Letter to the editor: U.S. must learn from the history of refugee crises
Editor’s note: This was sent to President Trump
Dear Mr. President, I am writing in response to your executive order barring refugees from Muslim countries. I am a first generation American born child of European Jewish refugees.
My grandfather was brought from Hungary to Antwerp, Belgium, when he was seven years old. He and my grandmother had four children, two daughters and two sons (both of whom were born in England during World War I). In 1939, when World War II started, their oldest daughter, with her husband and two young children, immigrated to the United States. When Belgium was invaded by Germany in 1940, one of their sons was finishing his thesis for a PhD in Chemistry at the University of Brussels, the other was serving in the Belgium Army and their younger daughter, my mother, was 18.
After a harrowing 14-month journey escaping through Belgium, France and across the Pyrenees to Spain, my grandparents and two of their children were able to get on a refugee boat bound for Cuba. Their older son, the scientist, had been picked up by the French police, handed over to the Germans and deported — that was all they knew of his fate.
My aunt and uncle, who had been in New York since 1939, began proceedings to bring my grandparents to America. But the State Department refused to give them visas. Why? Because they had a son who was known to have been taken by the Germans, the State Department insisted they could force my grandfather to spy for them in the United States. Each month my grandparents were summoned to the American embassy in Havana and questioned, “Have you heard from your son? Have you heard from any Germans?” My grandmother would return from the monthly interrogations in hysterics. They weren’t granted visas until 1946. And their son? He had died in Auschwitz, in 1942, which they didn’t know for certain until 1949.
The refugees you refuse to allow into our country now are no different from my family — a middle-aged businessman and his wife, who through depression and war had lost their thriving business, their home, and the brilliant son they had worked to hard to send to university.
During World War II there were plenty of Americans, even famous ones like Charles Lindbergh and Henry Ford, who distrusted people like my grandparents because they were Jews.
The Muslims you so distrust are no more guilty than my grandfather, and are just as much the victims of forces for which they are not responsible.
However fervent our beliefs become as we mature, our religion is largely the product of the luck of our birth. I am Jewish because I was born to Jewish parents, you are Christian because your parents were. Beyond that accident of birth we all want the same things — safety and peace for our families, the chance to earn a decent living and be part of a supportive and loving community. Please don’t let others live through what my family experienced. We need to learn from history, not repeat it.
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