Congressman apologizes for recording video in Auschwitz gas chamber

PHOTO: Then-Republican candidate Clay Higgins, with his wife, Becca, addresses supporters after his victory in Louisianas 3rd congressional district run-off election in Lake Charles, La., Saturday, Dec. 10, 2016. PlayLee Celano/The Daily Advertiser via AP
WATCH American lawmaker triggers outrage while visiting a Nazi death camp in Poland

Rep. Clay Higgins, R-La., apologized Wednesday for recording a five-minute video on the grounds of the former Nazi death camp in Auschwitz, Poland, and posting it to social media, which sparked criticism from the museum at the site and on social media.

"I filmed the Auschwitz message with great humility. My intent was to offer a reverent homage to those who were murdered in Auschwitz and to remind the world that evil exists, that free nations must remember, and stand strong," he wrote. "However, my message has caused pain to some whom I love and respect. For that, my own heart feels sorrow. Out of respect to any who may feel that my video posting was wrong or caused pain, I have retracted my video."

Officials at the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum criticized Higgins for recording in a gas chamber at the site.

"A great sense of dread comes over you in this place," Higgins, a former law enforcement officer who serves on the House Homeland Security Committee, says in the video. "Man's inhumanity to man can be quite shocking."

In another part of the video, he says, "The world's a smaller place now than it was in World War II. The United States is more accessible to terror like this, horror like this. It's hard to walk away from the gas chambers and ovens without a very sober feeling of commitment — unwavering commitment — to make damn sure that the United States of America is protected from the evils of the world."

In his statement, he said, "We must never let history repeat itself in such a way. I have always stood with Israel and all Jewish people, and I always will. We live in a dangerous world, and massive forces of evil do indeed yet exist. We must all stand united against those evils. My Auschwitz video has been removed, and my sincere apology for any unintended pain is extended."

After Higgins posted the video, the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum tweeted that recording inside a former gas chamber is inappropriate.

"Everyone has the right to personal reflections," read the first tweet. "However, inside a former gas chamber, there should be mournful silence. It's not a stage."

A subsequent tweet included a photo of a plaque at Auschwitz that reads, "You are in a building where the SS murdered thousands of people. Please maintain silence here: Remember their suffering and show respect for their memory."

On Wednesday, before Higgins took down the video, Jonathan Greenblatt, the CEO of the Anti-Defamation League, a leading civil rights organization that primarily combats anti-Semitism, called on the congressman to do so.

"As a site for reflection, one that often evokes deep personal pain for survivors and their families, Auschwitz should never be politicized or used as a platform for giving personal views. The museum at Auschwitz-Birkenau lies on sacred ground. It is a burial site and a memorial to the estimated 1.1 million prisoners who were exterminated or tortured inside the camp’s walls. It is a permanent testament to the brutality of the Nazi regime and a reminder of why the world should never turn away when forces of hatred and prejudice lead to genocide," Greenblatt said.

"We hope Congressman Higgins will realize the pain and hurt he has caused and that, in doing so, he will remove his video from circulation," Greenblatt added.

By Wednesday afternoon, Higgins had taken down the video.

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