Can the migrant detention centres employed by the Trump administration on the US/Mexico border be legitimately labelled “concentration camps”? Earlier this year, the New York Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez made that claim in an Instagram video, and what resulted was a firestorm of controversy. Among the voices of protest was that of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. In a remarkable statement that never mentioned Ocasio-Cortez by name, the Museum “unequivocally reject[ed] efforts to create analogies between the Holocaust and other events, whether historical or contemporary”.

So what is a concentration camp? In what circumstances are the use of the phrase legitimate, and when does it obscure more than it reveals? Historian Dan Stone, author of Concentration Camps: a Very Short Introduction, explores those questions in this episode of the History Workshop podcast.

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Second Boer War – Bloemfontein Concentration Camp. Image courtesy The National Archives UK.

Dan Stone is Professor of Modern History and Director of the Holocaust Research Institute at Royal Holloway, University of London. His most recent book, Concentration Camps: a Very Short Introduction, explores the rise and spread of the concentration camp as an organic development of modern states, and the questions it raises about power and genocide are also guiding his current project, a study of the International Tracing Service, set up by the Allies after the war to locate people dispersed by Nazi persecution.

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