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28 March 2017

The Modern Refugee: Holocaust Revisited?

Probably a blessing and a curse is my Holocaust scholarship; I've never been able to look at anything the same since taking up the cause of Leslie Schwartz' powerfully redemptive and healing message beginning in 2009 when I first met Schwartz. After all the interviews and articles and even our book together, I find I've developed this hyper-sensitive radar to intolerance, oppression, bullying, no matter the form or the venue. I'm not always fun to be around; at times I've even found myself creating an uneasy distance from my closest colleagues. The election of Trump hasn't helped much. I vacillate between outbursts of anger and a more rational, intellectual approach; however, his xenophobic tendencies are deeply troubling on so many levels. That so many people don't seem to understand the regressive nature and inhumanity of the man's words shocks me daily. I simply have a deep concern for helping those less fortunate or those who have been left behind. In small ways, I've been able to affect change, and certainly my work with Leslie has been recognized all over the world, but, again and again, I come across a situation over which I'm powerless and liable to lose many nights sleep over because of ensuing frustration and anger. Not terribly healthy, actually.

When I investigate the refugees now "housed" on the islands of Nauru and Manus, and especially after speaking with some Australian sources, I'm left with yet another powerfully resonant image referring to the ongoing world-wide refugee crisis as well as a empty feeling in my gut as we repeat (forgive me) many of the same thought-forms the world exhibited during the 1930s and 1940s regarding Jews and others oppressed by Hitler. The notions of America first are certainly not new, and looking back on history is always problematic when factoring in the narratives we attach, often having more to do with now as opposed to then, but I keep asking myself, how can the world turn it's back on these people suffering so horribly and for so long?

This refugee "thing" as I have written in my blog is happening all over the world. And nothing about Trump is new or unusual or different. He's just riding a tsunami of fear, anxiety and inhumanity that is gripping the entire planet at this moment in time. Refugees are not going away; there are only going to be more of them. These situations always propose a test of one's humanity--how an individual or a nation responds to another human in need. For me echoes of the Holocaust are all too clear. Every minute of every day we get to relive history and recreate the future, over and over and over, yet we often choose the same dark outcomes and ask ourselves why? We should and must turn back to Victor Frankl's Man's Search for Meaning. You either have two responses to suffering--according to Frankl, compassion, seeking to alleviate another's suffering, or fear of what is happening to them happening to you, and thus a closed and hardened heart. Simple and complicated at the same time: 

". . .there are two races of men in this world, but only these two--the 'race' of the decent man and the 'race' of the indecent man. (Frankl 108)

Meanwhile, Australian Prime Minister Turnbull and American President Trump argue over the details while people virtually imprisoned continue to suffer horrors of which I cannot conceive. 

I remember 2012 very well: During Hurricane Sandy, we had no power for 11 days. I was very ill at the time, and I also had to take care of my elderly mom. Things like heat and hot meals were a priority. I felt a lot of anxiety. My neighbors stepped up and helped us. One neighbor brought me ice for my cooler, another let me use her stove which had gas to heat meals, and another rigged my furnace to run off a generator, his generator by the way, so we would have heat and hot water. The town provided phone charging stations and MREs. All this help got my mom and I through it all just fine. Then I think of all these people fleeing war torn countries. Wars they didn't start. They just happen to live there, you know? They too must have children or elderly parents and health problems of their own. What are they supposed to do? Don't their children deserve a life as well? Water to drink and food to eat and to live in a place that isn't dangerous and warm at night? I just can't get past putting myself into their lives for a second. No power, ever, no access to doctors or hospitals, dangerous depleted uranium from our weapons all over the place, people trying to exploit them and rape them and do all manner of harm to them, and I ask, how can we not help? We have so much here; then I see a President who panders to hate and fear and the most base, guttural reactions to shove their faces back in their misery in a spiteful and demeaning manner, and I cannot comprehend any of this. 

If you're OK with all this, then you are clearly a better person than I. Because this shit bothers me to no end. There was a family from Syria that took two years to get moved up to come to America and settle in  Jersey City, near where I live. A church sponsored a nice apartment for them. They got here the other day and were sent back. They have no money and no support system. Back to the refugee camp in Jordan while they had a nice, cozy apartment waiting for them and a new life here in America. I cannot understand the inhumanity in any of this.

Below are links to some excellent work illuminating the tragedy in the islands off Australia by CNN and The Guardian.

CNN ( solid overview)

CNN (regarding Turnbull/Trump)

The Guardian: Nauru files

Nauru Files (Leaked) Database

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