We Have Seen this Movie Before
On May 13, 1939, the German transatlantic liner St. Louis sailed from Hamburg, Germany, for Havana, Cuba. On the voyage were 937 passengers. Almost all were Jews fleeing from the Third Reich. The story of the St. Louis has been told and retold, but it appears that the world needs to see this movie again. The people aboard the ship were seeking a new life in the Americas and they saw Cuba as a place they could find safety until the United States or other countries would take them in. But there were problems. Cuba, like most of the world, was recovering from the Great Depression. The politics of Cuba at the time, with corrupt government officials and right wing leadership called for the stopping of Jewish refugees from Europe. It led to the passengers being blocked from entry into Cuba before they even set sail, though those passengers didn't know the political infighting on the ground. Most of the passengers were denied departure in Cuba and sought refuge in the U.S. which was also denied. Blatant anti-immigration and anti-semitic voices won out. Then President Roosevelt did not have the will to fight a Congress that had recently failed to open the U.S. to Jewish children fleeing the Nazis. The story ends with both hope and tragedy. While the U.S. and Cuba denied those people a chance at life, Britain, France, and the Netherlands opened their doors. However, because so many were in the path of Nazi expansion moving through WW II 254 people lost their lives in death camps because of the failure of the land of the free because of hatred and fear.
Since that time many countries have sought to treat refugees better. Our country has grown stronger because we have had policies that brought in refugees who live and thrive among us. However recently a new tragedy has been on-going and thus call for us to live up to the values we profess as a culture and a nation. Syria, as well as other parts of the Middle East, are in turmoil due in part to Western Intervention in the area. Syria is suffering a war that includes the murderous ISIS that use Islam as a weapon to justify horrors unable to fully comprehend without seeing them, and the standing government of Bashar al-Assad who in response to calls for reforms brutally attacked his own people. It is estimated that 11% of the population of Syria at the start of the crisis in 2011 has been killed or seriously wounded. That is 2.5 million people. Another 7 million are internally displaced, forced to leave their homes but have no way out of the country. About 4 million have fled, mostly to neighboring countries where they are living in camps and trying to reach western countries and find a new life. Their lives are in the balance and they will do anything to flee the horrors of home. The numbers are staggering and what is scary is that we aren't truly sure how accurate they are as they change every day. Now that Russia has entered the war and bombing without the concern for civilian populations that the Untied States has had they are creating more refugees as those internally displaced are not finding safety at all. Hope has come in the form of a cease fire that is being negotiated and looks promising but in the end there is still an extraordinary crisis that needs to be addressed.
But here in the U.S., far from the fighting and the dying, the voices are less than clear. The Obama administration has pledged to take in some 10,000 refugees over the course of a few years, but because this is an election cycle and because some people thrive in fear there are many who have argued that one refugee is one too many. Republican governors (including my own here in Indiana) have made the ludicrous statements about banning Syrian refugees at the state line. Presidential candidates have called for the banning of all Muslims from entering the United States and carpet bombing Syria. News outlets highlight violence in France and San Bernardino as the result of refugees when, in fact, most if not all involved were not refugees at all. While there is an argument of concern that radical thinkers and terrorists could come into the country through the refugee process it is highly unlikely and a seriously dumb way to do it. What we do know is that people who are in fear and see the West as being unconcerned are ripe for terrorist organizations to exploit. A drowning man will grab the point of sword and in Syria thousands upon thousands of people are drowning and ISIS will offer that sword.
What can we do? Well let us remember the St Louis for starters. If that happened today, knowing what you know about the Shoah (Holocaust) would you have done anything to help those people seeking asylum in Cuba and the United States? If so then join me. Contact your elected officials and tell them we as a nation have a moral responsibly to save those that need our help. Find out who in your community is helping to resettle refugees, start with churches and Catholic Charities and organizations like Exodus in Indiana or look for other organizations here. Read reports from reporters on the ground. Challenge those spreading fear and lies. Hold your elected officials accountable and find a way to send money to feed and clothe our fellow human beings caught between the proverbial rock and a hard place and the results are that picture we all saw of a young boy face down on a beach. We can't let that become the new normal.