The commitment I made 21 years ago…
NOTE: Since writing this, the POTUS signed his executive order to no longer split up families. However that does not change my opinion or stance on this issue. The damage is done and the question remains: how could this have even happened in the first place. Speaker Paul Ryan has introduced a bill that if enacted would put families into prison camps but per the ACLU does nothing to address Attorney General Sessions’ “zero tolerance” policy on prosecuting asylum seekers. We now have at least 2,300 children spread out across the United States of America and the question remains: when (and if) will they be reunited with their parents.
Just over twenty-one years ago I boarded an airplane to Warsaw, Poland with almost 200 other teenagers from Metro-Detroit and Montreal, Quebec. We were a part of a trip called the “March of the Living.” On this trip we spent a week in Poland before heading to Israel. We learned about what happened to the Jewish people during World War Two, and after, as the State of Israel was formed.
I recently came upon my journal from this mission. On May 13, 1997 I wrote:
“As for our trip, we had left behind in Poland the terrible tragedies committed against our people and journeyed here to the Jewish State, Israel. It has become our unspoken mission to pass on the stories of our journey and to make sure that no one ever forgets what happened.”
Twenty-one years ago, when I made the commitment to share these stories and what we saw, it was not only to do so by way of the Jewish people. Part of the responsibility our group took on from this trip was to pass along these stories so that NO ONE, EVER, ANYWHERE experienced these crimes against humanity again.
As I recently read through my journals, I was reminded of another day in Poland.
At seventeen-years old, I walked through the old barracks in Madjanek, a death camp on the outskirts of Lublin, Poland. Here, about 360,000 people were murdered throughout the war. These were all kinds of people, not just Jews. Inside one of the barracks we visited were rows and rows of metal cages filled to the ceiling with shoes. As I ran my hands along what seemed like endless rows of shoes, it was hard not to imagine the people who once filled these soles.
Mothers, fathers, grandparents, sons, daughters, nieces, nephews.
Doctors, lawyers, businessmen, bakers, cobblers, jewelers.
At one point, there was a small pink pair of shoes. I touched them. I could not help but think what the little girl wearing these shoes faced before she was forced to take them off. This was a little girl whose parents were likely told: We’re just going to take her to clean her off after the long trip on the train (cattle cars), you’ll see her soon.
Her parents were sent one way, and she was sent another. They likely were all gassed in the gas chambers and never saw each other again.
This week on the news, on the Internet, and across all social media outlets, we read stories of parents who were crossing the United States border, some seeking asylum, and whose kids were taken from them. They were told by authorities that their kids were going to get a bath. And then they disappeared — -the parents haven’t seen them since. We witnessed images of fenced in camps, housing kids who were forcibly removed from their parents’ care. We heard audio of children crying and screaming — -begging to know when their mommies and daddies were going to come get them.
It’s been over seventy years since the Holocaust marked our history. Yet the events that have begun to unfold in the United States of America over the last few months, and through much of this week, are eerily similar to those which began one of the darkest times in the history of the world.
In 1939, at the start of World War Two, the United States turned away a ship filled with 900 German Jews seeking asylum — -many who went on to perish in the gas chambers. Shortly after, the United States of America rejected a proposal to allow 20,000 Jewish children to come to the US for safety. It was not until after World War Two that the United States started to change its policy. After closing our doors on so many, we have spent over seventy years being one of the most welcoming nations in the world for refugees.
Are our policies perfect?
By no means.
But this particular issue, about children being separated from their parents, is not about politics. It’s about parenthood. It’s about common decency. It’s about being HUMAN.
In 1997, following my trip to Poland and Israel, I was fortunate enough to hear Elie Wiesel, Nobel Peace Prize winning author, Holocaust survivor, and humanitarian, speak at a book fair. At the end of his talk he reminded the audience, “Just as despair can come to one only from other human beings, hope, too, can be given to one only by other human beings.”
I am a parent now. So are many of you. It doesn’t matter what side of the aisle you are sitting on. Can you even begin to imagine what it would be like if your children were forcibly taken from you?
WHAT YOU CAN DO TO HELP:
CONTINUE TO CALL your member of Congress and elected officials
(202) 224–3121 is the Switchboard at the US Capitol, they can connect you to the right person from your state.
TELL THEM TO STOP SPEAKER RYAN’S ANTI-IMMIGRANT BILL
DON’T KNOW WHAT TO SAY? TRY THIS:
Hi, my name is [YOUR NAME] and my zip code is [YOUR ZIP]. I’m asking the Representative to vote NO on Speaker Ryan’s immigration bill. This is an inhumane, unjust bill that will put families in prison camps — we can’t let that be what this country becomes.
FOR MORE INFORMATION, PLEASE VISIT THE ACLU.