Never Again Means Never Again

September 10, 2019

I joined a demonstration Sunday afternoon. It was called partly to make clear that Jews are not slaves to Trump regardless of his policies toward Israel. It was part of Never Again Action across the country to protest the use of concentration camps to hold people fleeing from persecution, now most urgently on our Mexican border. We were joined by good people of all colors, origins and faiths, many of whom I know and admire.

Justice Jackson, chief prosecutor at the Nuremberg Trials, told the world in his opening statement that “civilization cannot tolerate … [the Nazi’s wrongs] being ignored, because it cannot survive their being repeated.”[1] Never again and condemnation of the Holocaust was never just about Jews. These were crimes against all humanity. ICE, US Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and Trump get no atrocities pass.

Never Again protested holding kids in cages, separating children from their families, keeping immigrants in concentration camps, plus denying them everything from soap to medical care. It is not OK to do that to people whatever they look like or the language they use to speak or pray. It’s not OK to refuse to help people who are fleeing for their lives. It’s not OK to rename refugees “illegals” and treat them as if they have no rights even to the basics for survival. And it’s not OK for Sheriff Russo to assist ICE to round up decent, law-abiding people fleeing for their lives to the country that promised the world to advance life, liberty, freedom from fear and freedom from want. And yes, I did call them law-abiding – it’s not a crime to cross the border.

So we congregated at a park in South Troy and then marched to the Rensselaer County Correctional Facility. Rabbi Gordon reminded the crowd that when Rabbi Heschel was criticized for marching on the sabbath in the Civil Rights Movement, he responded, “I prayed with my feet.”  We prayed with our feet, as appropriate when our voices are not enough.

When we reached the jail, we were reminded of the names of people who died in US custody near the Mexican border. We remembered them with the Kadish, the ancient Jewish prayer for the dead. It’s a prayer I recite tearfully as I have recited it for my parents and others I held dear.

The march was peaceful and we had been instructed to obey the laws. But a group sat across the road leading to the jail and eventually people from the county police came to talk to those blocking the road. I saw Mark Mishler, as attorney for the demonstrators, come to join the discussion. I heard them discuss alternatives available to the police. When they got to the possibility of arrest, I heard Mark tell the officer that “There are people here who lost their families in the holocaust…. As Jews we have seen these things before and we are not going to be like the ‘good Germans’ who stood by and let it happen in Germany, that we will not allow detentions and family separations happen in our country without taking a stand. And, that’s why the people blocking the road are not going to leave.” If they left, they would be tortured by the thought that they had not done everything they could to stop others from being confined in inhumane conditions as their families had been.

Never again means never again, anywhere. It means that at home as much as anywhere else. We will not be complicit.

[1] Opening Address to the International Military Tribunal at the Nuremberg Trials (10 November 1945).


My Undocumented Friend

September 26, 2017

A friend since my law school days knew he’d been adopted. We saw a lot of each other when we both lived in New York City, where I met his adoptive parents. In a distinguished career, he’s been president of his professional society, recipient of honorary degrees in the US, France, and Greece, an advisor to the Director of the United States Central Intelligence Agency, and he taught at several of this country’s finest universities and war colleges.

A few years ago, when we ran into each other at a professional meeting, he told me that he had discovered that his birth mother had tossed him out the window of a train headed for the concentration camps into the waiting arms of someone she hoped would save her infant son. He was working on trying to learn more about what happened.

My friend has been traveling in Europe but we’ve been in touch and I wrote and asked him what if anything he had found out. He wrote me back:

The short take on my background is that fortuitous circumstances produced reasonable evidence that I was born in France to a foreign family who had fled the Nazis, most likely from Germany. I was hidden in a village, smuggled out of France by the Jewish underground, entered the US as an illegal immigrant, was sent to an orphanage and adopted by an American family.

That of course is the family I knew. He adds that “I’ve managed to track down and interview people involved in these several steps.”

My friend was a “childhood arrival” in the language of Obama’s executive order establishing “Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals,” or D.A.C.A. It allows people who were brought here as children to stay, study and work here without being deported so long as they behaved themselves properly. That’s the order that President Trump is trying to terminate. My friend was brought here as an undocumented infant. His birth parents likely perished in the concentration camps, without knowing what became of their son.

When I asked him if I could quote him for this commentary, he expanded on the process of his becoming an American:

immigration officials [looked] the other way when the group of 100 children I was with – all older than me – were offloaded at night from our boat and entered the country as illegal immigrants. We were sent to orphanages, from which I was liberated [by] the American family who adopted me. In NYC in the 1940s adoptions took five years to become legal, so I well remember appearing in court and telling the judge, in response to his questions, that my parents loved me and treated me well. He in turn had the court issue me a birth certificate with NYC as my place of birth, thus laundering me.

Half a century later, my friend is widely admired. “Most remarkably,” he added: “my German colleagues – many of whom are former students or post-docs – took it upon themselves to do something,” even though he didn’t have his original surname or birthdate, so that, in addition to his American citizenship, “courtesy of the German parliament – I am [also] a German citizen.”

I can only thank heaven that he and his boat weren’t among those this country turned back during World War II. For me and my friend, the issue of DACA is very personal.

— This commentary was broadcast on WAMC Northeast Report, September 26, 2017.


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