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

If you did, you might drop that whole line about Hitler and gun control.

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?


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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. “


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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

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