps, comprehension) and that any event to draw structural comparison to other historical events is blasphemous.
This is dangerous, as I have mentioned, because there is a whole discipline of Genocide Studies that relies on looking at comparative methodology to better understand genocide. The Holocaust is unique...in the same way that all genocides are unique in their own ways.
Notice I have spoken little of the comparison b/w the Holocaust and the detention centers. That is not really the point of this thread and one can read about those comparisons elsewhere.
This thread has been about why the premier Holocaust museum AND center for scholarly study of the Holocaust (and, to a lesser extent, genocide) should NOT make statements categorically rejecting comparison as a methodology.
TL;DR To my mind, the solution for the @HolocaustMuseum is quite simple: Retract the June 24 and December statements and replace them with a simple statement recognizing that comparisons CAN be made provided they are done with care, nuance, and by qualified scholars.
Such a statement respects the survivors and their families, does not demean the memory of the Holocaust, is in full keeping with Museum's mission, remains above the political fray, and validates the outstanding work it and the letter's signatories do. This is not hard.
I want to close by reiterating that the museum's scholars continue to do great and amazing things on a daily basis, from education to preservation to scholarship to helping survivors' families to actions against genocide.
W/o the support of the @HolocaustMuseum, I personally would not be where I am today. I first worked in the archives as an undergraduate. I've never left, in a professional sense. For those of us, it is a family filled with friendly faces with a shared commitment. It remains so.
I (and I suspect the other signatories) have not lost our faith in the institution, but we need to see it address the statement. We do not stand against the Museum; we stand FOR and WITH it. Thanks for reading what became a lengthy thread.

with love,

Dr. Waitman Wade Beorn
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