How fast, we Jews, forget!

The shameful treatment of would be immigrants to our country continues. While I have no high opinion of Trump, an understatement, it is beyond my understanding why he nurtures this venomous hatred against these people who flee to preserve their lives and the lives of their children. Is it all in the name of his white supremacist attitude, best expressed in the slogan of “Make America White Again?”

As a Holocaust survivor, I cannot help but compare Trump’s racism to that of Hitler’s who, in similar manner, sized up the threat of Judaism as a threat not only to Germany but to the world. One of his more famous antisemitic mentors, Richard Wagner, the great composer, expressed the threat of Judaism and the Jewish people by coining a new word: Verjudung, meaning something like “jewishing” the otherwise pure world…I hate to think what a totally white America would look, feel and act like!

Because of Jewish ethics and more particularly because of our past history in which we came to experience and hopefully to learn what rejection for ethnic reasons feels like and produces, Jews must not and cannot turn their back to migrants fleeing for life.

I am disappointed that on the local, national and international level few Jewish voices have been heard to condemn our governments’ treatment of these poor refugees at our southern gates. Have we forgotten what rejection feels like?

Here then are reminders:

Back in 1938 the plight of the Jews in Germany had become known. Rumors had it that Jews in Germany were sent to concentration camps. Auschwitz had not been built yet and so the worst had not yet happened. There was much talk about the necessity of creating safe havens for the Jews but talk did not suffice. There was need for action.

It was on President Roosevelt ‘s initiative that an international meeting was convened in July 1938 in Evian-les-Bains, France, to request commitments from the assembled nations to accept Jewish refugees from Germany.

And so 32 nations came together joined by 24 voluntary organi-zations that participated as observers. Also 200 journalists attended. Hitler endorsed the conference and even allegedly promised to help the Jews leave his country. It was reported that he said, “I can only hope and expect that the other world, which has such deep sympathy for these criminals [the Jews], will at least be generous enough to convert this sympathy into practical aid. We, on our part, are ready to put all these criminals at the disposal of these countries, for all I care, even on luxury ships.”

The conference ended in failure. With the exception of the tiny Dominican Republic which offered help, none of the other participating nations made a commitment about accepting Jewish refugees fleeing Hitler’s Germany. For Hitler this was a victory as it seemed to demonstrate that no one desired an influx of Jews to their country. Useful propaganda!

Two months after Evian – the Sudeten was given to Hitler by British prime minister Chamberlain. 120,000 formerly Czech Jews became stateless. In March 1939 Czechoslovakia was occupied and 180,000 more Jews came under Hitler’s rule. Then came Kristallnacht, the Night of Broken Glass. On September 1, 1939 WW II broke out. Holocaust and 6 million Jewish dead followed. Have we, Jews, learned anything from Evian? Do we not remember?

Our treatment of the refugees at our southern border is a test of American humaneness and civilization and we are flunking it.

The story of the Saint Louis Ship should be an other reminder for us Jews of our history of a people fleeing from destruction and being refused to be given a haven of safety and a secure life.

During WW II the ship, the St. Louis, owned by the German Hapag (Hamburg-America Line) was a German luxury ocean liner that carried over 900 Jewish refugees from Nazi Germany in 1939 trying to escape the Holocaust. The ship’s destination was Cuba in the hope that the refugees would debark and settle there. Having arrived there, the ship docked in Havana’s harbor but the refugees, with the exception of some Spaniards, Cubans and US citizens with Cuban visas, were not allowed to disembark. US government officials interceded with Cuba but to no avail. What now?

The ship’s captain, Gustav Schroeder, a seemingly very decent human being, now took the ship to the US and to Canada, trying to find a nation that would accept these Jewish refugees fleeing for their life. Both nations refused the ship’s landing in their respective harbors.

In view of these refusals, no alternative was left for the captain but to return to Europe. The UK, Belgium, the Netherlands and France accepted a few of the ships’ refugees. Unfortunately, the Nazis in their lightning fast war caught up with these Jewish refugees who thought they had escaped the clutches of Hitler. Statistics show that 254 of those who were forced to return to Europe were murdered during the Holocaust in Auschwitz and Sobibor. The rest died in various slave labor camps, in hiding or in attempts to evade the Nazis.

Let me end this blog by reminding ourselves that we Jews, too, were once on the run from death. Should not our empathy for these folks at our southern border motivate us to speak out loudly against their mistreatment?

