Ben Carson, will you tour the Holocaust Museum with me?

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This sculpture stands at Israel's Holocaust memorial,  the Yad Vashem. Photo by Cathy Lynn Grossman

This sculpture stands at Israel's Holocaust memorial, the Yad Vashem. Photo by Cathy Lynn Grossman

This sculpture, representing a Jewish Holocaust victim in a prayer shawl with concentration camp numbers on his arm, has been displayed at the Yad Vashem in Jerusalem. Photo by Cathy Lynn Grossman

This sculpture, representing a Jewish Holocaust victim in a prayer shawl with concentration camp numbers on his arm, has been displayed at the Yad Vashem in Jerusalem. Photo by Cathy Lynn Grossman

Dear Mr. Carson,

Many people were startled by your remarks about Germany, gun control and the Holocaust. You offered up a decades-old NRA-touted version of history in which Hitler supposedly cracked down on private guns and thereby Jews were unable to defend themselves.

I’ll let the historians take that one apart, starting with a study by Columbia University Law professor Bernard Harcourt, who called the much-cited Hitler quote lauding gun registration as “probably a fraud and was likely never uttered.”

But I like to invite you to do your own research for a few hours. The next time you are in Washington, let’s tour the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum together. Perhaps you could help me understand how you think Jews might have saved themselves if they had only had guns handy.

You could show me which of the millions and millions and millions and millions and millions and millions (that’s six million, counting just Jews but many more if you count gays, Christians and political dissidents) you picture rising up.

We could stop by the exhibit of the shoes.

Some of them are tiny. One million children were killed in the Holocaust.  Many of the shoes belonged to women — folks who rarely had firearms in the 1940s. Were they complicit like the Oregon victims you shrug off as failures to fight back?

READ: Roseburg killings: How should Christians respond? (COMMENTARY)

We could check the exhibits on the euthanasia program. Initially, the Nazis had a special unit that killed the sick, disabled, and the mentally ill. They murdered more than 70,000 by 1941 and then they just stopped counting. Guns for blind? No, probably you didn’t mean them — or the 67-year-old professor and the disabled people fired on in Oregon — when you talked about people rushing a lone shooter.

Then we could look into the history of the mobile killing teams (Einsatzgruppen) which swept through the tiny towns where Russia had kept most Jews and herded them to trenches for execution by firing squads. Surely you’ve heard of Babi Yar, the ravine near Kiev where nearly 34,000 Jews were killed?

According to the Holocaust Museum, “By the spring of 1943, the Einsatzgruppen and Order Police battalions had killed over a million Soviet Jews and tens of thousands of Soviet political commissars, partisans, Roma, and institutionalized disabled persons. “

READ: 5 faith facts about Ben Carson: retired neurosurgeon, Seventh-day Adventist

As far as I know, Russia didn’t have gun control. So the Hitler-gun-suppression theory wouldn’t have applied. Neither would it have applied in Poland, where the Nazi regime planted many of its most notorious death camps.

If you have any trouble picturing folks who were herded on trains to the gas chambers, I’ve included a visual aid. I’m not such a great photographer so it’s hard to see that this is an anguished old man in a prayer shawl, bearing a tattoo from a concentration camp on his left arm. Should he have had a pistol handy under his prayer shawl to challenge the SS?

In 1971, this statue stood near the entrance of the Yad Vashem. Over succeeding decades, it’s been moved as more exhibits -– including a valley of stone monuments to Jewish towns wiped out by the Nazis and their collaborators –- have been added to the site on a Jerusalem hillside.

(RNS1-feb6) A group of Jews are taken prisoner during the Warsaw Ghetto uprising of April 1943. For use with RNS-GUNS-HOLOCAUST, transmitted on February 6, 2013, Religion News Service File Photo.

(RNS1-feb6) A group of Jews are taken prisoner during the Warsaw Ghetto uprising of April 1943. For use with RNS-GUNS-HOLOCAUST, transmitted on February 6, 2013, Religion News Service File Photo.

Last time I visited, a huge sculpture of resistance fighters dominated the Yad Vashem entrance.  Yes, there were resistance fighters — at the Warsaw ghetto, in the Sobibor concentration camp and in more places.

Are you saying these futile few who fought to their own deaths are more noble than those who perished?

