Congressman Clay Higgins, R-La., is under fire for filming a video at the former Nazi death camp, Auschwitz.
In that video, Higgins tours Auschwitz explaining how the Nazis murdered 1.1 million people on that site — most of them Jews.
For his misjudgment in speaking at Auschwitz — where silence is expected in service of living memorial — Higgins is now facing massive criticism.
To some degree of course, that criticism is fair (don't speak in gas chambers). But it's also being overdone.
Ultimately, it's clear that Higgins' critics aren't really that upset with his words, as much as they are his message. And in that, they are dishonoring the mission of Auschwitz to spread greater awareness.
When I visited Auschwitz in 2003, I was struck by the heavy, morose atmosphere that it exudes. As soon as you step inside, you want to get out. It is a haunting place. Watching his video with an open mind, it's clear that Higgins was moved by his visit, as I was by mine. Early on, as he walks through the shoe exhibit (in which tens of thousands of prisoner shoes are lumped together), Higgins remarks, "A great sense of dread comes over you in this place." He's right.
But as he enters an incinerator room (used to burn gassed victims), Higgins suggests, "This is why homeland security must be squared away, why our military must be invincible." Shortly thereafter the Congressman continues, "The United States is more accessible to terror like this, horror like this. It's hard to walk away from gas chambers and ovens without a very sober feeling of commitment — unwavering commitment — to make damn sure that the United States of America is protected from the evils of the world."
This is the viewpoint that has sent much of the commentariat into uproar. They're portraying Higgins as either anti-Semitic, or idiotic, or simply immoral. The Mediaite headline tells the tale, "A GOP Congressman Made a Selfie Video From Inside Auschwitz — It's as Bad as You Think."
Jay Michaelson of The Daily Beast tries to explain why. Higgins' message, says Michaelson, "utterly misconstrues the lessons of the Holocaust." The real lesson according to Michaelson? That "we must be wary of state militarism and must second-guess ourselves when we demonize other groups, especially unpopular ones."
Michaelson and his fellow critics have their opinions, and they are wrong. At the very least, they are trying to do the same thing as Higgins, but swapping out his understanding of the lesson of Auschwitz — and it's a pretty realistic understanding, by the way, based on the need for U.S. military might to end the Third Reich and its horrors — with their own.
But they also fundamentally miss the point of Auschwitz. After all, the entire reason it is still left standing is so that people might visit it. Because the broader lesson of the Holocaust is that knowledge is important — that evil is very real and demands constant attention.
Many Americans have likely heard of Auschwitz, but how many know even the most basic of its deadly details? Do they know how many Jews were killed at Auschwitz and the other camps? Do they even know what Belzec, Chelmno, and Treblinka were? Or how the Jews who died in those places were methodically rounded up? Or why and how Antisemitism took hold of a well-educated German population? Or how close the world came to a global purge of Jews and the other "sub-humans"?
I think not.
And that's the whole point here.
In the end, unlike many others who pretend to know, Higgins actually visited Auschwitz to see it for himself. The shooting of the video was in poor taste, but he at least tried to attain greater knowledge of the Holocaust. That's more than can be said for many of his critics.
Also, where were these liberal critics when Toure claimed Holocaust survivors were able to escape death thanks to their whiteness?