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Pope defends use of term 'concentration camps'

April 30, 2017

The pontiff's choice of words was met with shock in Germany and outrage among some Jewish organizations. But Pope Francis has said he stands by his choice of words - despite the swirling controversy.

Papst Franziskus Flugzeug  Statement Nordkorea
Image: Reuters/G. Borgia

Pope Francis repeated his claim on Saturday that some migrant holding facilities in Europe are tantamount to "concentration camps," even after some Jewish organizations urged him to stop using the controversial term.

A German reporter, noting that the comment had been met with shock in Germany, asked the pope if he had made a linguistic slip when he first made the comments last week.

Speaking on his way home from Egypt, Francis reiterated, "There are refugee camps that are true concentration camps."

Controversy swirls

Seemingly not comprehending the controversy swirling around his choice of words, the pontiff said migrants in some holding centers were penned in and prevented from leaving.

Many people are confined in these camps, he said, stating: "Simply the fact of being confined and to be able to do nothing is a camp." During a special religious service on Tiber Island in Rome on April 22, Francis had said, "Many refugee camps are concentration camps due to overcrowding."

The American Jewish Committee (AJC) sharply criticized the pope's choice of words and urged him to reconsider.

The AJC issued a statement last week acknowledging that while conditions might be difficult in some migrant centers, "The Nazis and their allies erected and used concentration camps for slave labor and the extermination of millions of people during World War II. There is no comparison to the magnitude of that tragedy."

Following the pope's initial statement, the International Auschwitz Committee (IAC) said that Francis' comments were "legitimate." 

"I don't consider it outrageous," Christoph Heubner, executive vice president of the IAC, which was founded by survivors of the Auschwitz concentration camp, told the German dpa news agency in Berlin. 

Pope Francis had said it with good intentions, Heubner said, adding, "He exaggerated in order to move hearts. That is legitimate." 

bik/sms (AP, dpa)

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