On Displaced Persons: Then and Now…

I wanted this to be a straight-forward post, a comparison of how refugees (Displaced Persons they were called) were treated after World War II with how refugees are received today. I wanted to say that universally the former group was viewed sympathetically, that countries opened their arms, and hearts, to do what they could so that these people who suffered through the horrors of war could have a better life.

I wanted to say that the world was a better place then, that we heeded our “better angels,” that we appreciated what we had and wanted the same for others.

And, in some cases, we did. While many DPs were “relocated” to camps that had once served as Nazi concentration camps, they were given as adequate food allocations as possible, considering that Europe was enduring near-starvation conditions. Schools were established. They received minimal, if not adequate, healthcare. For those who were displaced were so because of who they happened to be, what their last name happened to be, where they happened to live.

I’m not naïve enough to believe that all were blameless, that none supported the losing cause, that none did their part, however small, to aid the Nazis. Women, children, throughout Europe, their cities, homes destroyed. Ethnic Germans who had lived in Czechoslovakia, Hungary, perhaps for generations, who had the misfortune of having a German last name were deported (relocated was the term used). Many did not even speak German. In the throes of frantic days following the end of the war, laws were enacted that banned them from the countries that they had lived in, for most, the only country they knew. They were deported to Germany, including a number of Jews who had been released from concentration camps and had found their way “home.” In this fever of hatred, because their last names were German, they were once again rounded up and sent, on railway cars, to return to the camps that they survived.

 More than 80 camps were established, with the majority in Germany. But families were kept together; ethnic and national groups were grouped. Repatriation took years to accomplish for the millions affected, for what they once had, where they once lived, for the majority, had been destroyed. There was nothing to go home to. Many chose not to return, especially to those Eastern European countries that were now part of the Soviet bloc. The United States passed The Displaced Persons Act of 1948 which authorized for a limited period of time the admission into the United States of 200,000 certain European (italics my own) displaced persons (DPs) for permanent residence. (It wasn’t until the 1949 Chinese Revolution under Chairman Mao that Congress allowed Chinese immigrants to remain in the country rather than face persecution if they were required to return home.) So you see, we have always favored those who look like us, our color, our religions.

They were not all loved, were not all welcomed. But they were not put in cages; children were not forcibly separated from their parents. Those countries whose citizens accepted them may have done so grudgingly, but they were accepted. They had a home, a place, a refuge.

Image result for image syrian refugees

As we consider how we welcome refugees to our borders, we must pause, consider, remember. And ponder how we will be remembered, this prosperous country of ours, how we welcome those who come to our doors, whether we called on our better angels.

Image result for concentration camp us border

http://www.cynthiastrauff.com

Germany Gets It, I Think…

Germany Gets It, I Think…

Now I’m not claiming to be an expert, a pundit, or even someone who has done sufficient homework to expound on such a topic. This is just one person’s take, after a short and admittedly superficial visit to three cities in the former German Democratic Republic, East Germany as we once knew it. But sometimes you just have a feeling…

Here’s what I think the Germans get:

I sense that they have come to terms with the evils and atrocities of Nazism and the brutalities and barbarisms imposed by Hitler and his supporters. Of course, there are museums dedicated to helping those too young to have experienced this history, and it is taught, some younger students believe excessively, in schools. Those of my generation, those schooled in the 50s, report that they learned, heard, nothing, that their realization of the role Germany and individual Germans, ofttimes they parents, played in World War II came independently, as they catapulted into the tumultuous 60s.

That educational philosophy changed in the 1960s and 70s. Teaching history is now a pillar of national identity in postwar Germany, and the Holocaust is an integral part of the curriculum where students are encouraged to visit a concentration camp. Only in Bavaria is this visit mandatory. Recently, a Berlin state legislator with Palestinian heritage, proposed making such visits mandatory for everyone.

An article in Jewish World (February 2019) featured German students commenting on this:

Fynn Bothe, a high school student in Hanover, noted that he was exposed to the subject in ninth or tenth grade where they learned about the war and Auschwitz. “I am satisfied with how the school teaches the subject because we learn what the Nazis committed. They were responsible for one for the most horrific crimes in the history of Germany.”

Anna Laura, from Dusseldorf said that her class read Anne Frank’s Diary, and focused on the atrocities committed during the war. “We discussed the subject all year long,” she said. “I think that the school is doing good work by teaching the youth about the matter and by not ignoring the horrors (that were committed).”

I saw heart-rending sculptures appearing in unexpected places; gold cobblestones caught my eye, as well as my heel, as I explored historic areas. On each is inscribed a name, a birthdate, and the location where that person was last seen. At the entrance to Berlin’s bustling Friedrichstrasse Station is a sculpture that no one can miss – children with suitcases, on their last journey. I passed this on several different days, and each time, a memorial of flowers stood by its base.

