Saturday, January 28, 2017

Trump, Holocaust Remembrance Day, and Syrian Refugees

Today is International Holocaust Remembrance Day. On the 27th of January, 1945, Soviet troops liberated Auschwitz. At least 1.1 million Jews were murdered there, plus thousands of other victims - Poles, Sinti and Roma, homosexuals, Soviet prisoners of war, Jehovah's Witnesses, Czechs, White Russians, Germans, French men and women, Russians, Yugoslavians, Ukrainians, and people from several other countries.

Of course, millions more Jews were murdered in other death camps by the Nazis; about 1.5 million Jews were killed in mass shootings in parts of the Soviet Union captured by the Nazis; and hundreds of thousands died in ghettos, to mention only some of the methods of death.

As I have written on this blog before, relatives of mine were also caught up in the Nazi machinery of death. Mordechai Falkon and his wife Dovra Falkon, who lived in Liepaja, Latvia, were murdered in 1941, when the Nazis invaded the Soviet Union. Mordechai was probably murdered with other men in the summer of 1941, while Dovra was probably killed on the beaches of Skede, just north of Liepaja, in mid-December 1941. Other members of the extended family, Sima Schlosberg and her family, from Jelgava, Latvia, fled further east into the Soviet Union when the Nazis came. Sima, her sister Miriam, and one of their parents survived the war.

Mordechai was the uncle of my grandfather Mark Falcon Lesses (born in the United States). Mordechai and his sister Gittel remained in Europe when my great-grandfather Jacob Morris came to the US in 1893. By the mid-1930s Gittel was living with her family in Moscow.

In the years before WWII started, Mordechai, Gittel, and their cousin Sima corresponded with my grandfather.

Mordechai and Sima requested that he furnish them with affidavits to help them immigrate to the United States, which he did. Affidavits were needed to enter the US in addition to immigration visas - which the US was very stingy with for those who wanted to enter from eastern Europe. The 1924 immigration act severely restricted immigration from eastern and southern Europe. Neither Mordechai, Dovra, nor Sima and her family received visas for the US.

The US reluctance to grant visas to desperate Jews trying to escape from the Nazis is well-known now. Jews were not well-liked in the US; the State Department was institutionally antisemitic; President Roosevelt did not go to Congress to try to raise the quotas for central and eastern European countries because he was afraid that would lead to further restrictions.

President Trump chose to commemorate this day in two ways.

First, he issued a generic statement that failed to mention either Jews or antisemitism. Other presidents before him, both Democrats and Republicans, have specifically mentioned Jews. Last year, the Canadian prime minister, Justin Trudeau, also omitted mentioning Jews in his address on Holocaust Remembrance Day. (His statement today does specifically mention Jews and antisemitism).

Second, Trump suspended the entry of any refugees into the US for 120 days, banned entry for 90 days for people entering the US from Iraq, Iran, Syria, Sudan, Libya, Somalia, and Yemen, and forbade any Syrian refugees from entering the US from this time forward. Even those who already have visas from the seven countries will not be permitted to enter the US. These are all Muslim-majority countries, so this is obviously a partial implementation of the "Muslim ban" that he called for during the election.

The executive order will permit the entry of refugees from the above countries who belong religious minorities - in effect giving Christians and others priority above Muslim refugees. The order says that entry of refugees from the above countries should "prioritize refugee claims made by individuals on the basis of religious-based persecution, provided that the religion of the individual is a minority religion in the individual’s country of nationality."

From the Washington Post:
The annual intake of refugees for fiscal 2017 would also fall to 50,000 from more than 100,000 authorized now, according to the order. 
The order also included a new policy that states and localities should have a say in determining whether refugees can resettle there. It calls for the secretary of homeland security to propose a way to make their involvement routine. Governors and mayors, mostly Republicans, have objected to refugees, once they are admitted to the country, being resettled in their jurisdictions, often in small and medium-size cities where the cost of living is lower than it is in big coastal cities.
The US is now committed to keeping out refugees from one of the most hideous conflicts currently occurring - the Syrian civil war. We wasted several years either doing nothing to stop the slaughter or engaging in incompetent measures to stop it. Our inaction gave a green light to the Russians to enter the battle on the side of the murderous Assad regime. We have now officially handed the Syrian people into the hands of their enemies. And Trump's most peculiar affection for Putin and the Russian regime may bring us into an alliance with the murderers.

The most vulnerable refugees - women and children - will now be forbidden to come to the US. Bana Alabed, a young girl who tweeted from besieged Aleppo (with her mother's help), is now prevented from coming to the US.

At least the United States eventually entered the Second World War against the Nazis, even if we were hostile to Jewish refugees and acted very late to help them (1944, when the War Refugee Board was established). By contrast, we are now an enemy to the Syrian people.

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