This week among a number of aggravating headlines (i.e., incredibly ugly statements from Nikki Haley, Donald Trump, and Linda Sarsour and the Saudi terror shooting at a Pensacola naval base stand out), we also saw the death of Carlos Gregorio Hernandez Vasquez while in the custody of Border Police. This was particularly heartbreaking. And infuriating in its senselessness.
I was thinking about him while watching the 2002 documentary Shanghai Ghetto tonight at my synagogue. This was the story of refugees who escaped Germany and Eastern Europe in the 1930s and wound up in the only place that would accept refugees, especially those without papers. It is a fascinating story and one worth watching (here).
Filmed almost two decades ago, a number of then refugees were interviewed, as were historians. The point was made that while the world knew that Jews had to get out of Europe and Franklin Delano Roosevelt pushed for an international conference to figure out a solution, no one especially not the United States, opened its doors. No one wanted to help and Germany understood the significance of that very well. The Evian Conference brought leaders together, and none of them was willing to take in the Jews. How many ultimately died because they had no where to go? This week’s act of inhumane negligence was the sixth migrant child to die in custody. Someone must be held accountable.
Our country’s administration has made it clear that they are cold-hearted; so are those that support its policies. One California church drove the point home about people’s hypocrisy when it used cages to house members of its nativity scene.
The world is suffering for the last number of years from so many groups of refugees that need to escape where they live, be it Syria, Venezuela, Afghanistan, South Sudan, etc., and are trying desperately to find new homes where they can be safe. Later this month the first Global Refugee Forum will be held; will a coordinated global policy or commitment to take in refugees be one of the outcomes?
I sometimes think about the luck of geography. That we are born in one place and not another means nothing. No one is inherently more worthy of anything, nor are those not fortunate enough to be born wherever we are any less deserving of opportunity. For people to treat other human beings as less than – to cage them and allow them to die on the floor of a cell without any care – is inhumane. As is to stand by and do nothing.
After the movie was shown tonight, a number of congregants noted that they had toured the Shanghai Ghetto and saw it up close. And then one man stood up and shared how he himself had lived there for seven years after his parents and he escaped Germany when he was two. Since the movie was produces, there are far fewer original survivors, let along Shanghai ghetto refugees, still alive today who can bear witness to the indifference of the world during the Holocaust.
This elderly and frail man, his hands shaking as he held the microphone and told us his story, would not be alive today had Shanghai not opened its doors.
“Never again” is not only about Jews. It is about staying silent while allowing heartlessness to reign. Here in the United States, we must do more to pressure our administration and to help these asylum seekers. Whether it is by joining the Detention Watch Network, taking up one of the suggestions posted by Congressman Tony Cardenas of California or in some other way, we must not remain indifferent. Let’s learn from the past.