Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Immigration and Refugees: a look backwards to the end of World War II ... by gimleteye

My father passed away, this date in 2010. A few days ago, I discovered a document that encompasses the central event of his life: a "displaced person" who survived the Holocaust. As a refugee from political and religious persecution, he emigrated to the United States.

My father was barely into his twenties when he was conscripted into a work camp by the Hungarian military in concert with Nazi Germany. His survival was improbable. A statistical anomaly.

After the Nazis surrendered, he walked -- lacking any other transportation and hiding from the Soviet Army along the way -- through mine fields from the Carpathian mountains to Munich, where the US military established headquarters in the immediate aftermath of the war. There, my father's facility with languages in the region was an asset to the US Army.

The aftermath of V-E Day was instant chaos, including the problem how to manage millions of refugees displaced by the war. The German concentration camps were still filled with starving people. They had nowhere to go and no means of transportation.

The reconstruction of my father's life began with helping to repatriate or to resettle to Palestine the survivors; men, women and children.

Readers should take the time to read the Harrison Report, written scarcely six weeks after the end of the war in Europe, to assist the president and Congress untangle a victory that instantly required American leadership to solve the greatest refugee crisis in history. Even if you don't read the report, consider its parallels today.

The Harrison Report provides historical context for our current controversy about immigration and the flood of refugees that is destabilizing Western nations.

Then, it was Jews who had been liberated but remained in concentration camps because their homes had been destroyed and their lives, stolen. They couldn't go home. Even if they wanted, they would be surrounded by neighbors who were complicit in the Holocaust.

Today's crisis involves mainly displaced Muslims from war-torn swaths of the Mideast and Africa, but also a crisis closer to our border with the rest of the Americas.

My father emigrated finally to the United States without only a few dollars in his pocket -- where his American dream began.

Today's failure of leadership in the White House and in Congress dishonors the memory of Americans who sacrificed so much to preserve and protect our democracy including a sheltering hand for those fleeing economic hardships and persecution.

Making America Great Again means protecting the American dream for refugees and immigrants, too.

My father became erudite, accomplished, and loved to complete the Sunday cross-word puzzles the New York Times. He would find today's "debate" about immigration policy to be in a word: deplorable.

As a Jewish refugee who spent years of his early adult  life helping relocate bereft Eastern Europeans to Israel, he would be horrified by Trump's abandonment of decades of efforts toward a two-state solution to the Israel/ Palestine crisis. Moreover, he would have known how the vilification of a person because of his or her religion is anti-American at its core.

The Trump White House views the state of the world -- in particular, Muslim nations torn apart by barbarities -- as near-apocalyptic. But the United States solved an apocalypse the descended on Europe at the end of World War II. Why can't we solve our refugee crises now, instead of this gut-reflex sealing of borders and retreat into darkness and fear?

Trump embraces the notion that walls of iron and concrete and lines of software code can be a bulwark against those who could do us harm, without a shred of evidence or any vision where this unprecedented, anti-democratic spasm leads. With climate change at our doorstep -- that the Trump GOP derides as "fake" and a "hoax" -- there are future refugees in the hundreds of millions to count on.

There has never been a more pressing time and need for international cooperation, adaptation, and leadership. The lessons of history apply even if the conditions have changed. We can do better. We must.

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