So That Everyone Knows: From Jim Crow To Josef Mengele

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Child prisoners at Auschwitz
 
The fallout continues from the gruesome revelations of black nurse and whistleblower Dawn Wooten on forced sterilizations and "jarring medical neglect" of women held in a Georgia ICE detention center - where "only God is taking care of us here" - and other for-profit, LaSalle-owned "experimental concentration camps." Wooten's whistleblower complaint, first reported by Law & Crime and filed with lawyers from Project South, Georgia Detention Watch, Georgia Latino Alliance for Human Rights and South Georgia Immigrant Support Network, cites dozens of instances of medical malpractice at the Irwin County Detention Center, which advocates say mirror longtime, egregious human rights abuses in other ICE centers that see detainees "as dollar signs not human beings." Charges include filthy unsafe conditions, spoiled food, denial of needed medications, one shower for fifty people, and punitive handcuffing, pepper-spraying and solitary confinement. "This is the dirtiest facility I have ever been in," said one detainee. "It is all nasty."  Once COVID hit, the violations mounted, with officials allegedly refusing to test, wear masks, quarantine or provide care for those infected. In July, staff at a LaSalle facility in Louisiana wrote to Congress charging that management withheld PPE from staff and detainees, ignored positive test results, and threw ill migrants into solitary without soap and water. There were also multiple charges of sexual abuse by guards often assaulting female detainees in areas hidden from security cameras; a probe was recently launched after ProPublica and The Texas Tribune reported the government deported a 35-year-old Mexican woman who was a key witness in an investigation at an El Paso facility. Says Wooten, who's worked three years at the Irwin center, "You don't want to see what you're seeing."
 
The complaint's most horrific accusation - widely deemed "straight-up Nazi shit" - is that now-identified gynecologist Mahendra Amin performed hysterectomies on multiple women without their consent, earning him the grisly nickname “the uterus collector.” In Wooten's complaint, one detainee described meeting five women over just a few weeks who had all undergone forced sterilizations, and realizing, “It was like they’re experimenting with our bodies.” On Wednesday, one of those victims, Pauline Binam, a Cameroonian mother who has lived in the U.S. since she was two and says she was involuntarily sterilized last fall, was rescued off a plane by advocates literally just as she was about to be deported, because how better to add insult to injury than forcibly sterilizing a woman and then throwing her out of the country. Given the newest awful proof of what this country is currently capable of, people are now worried about the safety of Dawn Wooten, who has already been demoted to part-time work. But at a press conference to explain her action, she also determinedly cited the vow she took as a nurse "to protect the lives of others." "There," she added, speaking about the ICE center, "there's no regard." Supporters viewing her as another heroic black woman trying to save America from itself are thanking her on the #ProtectDawnWooten hashtag, and a GoFundMe campaign to cover her security or legal expenses has raised over $90,000, or six times its goal, in a few days. Still, outrage at ongoing ICE abuses continues to grow. From AOC, once blasted for referring to "concentration camps" at the border, "It’s astounding that after a massive family separation operation, mass sexual assault of detainees, trapping immigrants in COVID-infected detention centers, and now reports of mass hysterectomies...abolishing ICE is controversial."
 
As she and many others have noted, it's not the first time this country has undertaken forced sterilizations in the name of "aspirational whiteness," targeting over 60,000 black, Latina, Native American, disabled and incarcerated women for generations under racist, eugenicist laws aimed at any "unfit" woman. Topping our "long and sordid history of reproductive coercion" is the ghastly record of North Carolina and much of the South, where forced sterilization of black women was so common it was called "a Mississippi appendectomy" for the story doctors told women before putting them under. Of those so violated, for reasons like "being oversexed" or "wearing men's clothes," over a third were not yet of legal age; the youngest was reportedly nine years old. "Forced sterilization is genocide," wrote the progressive Jewish group Bend the Arc after news of Wooten's complaint surfaced. "We've seen this before." But while we continue to view the Nazis as the exemplar for mass genocide, we often forget they're also "an example of applied learning rooted in lessons taken from the U.S." - from Jim Crow laws to the slaughter of Native Americans and theft of their land to compulsory sterilization. Hitler's original goal was to treat Jews in Germany the way Black people in the U.S. were treated; it was only later he came up with his Final Solution. “I have studied with interest the laws of several American states concerning prevention of reproduction by people whose progeny would, in all probability, be of no value or be injurious to the racial stock,” Hitler once said. Mistakes might occur, he added, "but the possibility of excess and error is still no proof of the incorrectness of these laws.”
 
The Third Reich’s medical experiments in sterilization, conducted at Auschwitz-Birkenau and other camps by "Angel of Death" Josef Mengele, included over 400,000 women and children victims. Mengele also targeted about 3,000 twins in infamous "research" aimed at discovering "undesirable" genetic characteristics; he usually used one twin as a control, subjecting the other to transfusions, insemination, injections with diseases, amputations. Those that died were dissected and studied; their surviving twins were killed and also studied. Mengele and his "research" represent the ghastly, logical progression of eugenics. "The Holocaust did not begin with the mass killings," notes one observer. "It began with the rhetoric of hate." That rhetoric is now everywhere, yet its historical lessons have become increasingly lost. An alarming new study finds that almost two-thirds of young Americans don't know that six million Jews were killed in the Holocaust; almost half can't name a single concentration camp or ghetto, a quarter believe the Holocaust is a myth or exaggerated, 12% never heard of it. Still, for many other, older Americans, Dawn Wooten's chilling, resonant revelations bring it all back, especially in these (yes)  increasingly fascistic times. "Concentration camps. Forced sterilization," wrote Never Again Is Now, a group of progressive Jews and their allies focused on migrant rights. "It’s not just that our government is using the Nazi playbook. It’s that they’re halfway through it." In hopes of slowing that trajectory by bringing its past stories to life, Brazilian photographer Marina Amaral has embarked on a project of colorizing some original photos of Auschwitz child victims. They include Czeslawa Kwoka, a 14-year-old Polish Catholic girl executed on Feb 18, 1943. Seeking to illuminate "what she and millions of others went through," Amaral's searing portrait shows a terrified child, her bruises, the cut on her lip from where, moments before, a guard had hit her. "So that everyone knows," says Amaral, "and no one forgets."
 
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Dawn Wooten
 
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Doctor at Auschwitz
 
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Czeslawa Kwoka, colorized. Shortly before she was killed, she was photographed by prisoner Whilem Brasse, who later testified against her executioner, who had just hit her. Czeslawa didn't speak or understand German, and had lost her mother a few days before. Says Marina Amaral, “I wanted to give Czeslawa the opportunity to tell her story, which is the story of so many other victims.”

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