You could make many arguments about gun control, Mr. Carson, but after a tour of the Holocaust Museum or the Yad Vashem, after you spend some time with historians and some time – and tissues – looking at the shoes, I think you won’t use this one.

Today, the U.S. Holocaust Museum issued a statement condemning what is called the “misuse of Holocaust in public discourse”:

“Nazism represented a singular evil that resulted in the murder of six million Jews and the persecution and deaths of millions of others for racial and political reasons. Comparing contemporary situations to Nazism is not only offensive to its victims, but it is also inaccurate and misrepresents both Holocaust history and the present. The Holocaust should be remembered, studied, and understood so that we can learn its lessons; it should not be exploited for opportunistic purposes.”

Jonathan A. Greenblatt, National Director of the Anti-Defamation League said in a statement: “Ben Carson has a right to his views on gun control, but the notion that Hitler’s gun-control policy contributed to the Holocaust is historically inaccurate.  The small number of personal firearms available to Germany’s Jews in 1938 could in no way have stopped the totalitarian power of the Nazi German state.  When they had weapons, Jews could symbolically resist, as they did in the 1943 Warsaw Ghetto Uprising and elsewhere, but they could not stop the Nazi genocide machine.  In short, gun control did not cause the Holocaust; Nazism and anti-Semitism did.”

Friday, you called the ADL statement “foolishness” and stood by your own version of history.

Let me know when you’re ready to see the shoes.

Respectfully, Cathy

NOTE ON COMMENTS: All views, respectfully presented, are welcome. Please offer your one comment and then stand back for others to add their views.

  • Larry

    Ben Carson is pond scum. Just on general principles.

    Does he think that a few people with guns could have stopped the Holocaust? Really? Of course not. Its just hot air and his usual ignorance to placate the gun lobby in his own party.

    Russia lost 24 million people defeating the Nazis, the US and UK lost about 1 million people, and they had tanks, artillery, and planes.

    Gun control laws were actually looser in Nazi Germany than the prior government.

    The assertion that a well armed society prevents and effectively the rise of dictators is a farce. There are no examples of that anywhere. The “well regulated militias” during the American Revolution and subsequent conflicts were less than useless in practice. Armed insurgencies do not survive without outside material and manpower assistance. From the French Resistance to ISIS. These people look to Somalia as their guide.

  • Marsha Hansen

    My comment is not about gun control but about the Holocaust. I have profound respect for the Museum’s position on the misuse of the Holocaust in public discourse. It is with this respect that I take an opportunity to point out the tragic link between the 1904-1907 Herero and Namaqua Genocide and the Holocaust. The pattern of murders, experiments, concentration camps, and attempts at racial extermination in German South West Africa (present-day Namibia), where Hermann Goring’s father, Heinrich Goring had served as a colonial governor, were an early and deadly stage of a cancer. This part of the tragic history of the world should be more widely known. The proving ground for later Nazi atrocities was in Africa .

  • Deacon John M Bresnahan

    If a people were under the thumb of a modern Hitler, this article is a great demoralizer of taking any action to save lives.
    One horrible thing about this article is that, in part, it is certainly on the side of rolling over for bloody, vicious dictators.
    And all Holocausts of any group are “singular evils” Ask the American Indian:( “The only good Indian is a dead Indian.) Ask a Cambodian of the Killing Fields. Ask an Armenian about what happened to his grandparents (oops!) According to some the Armenian Holocaust never happened. Or how about the Irish Famine where starving Irish died while watching the grains grown in Ireland shipped elsewhere for the express purpose of starving the Irish so they would leave or die.

  • Ben in oakland

    You cannot leave out the atrocities committed in the name of Catholic Monarch Leopold of Belgium. If you want to laugh while you’re crying,read mark Twain’s indictment of him.

  • Scott Shaver

    For this reader, the article had an effect which is probably contrary to her intent.

    Reading her article and viewing the photos makes me wish every victim of the Holocaust had been been able to procure a firearm to keep under their prayer shawls.

  • The Great God Pan

    Why would seeing the shoes change Dr. Carson’s mind? Surgeons are not generally noted for their empathy and humanity. In fact, the profession is regularly touted as one that attracts an abnormally high number of sociopaths.

