Republican Congressman uses Nazi death camp as backdrop for political video

Politicizing a space where around 1.1 million people, most of them Jews, were exterminated.

CREDIT: AP Photo/Herbert Knosowski/file
CREDIT: AP Photo/Herbert Knosowski/file

A Louisiana Republican is taking heat for using a Nazi death camp to further his political agenda.

A video posted by Representative Clay Higgins from inside a former gas chamber at Auschwitz-Birkenau on Saturday sparked outrage from officials, who took him to task for politicizing a space where around 1.1 million people, most of them Jews, were exterminated. Rather than pausing to reflect in silence as signs request, Higgins, who serves on the U.S. House Homeland Security Committee, chose the somber setting as the backdrop for a call to arms in his home country.

“This is why homeland security must be squared away, why our military must be invincible,” Higgins says in the video, over a violin solo from Holocaust drama Schindler’s List. “The world’s a smaller place now than it was in World War II. The United States is more accessible to terror like this, horror like this. It’s hard to walk away from the 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.”

Higgins’ choice of location went over poorly with the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum. “Everyone has the right to personal reflections,” the Auschwitz Memorial’s official Twitter account wrote. “However, inside a former gas chamber, there should be mournful silence. It’s not a stage.”

The claim that a more powerful military and increased homeland security might have stopped the Holocaust — an extermination carried out by a government against its Jewish minority and Jewish minorities in neighboring countries — comes at a precarious time for minorities in the United States.

Since the election of Donald Trump, hate crimes have spiked across the country, targeting religious minorities, people of color, women, immigrants, and queer people.

Jews have been particularly wary of the Trump administration, which has dogged ongoing accusations of anti-Semitism. White House advisers like Sebastian Gorka and White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon have come under fire for, respectively, alleged ties to a fascist organization and anti-Semitic comments.

In April, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer seemingly downplayed Adolf Hitler’s gassing of Jews while condemning Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad. In a clarification, Spicer argued Assad was killing “innocent people” — another comment he later walked back.

Trump failed to mention Jews on international Holocaust Remembrance Day in January, sparking ire and concern. When asked by a Jewish reporter to speak about increasing violence directed at Jews, Trump told the journalist to “sit down,” emphasizing that he was “the least anti-Semitic person that you’ve ever seen in your entire life.” His attitude appears to extend abroad as well as at home — recently, the State Department chose to allow its office monitoring and combating anti-Semitism around the world to go unstaffed.

At the time of Trump’s election, the New York Times argued that the president’s victory paved the way for Higgins, and others like him, to be elected. Higgins seemed to agree. “I’m a candidate of We the People, and I believe Trump was also the candidate of We the People,” he told the Times. “I admire the man, and I look forward to working with him,” he added, while emphasizing that he was “no man’s puppet.”

Higgins’ enthusiasm for Trump and the policies he has ushered in extends beyond homeland security videos filmed in former gas chambers. In a Facebook post last month, the former sheriff’s department spokesman declared that “all of Christendom…is at war with Islamic horror” and called for all Muslims suspected of being “radicalized” to be killed.

“Not a single radicalized Islamic suspect should be granted any measure of quarter,” Higgins wrote. “Their intended entry to the American homeland should be summarily denied. Every conceivable measure should be engaged to hunt them down. Hunt them, identify them, and kill them. Kill them all. For the sake of all that is good and righteous. Kill them all.”