I do not understand that Melania Trump, a mother herself, has not been willing or able to speak out for a more humane treatment of these suffering folk. Jared and Ivanka Kushner, both allegedly Jews, have remained silent. I do not understand that the fathers and mothers, employed by ICE, lend themselves to such inhuman treatment as separating children from their parents.

America, where are we headed?!

The Danger of Selective Amnesia

THE FACTS

Shootings of children and teachers in our schools, an institution that for us should be holier and safer than any religious sanctuary. The irresponsibility of inadequate firearm legislation and execution on the part of our government, our people, as also that of the NRA (National Rifle Association).

The recent and ongoing scandal of our government’s separation of children from their parents at the US southern border, as a warning to refugees from Latin America and a means to stem illegal immigration from the south. The immorality of the US president, his government and the Attorney General in legislating such breaking up of families.

The scandal of our people’s quick forgetfulness that has followed all these outrageous acts perpetrated by the incompetent and immoral elected and appointed members of our government.

THE MANTRA

Our government: “a government of the People, by the People and for the People.”

So, where is the People?



I REMEMBER!

Also you, the reader, may remember that the Nazi legislation, often designated as the Nürnberg Laws or Nürnberger Gesetze, was passed in September 1935 after Hitler’s ascendancy to the German chancellorship. This “Law for the protection of German Blood and German Honor” prohibited marriages and extra-marital intercourse between Jews and Germans. This law institutionalized many of the racial theories present in Nazi ideology. The laws excluded German Jews from Reich citizenship and rendered the Jews outlaws, people without protection or appeal to an official higher power.

The Nürnberg Laws resulted in arrests and the forced separation of Jewish spouses from their German Aryan counterparts. As far as I could ascertain, it was primarily Jewish husbands that were arrested and threatened with deportation to concentration camps.

The Aryan wives of these Jewish husbands did not take this lying down. They protested by means of letters sent to the German Ministry of the Interior and the various police organisms taking part in the arrests. As could be expected, this led nowhere. Were these protests received by the responsible persons, let alone read? In all probability not.

And so the women went on the offensive and staged an extended protest demonstration on the Rosenstrasse (Street of Roses) # 2-4 in Berlin. Why at this particular location? Because there, in a Jewish community building, 2,000 Jewish men, married to non-Jewish partners and the male children of these so-called mixed marriages, designated as Mischlinge (“mixed [race] persons”), were held.

The fear among the wives was that the Nazis would deport their loved ones to Auschwitz and similar killing centers. Only shortly before the womens’ protests, the German police had in fact rounded up 10,000 Jews in Berlin and sent them to Auschwitz! The women’s demonstrations taking place in bitter cold weather between February 27 and March 6, 1943, tell us something about the courage, the determination and the perseverance of these women.

The women involved were not aware that at the Wannsee Conference in January 1942 – the conference that had decided on the Final Solution of the so-called Jewish Problem by extermination of the Jewish population – action with regard to the Jewish partners of mixed marriages was postponed until German victory in WW II.

German plans for the Jewish spouses and their “mixed birth” children were to send them into detention and work camps in Germany but not to extermination camps for fear of causing significant unrest among the German population during the war. These temporarily “exempted Jews,” roughly 2,000 in number, were now incarcerated in the Rosenstrasse building, waiting, uncertain of their fate. So also their non-Jewish spouses waited outside, freezing and with fear and trembling, but determined to stay on.

As the women continued their protest vigil outside the building, GESTAPO officials reviewed the identity documents of the internees inside. The first “mixed marriage” Jews were released on March 1. In the end the police deported only 25 of these 2,000 prisoners to concentration camps.

The released Jewish prisoners from the Rosenstrasse were watched, sent to work camps within Germany but otherwise, with a few exceptions, spared official murder.

Never before had a demonstration in favor of Jews taken place in Germany under the Hitler regime! The courage of these women who for the first time stood face-to-face with Nazi police in the hope that by doing so their action would bring about their Jewish husbands’ release is truly admirable. And while according to some reports the number of protesting women amounted to thousands – a well meant exaggeration – the courage of these 200 or so women is remarkable and teaches us a lesson.

The lesson taught is this: protesting for a day or two, even in large numbers, will not succeed bringing about change. Protests have to be prolonged in time and scope until they bring about serious societal disturbance. Protests limited to single localities such as local school walkouts for a day or two will not succeed. Organization is needed to show action in mass solidarity.