  • Sister Geraldine Marie, OP, RN, PHN

    Cathy, while I disagree with Dr. Carson’s premise, he’s doing no better or worse than other politicians who are appalled at the violence being done by civilians in the U.S. and are trying to figure out a way to stop it.
    This is a country supposed to be ruled by law, but it isn’t and really never was. It’s the ideal that we proclaim to the rest of the world, though, but we act completely opposite. Force is used both here and overseas.
    The only way to get people to change now is through bombarding them with education about guns and making it mandatory to demonstrate both written and actual use of a gun before being able to obtain one. This approach is similar to what we do when issuing driver’s licenses. And start with young people first.

  • As a Holocaust educator I viscerally recoil at comparisons of the Holocaust to contemporary events. While I see it as unwise that he brought the state sponsored, systematic murder of six million Jews into the discussion at all, I think Dr. Carson was making a point that agrees with the Founders of our nation about vigilance in the face of tyranny, not “blaming”: the European Jewish community for being passive. He is trying to get across the idea that the citizen must always remain vigilant to guard and preserve democratic freedom, as the Weimar Republic was also a democracy, if a weak one, when Hitler took power.

    As I understand the history of the “gun control” debate, while Hitler did not enact his own “gun control laws” he certainly valued them and did extend the Weimar Republic’s pre-existing law (“Law on Firearms and Ammunition,” 1928), which, ironically, was designed to keep the likes of extremist groups, such as the National Socialists at the time, from arming…

  • Dominic

    Ben Carson at least makes a point for wrong headed gun control policies. Only law abiding citizens would respect them, leaving guns only in the hands of criminals or the delusional. Guns would have not helped the Jews in Nazi Germany, perhaps that type of resistance would have only escalated it. His analogy was insensitive, but it addressed the quandary of self defense vs. defenseless victim.
    These school shootings are growing due to a new, chilling view of the world by adolescents and sociopaths. Look at the sterile reactions to the casual murders that take place in video games and movies. People want revenge like that for real or imagined offenses, and we have all grown numb to its depravity. A moment of fame and glory is another element of these pitiful murderers…again, another by product of an Instagram world.
    No strict law will eradicate the underlying goal of these defective people, a movement to detect these people early is the only approach that will turn us away from…

  • You lose all credibility with your juvenile first sentence.

  • Deacon John M Bresnahan

    Before the killing comes the hatred. Calling Dr. Carson “pond scum” is just such hatred.
    As for the issue of having widespread citizen ownership of guns–I just saw an interview with an Israeli who said that EVERY citizen in Israel is expected to own a gun so there will never again be a Holocaust of Jews. Apparently in Israel they wisely think the same as our founding fathers and the 2nd Amendment—that the best way to scare tyrants away is to have an armed citizenry..

  • larry

    Your lazy tone trolling is duly noted.

  • larry

    1. Carson deserves it for such a patently ridiculous and offensive statement. Fundamentalist Christians do not know how to make a Holocaust reference without it being groan worthy. They don’t have it in them in general. Especially since it was only a generation ago that crowd was openly antisemitic (much of it is latent now)

    2.Every Israeli citizen is expected to be part of a well regulated and controlled military force. Not just a bunch of yahoos with guns.

    3. No tyrant ever has been scared off by armed citizenry alone. Not even the Founding Fathers managed that. Those well armed citizens were intended to support the government as a militia. The plain reading of the text of the 2nd amendment makes that clear.

    4. Carson’s statement was based on phony quotes, fantasies and outright fictions. Civilians waving around guns could never accomplish what the entire efforts of the military of the US, UK and USSR took 5 years to do.

  • larry

    So how does opposing regulations of gun sales keep guns away from criminals and intended responsible hands? It doesn’t.

    In fact the lack of consistent or national level regulation has made it easier for criminals to obtain firearms through seemingly legal purchasing. In every instance of mass murder in schools the weapons were purchased legally. Either they were negligently stored (Columbine and Sandy Hook) or the gunman bought several in a short period of time and nobody noticed.

    Bans are not a sane policy, but regulation on the same level as autos makes sense:
    Mandatory liability insurance
    National registration database
    Mandatory education requirements (waivable for professional users and hunters)

    Create a market incentive for responsible use and protect ownership rights. Plus the gun owners spread their risk to public for negligent use.

