My dad ( shown here as little boy with his older sisters, circa 1936) was a child refugee. He and his two sisters and mother fled Hitler in 1939, ended up in a Refugee camp in Havana Cuba and eventually the United States.
They were lucky. Many refugees were refused entry. My Aunt Maja, Dad’s older sister remembered standing on the Havana shore, watching the ship the MS St. Louis come into harbor so close she could touch the outstretched hands of excited children hanging on the railing. She watched in horror as the ship of German refugees was turned away by Cuban authorities. The United States and Canada also refused them harbor and the boat sailed back to Europe, sending passengers back to battlefields and concentration camps.
In the 1990s my dad used to go speak to elementary school children, sharing assimilation stories with new child immigrants. He told the kids about being new to the country, not speaking English, trying to figure out how to make friends. One day he saw a popular kid throw his lunch bag away. He threw his away too, hoping to impress the other kids, but they just ignored him. Now he was lonely and hungry.
Dad has been dead 15 years. He left this earth before three of his grandchildren were born. He missed seeing his granddaughter Emily (shown below in 1991) grow into a beautiful woman. He missed lap tops, cell phones and Facebook. He missed 9/11 and the endless “wars on terror,” the Patriot Act and Guantanamo detainees, Abu Ghraib and Drone warfare.
This week he is in my heart more the usual as I try to imagine his reaction to demagogues posing as governors all trying out populist fascism to see if it suits them. No Refugees in MY state. Only Christians in MY country…
When I was 22, Dad and I visited the concentration camp where his five-year old best friend was incinerated. In the guest book everyone wrote “Never Again.” At the time I was involved in the Central America movement. I knew that my own government was funding and training an army in El Salvador led by Roberto D’Aubuisson, who considered Hitler his mentor. For the rest of the trip Dad and I discussed the meaning of “Never Again.” How do we make sure one terror does not lead to another retaliatory terror? Does the slogan mean anything if we only apply it to “our” people?