Columnist Marietta Pritchard: Inhumane impact of president’s chaos

Thursday, July 05, 2018

I look at the “official” government photos of the places where children separated from their families are being housed, fed and schooled, and I think of Theresienstadt.

That was the “model” concentration camp set up by the Nazis in Czechoslovakia. It was used as propaganda to fool the world that the Jews there were merely being “resettled to the East.” According to the U.S. Holocaust Museum, 15,000 children passed through the camp, either dying there or being sent to the death camps further east. Some 33,000 people died in Theresienstadt itself.

Our government’s photos and videos are chilling. Small children being marched in lines, none of them speaking or behaving like children. Pictures of rooms where children will sleep, beds lined up barrack-like; pictures of older children (no faces, of course) in classrooms with books and desks. Happy campers, we’re supposed to believe. In fact, these are all children who do not know where their parents are, what has happened to those parents, what is going to happen to the children themselves.

The last time the United States incarcerated children was during World War II and the internment of the Japanese families. That was horrible, inhuman, too, but at least those children were able to stay with their families.

What we are seeing now is something else, another level of inhumanity, something out of a horror film, the dystopian story of what could happen in the United States if ….

I have a book, over 600 pages long, titled “Memorial to the Jews Deported from France 1942-1944.” There are pages of text and photos of the various camps in France, but the majority of the book consists of page after page of lists of names with the dates that they were deported. Deportation was the dreaded word; it meant being sent to one’s death.

The reason I acquired this book was that I wanted to know more about Drancy, the “transit” camp outside of Paris where my Austrian grandfather was interned in 1942. He was not deported, but died three weeks after his release from the camp, a place where the dreadful conditions were designed to crush both spirit and body.

The Nazis and their French collaborators were frighteningly efficient. They knew and recorded the names and hometowns of all of the people who were sent to the death camps.

Our own government seems to be frighteningly inefficient, sending children to cities far from the border, where their parents may still being held. The private agencies that are now being made responsible for these children have little information and less power to change the rules.

Who is making up these rules? Our president is said to enjoy creating and living with chaos. He has certainly done it now.

Marietta Pritchard, of Amherst, can be reached at mppritchard@comcast.net.