  • Jack

    Assuming that there wasn’t much in the way of gun control under the Third Reich, Dr. Carson is flatly incorrect in two ways — first, the level of gun control and second, whether the Holocaust could have been prevented if more Jews had guns.

    But this article is on the opposite extreme. If more Jews had guns and used them, only a fool would deny that more would have been saved. No emotionally manipulative rhetoric can mask that fact.

    And for white liberals, a black conservative like Ben Carson is a major-league headache, which is why the knives come out so quickly for people like him. Too bad that Carson is so gaffe-prone — he plays into their hands.

    For the bigger picture is that white liberal support for the Iran deal is infinitely more harmful and dangerous to the Jewish people than Ben Carson’s musings about gun control.

  • Daniel Berry, NYC

    I doubt it. yours, however…

  • Fiona Dyball

    Common sense gun regulation works in my home country of Australia. The rest of the world looks on and weeps for the carnage the US inflicts on itself by not balancing rights with responsibilities in this area. It is a blind spot that parts of the US seem to have and it’s tragic, as are the consequences. I hope that something changes so that more innocent people don’t have to die senseless deaths. So many families grieving. So many people dead. Enough talk – learn from what works in other places and do something.

  • larry

    Actually Jack, at no point were the Nazis ever turned away or turned back due to efforts by partisans (civilians with guns). If anything such efforts were usually returned with atrocity against civilians and increased firepower.

    These people wiped out an entire town just to avenge the death of one of their functionaries (Lidice) The Warsaw uprising was met with tanks, flamethrowers and bombardment. Hiding people or smuggling them out saved lives.

    In Russia and Poland there were no shortages of Jews with guns fighting the Nazis. There was a separate Jewish resistance in Poland.Most had to fight their own anti semitic countrymen eager for new progroms.

    Partisans abounded in occupied Russia, Italy, Greece and Yugoslavia. None of the survived without allied or Soviet support.

    The whole “my guns protect our freedom” line is ridiculous. Just an excuse to play out cheap fantasies and pretend one bought their guns to do something besides show off.

  • George Nixon Shuler

    I would not characterize Carson as “pond scum” so much as a slick academic/physician on the political make. The right-wing loves to hold up Carson and similar self-righteous clowns who be tommin’ and say “See, I like Carson; I ain’t no racist.” And yet, the amount of voters of African-American persuasion they entice with having Carson and the like get in the group picture amounts into the dozens and they wring their hands over that and the racist comments about those African-Americans they can’t win over spew out in spades. Carson and his fellow travellers like that silly Alan Keyes the GOP got relocated from Maryland to Illinois to run for the Senate against Barack Obama as a sacrificial lamb serve in a Bokononist sense as a “wrang-wrang” to African-Americans: through the absurdity of their examples they don’t buy the snake oil the right-wing is selling. Carly Fiorina does the same for women and guys like Homocon Carl DeMaio for LGBTs.

  • George Nixon Shuler

    Ben, would you happen to have the title of that work by Twain? I am reading Hannah Arendt’s “The Origins of Totalitarianism” and it is mentioned there.

  • George Nixon Shuler

    That sounds delicious, but in all practicality it would most likely have speeded up the process and made it more bloody and brutal. It would have the same effect as some 1990s militia guys who called themselves The Viper Militia and decided to attack Fort Hood, the Army’s large base in Central Texas. One had loose lips and told somebody who told somebody with a brain and before they knew it the FBI, ATF, and Texas Rangers swooped down on their broken down camper in San Saba State Park, near Tommy Lee Jones’ ranch, and made short work of them. Your idea sound exhilarating in theory but in practice, nada. I noticed some gun nuts appropriated the “Come and Take It” Flag from the battle of Gonzales, Texas, in the Texas Revolution about a skirmish on October 2, 1835, over a cannon the Mexican government had given the Texicans and then wanted back. It was a feel-good non-victory of little import except propaganda-wise.

  • ben in oakland

    Google “mark twain king leopold soliloquy pdf”. If my memory serves me correctly, he wrote more than one piece on the subject. I think there is also a long bit in his autobiography vol. 2

  • ben in oakland

    Dr. Carson…

    Gun control isn’t brain surgery.

