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A Familiar US History Lesson: Jewish Refugees of the Holocaust & Refugees Today

A Familiar US History Lesson: Jewish Refugees of the Holocaust & Refugees Today

After Trump signed his executive order on immigration restriction, colloquially called the “Muslim Ban,” immigration from the countries of Syria, Iran, Iraq, Yemen, Libya, Somalia, and Sudan halted faster than you could say #NotMyPresident.

United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
Above: Jewish refugees await entry to the U.S. (From the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.)
BBC
Above: Syrian refugees journey to Europe. (From the BBC)

Not only did the United States cease accepting any immigration requests and applications for asylum from the listed countries, those en route to the U.S. were also denied entry and held at various ports of entry. According to the New York Times, people entering the U.S. from these countries on a visa, even those not seeking asylum, have been detained at airports, including Seyed Soheil Saeedi Saravi, a scientist from Iran on his way to Boston, and Hameed Khalid Darweesh, who had worked for the U.S. government in Iraq for 10 years.

Even non-citizens traveling abroad, having lived in the United States for years on a visa or with a green card, are being denied re-entry if their country of origin is on Trump’s list.

“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore.”

The recent ban on immigrants and asylum seekers from majority-Muslim countries has many remembering a story from America’s not too distant past: the story of the SS St. Louis.

The SS St. Louis stopped off the coast of Florida in 1939 after having been denied entry to Cuba. Many aboard the St. Louis had already petitioned for asylum in America, but the process of approval took so long many feared that by the time they could be given approval, it would be too late.

With 937 passengers, most of whom were Jewish, the SS St. Louis waited for a response from Franklin D. Roosevelt’s cabinet. Though the war had not yet begun, anti-semitism in Germany and Hitler’s Third Reich ambitions told many Jews all they needed to know: they had to escape Europe.

Secretary of State at the time, Breckinridge Long, is now thought by many to have been anti-semetic. He refused to allow the immigration process to speed up to allow refugees asylum, and eventually, the 937 refugees aboard the St. Louis were ordered to turn around and return to Europe.

“Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

Of the 937 passengers denied asylum in the U.S., 254 would die in the Holocaust, and an additional person would die in England, killed by a German airstrike.

Jewish Virtual Library
From the Jewish Virtual Library: The SS St. Louis is denied entry at the Port of Havana, Cuba.

The conditions of these two sets of refugees, those from European Jewry in 1939, and those from the Middle East and North Africa today, are strikingly similar. Their nations shaken by war, their families homeless or in poverty, many of them from persecuted religious minorities, these are simply human beings longing for respite.

According to the United Nations High Commission on Refugees, three quarters of those seeking asylum from Syria are women and children. Those who are men are not terrorists seeking to enter the United States to commit an atrocity, they are men who have lost everything, and are struggling desperately to care for themselves and their families.

united states holocaust memorial museum 2
From the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum: Mothers and children flee Nazi persecution.

 

 Syrian children march in the refugee camp in Jordan. The number of Children in this camp exceeds 60% of the total number of refugees hence the name "Children's camp". Some of them lost their relatives, but others lost their parents.

From the American Mirror: Syrian children march in the refugee camp in Jordan. The number of Children in this camp exceeds 60% of the total number of refugees hence the name “Children’s camp”. Some of them lost their relatives, but others lost their parents.

 

Just as with the ill-fated passengers of the SS St. Louis, a great many of the refugees Trump is turning away will most assuredly die if forced to return from whence they came. If they are not killed by fascism, terrorism, or government persecution, many will starve, freeze, drown, or even suffocate.

suffocating
Left: a train car full of Holocaust victims who have died during transport.  Right: a truck carrying 71 Syrian immigrants in Austria, all are found to have suffocated.

 

The murky foundations of anti-semitism (the fear that Jewish people would subvert American culture, destroy our financial institutions, and even commit violence) and Islamophobia are one and the same. Once again, xenophobia is sending the poor, the destitute, the innocent to die.

See Also

From the Statue of Liberty:

“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

Once again, xenophobia is sending the poor, the destitute, the innocent to die.

From the Bible:

“Then He will also say to those on the left hand, ‘Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels: for I was hungry and you gave Me no food; I was thirsty and you gave Me no drink; I was a stranger and you did not take Me in, naked and you did not clothe Me, sick and in prison and you did not visit Me.’”

“Then they also will answer Him saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to You?’ Then He will answer them, saying, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, in as much as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.’” – Matthew‬ ‭25:41-45

From the Quran:

“In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful.
Do you see the one who denies the reckoning?
Who shuns the orphan
and forgets the hungry?
Woe to those who worship
but who worship mindlessly
and only to be seen,
and fail in neighborly kindness.” -Surat Al-Maun (Neighborly Kindness) Chapter 107.

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