My parents brought my brother and I to the US on June 15th. 1965. I was 14. Dad was a Hollocaust survivor and my Mom and her family lived in hiding during WWII. We were Eastern European refugees placed by the American consulate in Dallas Texas, a place of opportunity for us given that Mom and Dad were both physicians and there was a need for qualified professionals.
I’m not going to describe here the difficulties of the transition and the cultural shock we all experienced, that’s for another time. My focus in this short essay is the difference between this country more than fifty years ago and now, specifically as it pertains to immigrants.
My Dad did not talk to us about his experiences in the concentration camps, not directly. He used his pen to write down the horrors he witnessed as a young man, deported along with his family by the Germans to certain death simply because they were part of an ‘undesirable’ group of the human race. I have not let myself dwell too much on that past even when as an adult, I read his writings in which he tried to work out the why’s as best he could. I don’t think he ever got there, I don’t think he was ever at peace. How could he be? To live with those memories and try to relive the what ifs, drove him to the brink of insanity.
But there was one thing that he believed in and that was America. He felt deep in his heart that if he could only start life over in this country, build a future for his children and feel part of a place where he was accepted, his past would seem less of a burden. Not everything worked out as he expected. He did not loose his demons not his paranoia and was fighting to the end to justify his existance. But overall, he did manage to live a little bit of his American Dream.
I never thought I would say this but I’m happy he’s no longer with us to witness how his beloved country, the one that he so much wanted to live in, the land of freedom and opportunity open to all people, no matter where they came from and what they believed in, has been taken over by hatred. I’m glad he cannot hear the words spoken by right wing conspiracy theorists who echo the same rhetoric used to exterminate millions. He would certainly be distressed after believing and hoping that his fellow human beings would learn from the past and know what hatred and discrimination can lead to.
I am not blind to it nor do I believe that hate will win in the end, but if history is a lesson, it’s one we haven’t learned well enough. As the dividers breed hate, we must speak up and counter their words. Fear cannot make us stay quiet for if we do, those who are bent on setting us against each other will certainly win.
In memory of my Dad and all he stood for, I will always remember that freedom is not free and that as long as there are good and honest human beings on this earth who speak up against hatred and evil, we will survive.
We all share this fragile earth with the same goal: peace and love to all and generations to come. Let’s hope we can all take care of it together.