  • proviso56

    Thank you Fiona!
    A great first step would be to ban internet sales and gun show sales. Notice I didn’t say ban gun shows themselves since they could be a very valuable education tool. A second step would be to ban assault weapons. No, not all violent gun acts are caused by the use of assault weapons but assault weapons in the hands of untrained and possibly unstable people can create a false sense of omnipotence. Maybe we could take baby steps and ultimately create a safer country for all.
    Training and licensing are important but less likely to be implemented anytime soon.

  • Folks, I said in my blog post that people are invited to comment once. You know who you are and all comments after the first have been reported as abuse. Cyberflooding the comment field discourages new voices.
    My blog. My rules.

  • Jack

    Larry, the more I think about this, the more perplexed I get about what the heck is your point or the author’s, other than beating the crap out of a black conservative who is about as welcome in white liberal circles as a bumble bee in a nudist colony.

    Here’s why: I reread Carson’s words and am now far from sure that his intent was to say there would be no Holocaust if enough Jews had guns. If he did mean this, I condemn his remarks. But if, as I’m starting to wonder, he simply meant that if more Jews had guns, more would have been saved, then that is certainly the case. We know of instances in concentration camps and later even in death camps where revolts leading to temporary access to weaponry did result in people escaping and surviving.

    To argue otherwise is to argue not only against those facts, but to assume an almost cultish position against the obvious. You might as well argue that 2 and 2 make 72 or that the moon is made of green cheese.

  • Larry

    My point is that Ben Carson was speaking out of his posterior. In his attempt to make noise for the NRA, he managed to show a complete ignorance of history and common sense.

    “I reread Carson’s words and am now far from sure that his intent was to say there would be no Holocaust if enough Jews had guns.”

    He was pretty clear about it, as were the people supporting his remarks. Its a common enough meme that your doubts do not appear to be plausible or in good faith.

    “We know of instances in concentration camps…”

    The only ones who actually survived such things were the ones who were able to flee towards the well supported partisans/armies . Most merely died on their own terms.

    It is not beating up on Carson for being a black conservative. It is criticizing a person aspiring to be president, who suffers from “foot in mouth” syndrome. A man who frequently says ignorant, silly things and yet still expects to be the most powerful individual in our political system.

  • Garson Abuita

    It is a myth that all citizens of Israel do or are expected to own a gun. However, because the population is so much smaller than the US and there is one national policy, not 50, the percentage of gun ownership is probably higher. There is a very different public gun culture there. It is understood that many people are going to be open- and concealed-carrying, including members of the military, and that this is for the protection of the populace. As opposed to here, where the open-carry movement seems more about intimidation of anyone who disagrees with them.

  • Good rules!

  • Karl

    ‘m neither a NRA member nor own a gun.

    In the latest United Nation Global Study on Homicide 2010 they do attribute higher gun availability to crime, but then identify those pulling the trigger to organized crime not citizens.

    Norway, Finland, Slovenia, Israel, and Switzerland have more per capita mass shootings that the U.S. despite having more restrictive gun laws!

    Many of the developed countries like the U.K. don’t report a murder, or any crime involving a gun until someone is not only indicted but also convicted! This decision helps with tourism.

    Germany, Norway, Finland, Pakistan, Kenya, Sweden, and Canada lead the U.S. in school shooting fatalities.

    All have much more restrictive gun laws than the U.S.

    Violent crime has been up significantly in Australia and the U.K. Remember that the criminals still have guns and the police in the U.K. do not.

    Studies since the 1960s have shown that 5 of 6 guns used in crimes are obtained illegally or through theft.

  • Karl

    (Continued from above)

    Point is that if someone in the room in San Bernardino had a concealed carry and three seconds they could have stopped those heinous acts.

    And creating a law that eliminates guns altogether will do nothing to stop the criminals that could care less about the gun laws.

    This article is just more ideologuery in support of Obama demagoguery. Instead of asking what are the rational steps such as demanding background checks for mental health that exist at the stale level, and making those mandatory across the country (so,etching he could have passed with bipartisan support 6+ years ago) he praises failed approaches in Australia and U.K. stripping people of their guns through confiscation. The only reason it is not a slippery slope is that he won’t be in office long enough to get it done. Hilary will finish what Obama starts.

    Let’s have a rational discussion about ways to solve this problem and stop the name-calling, fudging the data, and demagoguery.