Pope Francis drew the ire of Jewish groups on Saturday when he likened modern European refugee centers to the concentration camps used by Nazis during the Holocaust one day before Israel’s Holocaust Remembrance Day.
“These refugee camps – so many are concentration camps, crowded with people…because international accords seem more important than human rights,” he criticized at a Rome ceremony paying tribute to modern-day Christian martyrs.
The comment met with immediate backlash from Jewish groups.
“The conditions in which migrants are currently living in some European countries may well be difficult, and deserve still greater international attention, but concentration camps they certainly are not,” American Jewish Committee CEO David Harris said in a statement.
He emphasized that there was no ground for comparison between the conditions of the migrant camps, many of which receive aid from the United Nations, and the conditions of the camps where Jews were imprisoned, tortured and murdered during the Holocaust.
“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,” Harris said.
The pope, an outspoken advocate for thousands of migrants fleeing war-torn Arab countries, has made strong statements in the past about the need to accept and integrate Muslim refugees into stable countries despite the danger of infiltration by radical Islamists.
He has used the language of the Holocaust before to describe the plight of the refugees, arguing last May that the worst form of welcome is to “ghettoize” the migrants and even going so far as to imply in one instance that naturalized citizens who committed terror attacks had done so because they “grew up in a ghetto” inside their adopted country.
The pope’s Saturday comments came just a day before Israel’s Holocaust Remembrance Day, which begins on the evening of Sunday, April 23.