Reminders. Everywhere. An undercurrent of Never Again.

And yet…it is not perfect. People are not perfect. Germany experiences anti-Semitism, anti-immigrant sentiment. East Germans resent West Germans; West Germans resent East Germans. Neo-Nazis have been emboldened by the arrival of Alternative for Germany, the first far-right party to break into Parliament since World War II. And there are concerns that the recent absorption of more than a million immigrants, many from the Middle East and many Muslim, has inadvertently created incubators of a different kind of anti-Semitism — one hiding behind the injustices of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict but sometimes reverting to hateful old stereotypes.

The reaction in Berlin, where there are strict legal prohibitions of Holocaust denial and Nazi propaganda, has been swift. The government appointed its first-ever anti-Semitism coordinator.

And there are many in the country, as in our own, who understand and support the immigrants’ journeys.

And through this, I think of my own country, how we have avoided coming to terms, acknowledging the atrocities of our past. Stories of visitors to South Carolina’s plantations, resentful of having slavery presented as an integral, and sordid, part of our story. “We didn’t come to hear a lecture on how the white people treated slaves. We came to get the history of a southern plantation and get of tour of the house and grounds.”  (For some comic relief, check out Twitter’s responses to this comment.)

And our horrific treatment of Native Americans continues as we deny them access to voting and move pipelines through lands sacred to them.

Such hubris. So we just don’t get it, do we?

I don’t think Germany is perfect by any means. But they get it. Most get it. I think.

http://www.cynthiastrauff.com

We Are All Refugees…

I had intended to post something else — a trifle on unrequited love — and then — the headlines of the week. Immigrants, refugees, shithole nations…
I remembered a piece I had posted – just about one year ago to the day. About refugees. And it appears that our leader, and our leadership, has become even more implacable in their disdain.
I know that I am not the only one who weeps. At least we have that.

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My book group is reading The Sympathizer, by Viet Thanh Nguyen. Its narrator, a half-French, half-Vietnamese operative, tells a story of divided loyalties. It begins in 1975 with the withdrawal of American forces from South Vietnam.

I lived through this time; I remember pictures of South Vietnamese clinging to American helicopters as they left the area. At the time I thought, how sad, and then went back to my life and my problems and worries,so much more important than what was happening so far away. Sorry that “those people” had to endure even more than they had, but, really, wasn’t there always sadness?

Earlier this year, I watched the PBS Documentary, “Last Days in Vietnam.” Rory Kennedy (yes, that Kennedy) did a superb job of re-telling this story that many of us thought we knew. I thought I knew. I didn’t. So much that I didn’t realize, that I glossed over. I’m sure the press covered it, though not in a way that I paid attention to, so wrapped up in my own life was I.

And so I became a bit less blind. And less blind. And less blind.

And now I find myself looking with disbelief with what our president has done, with the flourish of a pen, proud of his executive order. Calling it “extreme vetting.” Others, those with little hope of escape, of freedom, might chose to call it something else. And those of us who watch, in horror, feel both outrage and helplessness.

We post our indignation on Facebook; we write blogs like this one; we live in our bubble where everyone agrees with us. Certainly, we remember that we ALL come from refugees.

And meanwhile…

http://www.cynthiastrauff.com

We Are All Refugees…

Image result for image refugees

My book group is reading The Sympathizer, by Viet Thanh Nguyen. Its narrator, a half-French, half-Vietnamese operative, tells a story of divided loyalties. It begins in 1975 with the withdrawal of American forces from South Vietnam.

I lived through this time; I remember pictures of South Vietnamese clinging to American helicopters as they left the area. At the time I thought, how sad, and then went back to my life and my problems and worries,so much more important than what was happening so far away. Sorry that “those people” had to endure even more than they had, but, really, wasn’t there always sadness?

Earlier this year, I watched the PBS Documentary, “Last Days in Vietnam.” Rory Kennedy (yes, that Kennedy) did a superb job of re-telling this story that many of us thought we knew. I thought I knew. I didn’t. So much that I didn’t realize, that I glossed over. I’m sure the press covered it, though not in a way that I paid attention to, so wrapped up in my own life was I.

And so I became a bit less blind. And less blind. And less blind.

And now I find myself looking with disbelief with what our president has done, with the flourish of a pen, proud of his executive order. Calling it “extreme vetting.” Others, those with little hope of escape, of freedom, might chose to call it something else. And those of us who watch, in horror, feel both outrage and helplessness.

We post our indignation on Facebook; we write blogs like this one; we live in our bubble where everyone agrees with us. Certainly, we remember that we ALL come from refugees.

And meanwhile…

http://www.cynthiastrauff.com