The multiple shootings in our schools brought about local protest marches and prayer meetings. With a few months of relief from these criminal acts, the tragedies seemed to have receded into the past. Not, of course, for the families affected but for us bystanders. The separation of children caused nationwide outcries of protest, even from the Republican side. Did it bring about result? The answer is YES. President Trump who initiated this shameful procedure backpedaled and called a halt to it.

As of this writing, alas, some 2,000 children still have not been reunited with their parents. Some of them probably never will, because of incompetence and lack of caring of the authorities involved. Imagine the resulting tragedies!

Let our united voices in protest be clearly heard until remedial action is taken.

Forcing family breakup: the new American way?

The 18th century great Jewish German poet Heinrich Heine once wrote, Denk ich an Deutschland in der Nacht, da bin ich um den Schlaf gebracht. This translates into English as, “Whenever I think of Germany by night, I can no longer sleep.” A prophetic utterance of one who lived some 200 +years before the Holocaust took place.

I feel the same way when, during the last one and a half years, I have been considering what has been happening to my country, the United States of America. By “making America great again,” Donald Trump’s slogan prior and after his election to the presidency, the president has actually “made America great-ly” impoverished and reduced in morality, generosity and spirit, a deep concern which often deprives me of my sleep.

Just about after every lecture dealing with my experiences during the Holocaust, someone in the audience asks me which of these experiences I consider to have been the most horrific. Hard to say when the entire three years were a veritable hell. “Were you afraid of death?” – another person inquires. Every daily roll call may have sent me into the gas of Auschwitz or the shooting wall at Gross Rosen where prisoners no longer able to work were machine gunned and cremated. With our increasing dehumanization and deterioration in body and spirit, fear of death was replaced by hunger. This was an ongoing process, eventually leading to destruction of us who had become non-thinking zombies..

So was there a most terrifying moment in my life? The answer is Yes.

The date was June 29, 1942 when our family was torn apart. Driven from the ghetto into a junkyard by the SS, we were forced to hand over any valuables still in our possession. Gold necklaces, coins, wedding rings, watches, – all these were confiscated. There was intimidation by shouted threats and beatings. For a boy of fifteen that I was this was terribly scary.

But then came something even worse: separation. Women and men were separated into groups. My Mom was ripped from my Dad’s side. And I was ripped away from both my parents and my older sister. Never had I been – had I lived apart from my beloved parents who, from the day of my birth, had taken care of me, nurtured me with unending expressions of love. Words cannot express the feeling of abandonment and lostness and – yes, of fear, I experienced in that moment.

If I feel so terribly hurt to this day, even in retrospect, I cannot even imagine what my parents felt and went through on that acursed day. As my thoughts return to that utterly obscene event, I can still see my Mom weeping. with a face distorted with anguish, running behind me and calling to me, “Walti, Walti, do not leave us!” An SS soldier barring her way toward me, hit her on the head with his leather whip shouting, “Enough of that! Back to your group!” A rough shove did the rest. No longer were we together as a family. All four of us must have realized that a big question mark would from now on hang over our existence. Would we ever see each other again?

Daily, the question of illegal immigration is played out before our eyes these days. It seems that president Trump and his acolyte Jeff Sessions, the attorney general, are consumed with hatred for undocumented immigrants. For months we have been hearing unending litanies concerning the threat undocumented refugee immigration represents for our country and population.

Doctors Without Borders, the fabulous worldwide medical organization whom I admire and support, announced yesterday that new Asylum Restrictions issued by Mr. Sessions, the Attorney General and head of the Justice Department, are a death sentence for Central Americans fleeing deadly violence in their countries. Citizens of Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador will from now on no longer be able to use domestic or gang violence as acceptable justification for seeking asylum in the US.

We, a country consisting entirely of immigrants, with the exception of America’s Native Nations, are closing the gates to refugees fleeing for their lives hoping to find a safe haven in our country . Having come to our southern border and seeking asylum, they will be turned away.

Since last October,700 children of parents who came here many years ago as undocumented immigrants have been forcibly separated from their parents who were deported to their country of origin and we are told that 1,500 children, thus separated under duress from their parents and sent “somewhere,” cannot be found.

I hope you see the connection between my story above and what has been happening here. Have our legislators become non-thinking and non-feeling men and women? Do they not have children? Do they not love their children? If threatened by conditions of death, would they not seek asylum in a neighboring country?

What is happening to us Americans? Can we still claim to be “the Land of the free and the home of the brave?” after this kind of sham perpetrated by our government? Have we become great under Trump or have we, thanks to him, become great-ly diminished as compassionate human beings?

Concern for our country and where we are headed under this government, keeps me awake during many a night.