Replace "Syrian" with "Jewish" and we're back to 1939


American Jews across the United States, repulsed by Republican leaders turning their backs on Syrian refugees fleeing terror, are mobilizing with uncommon unity to support them. That’s because as a community, we collectively remember what happened before the Holocaust, when many of us were murdered by Germany’s genocidal machine after being refused entry into the United States.
In the year 1939, a majority of Americans opposed admitting Jewish refugees fleeing Nazi Germany. Some feared there would be Nazi infiltrators amidst the desperate Jewish masses. Others lamented that we couldn’t handle the burden. And too many expressed anti-Jewish sentiments to bolster their rejection of Jews fleeing violence in Europe.

When the Wagner-Rogers Bill was proposed in Congress, providing for the resettlement of 20,000 Jews, it didn’t even make it to a vote, being rejected by President Roosevelt and a majority of lawmakers, including Senator Robert Taft (R-OH), who argued that even Jewish children would be a threat to the United States. And that year, desperate Jews fleeing Europe on a number of ships, including the St. Louis, were turned away from our shores.
Most of them were murdered by Hitler.
Which is why I and many American Jews are stunned by the discourse we’re hearing today. It’s almost as if 1939 is repeating itself. When we hear Republican governors say they would (illegally) reject Syrian refugees, we remember. When we read that Republican lawmakers are threatening to shut down the US government over Syrian refugees, we remember. When we hear people like Jeb Bush say only Christian refugees should be allowed entry, we remember. When we hear people say to close our borders to those fleeing terrorism, because they might be terrorists themselves, we remember.
Forget for a moment that this rejection of Syrian refugees would be horrible foreign policy. Forget for a moment that doing so would actually bolster ISIS, which wants to end coexistence between Muslims and the ‘West.’ Forget for a moment what the terrorists fear most is our unity and inclusiveness.
Forget all that for a moment and consider this: many of the Syrian refugees we reject will be murdered. That’s what many American Jews are thinking. That’s what led the ADL to blast Republican governors for their callousness. And that’s what has left me shaking.
Yes, this is a complicated issue for American Jews who are invested in Israel, given Palestinian refugees and Israel’s continued military occupation. Yes, there is much soul-searching to be done and arguments to be had.
However, on this issue, there is no ambiguity. We remember when we fled and this country turned us away. We see the word “Syrian” and think “Jewish.”
Our empathy requires us to never forget. This country would do well to remember.


What Do You Buy For the Children
David Harris-Gershon is author of the memoir What Do You Buy the Children of the Terrorist Who Tried to Kill Your Wife?, published recently by Oneworld Publications.
Follow him on Twitter @David_EHG.

8 thoughts on “Replace "Syrian" with "Jewish" and we're back to 1939

  1. Once again, I commend you for this excellent article, Mr. Harris-Gershon,
    As a son of parents who were denaturalized by the Nazi government and who were not allowed to enter the U.S. but eventually managed to escape to Bolivia, I particularly abhor the notion that legitimate victims of terrorizing organizations of individual actors OR state actors, have insult added to injury to them by those who oppose to save their lives by offering them a refuge.
    What also amazes me is that on day when the Prime Minister of Israel has been issued an arrest warrant by a major European government, the corporatized mainstream media is failing to report it.
    If this judiciary process proceeds successfully it is only a matter of time until either via the EU Parliament or via the International Criminal Court the arrest warrant will be applied to all 28 members of the EU or globally to all UN member countries.
    Given the track record of Netanyahu et al., it is now more likely than ever that he and members of his cabinet will in a not distant future be held accountable before an international tribunal, and this will mean progress for Israel, the Palestinians, and all concerned about governments which violate international law and human rights with impunity.
    So, while the media is reporting intensively on Paris, it would seem to me that its focus should not loose track of other major events such as this one, since what Netanyahu et al. and other previous Israeli misleaderships have gotten away with renders such government actors of terrorizing activities and therefore veritable generators of the very terrorizing reprisal attacks we are now facing.
    For the effective elimination of said violent attacks, their causes must be analyzed and dealt with by judicial and law enforcement action just as we must do that with the criminal individuals who harm the innocent lives of law abiding unarmed citizens.
    In other words, “fighting terrorism” is a two-prongued challenge. The cause and effect must be clearly defined and dealt with in a mostly judiciary and law enforcement approach and not by militaristic attacks which cause what is frivolously characterized “collateral damage” and in most situations has its impact quantitatively and even qualitatively kept under wraps.
    Unfortunately we are now more than ever facing opportunistic corrupted politicians who use clichés in describing what is really happening and to boot, have sinister latent special interest political agendas in their response to this phenomenon.
    While the U.S. has shown no interest in saving the lives of in my case German and Austrian Jews in 1938-1939, it not only reversed its stand once the Zionists implanted violently Israel into Palestine, but after its war of hegemonic expansion, the U.S. interest evolved to such an extent for geopolitical reasons and not humane reasons that today the U.S. supports a Zionist Apartheid colonialist Israel which in effect is a generator of violent reprisal attacks which add to the ones we are now dealing with.
    Only a strict and total arms embargo to particularly Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Bahrain, and Israel coupled with a cessation to the aerial bombardments and to humanitarian assistance will begin to effectively address and remediate this catastrophe. Not a single innocent life must be wasted and dismissed as “collateral damage” by this intense bombing which hardly ever is targeted with pinpoint precision.

  2. I’m glad to be on the same side as the ADL on this critical issue. Can’t recall the last time that happened. G-d does work in mysterious ways! To welcome the stranger is the essence of Judaism, Christianity and Islam in my mind.

    • Mr. Hochheimer,
      In response to your kind note, where you state that your parents had the same one mine did, I thought that I would share with that my mother came to Bolivia via the Peruvian port of Callao on the same boat as the parents of Leo Spitzer who, as I, was born in Bolivia, and who wrote the book “Hotel Bolivia ; The Culture of Memory in a Refuge From Nazism”. I believe Leon Spitz still teaches at Dartmouth University.
      My mother had a long moving conversation with Leo.
      I would enjoy meeting you over a cup of tea or something of that nature should you live near the Washington DC metropolitan area or should your travels paths take you this area.

  3. Stop with your ignorance already!
    Those Syrians hate the Jews, and would not waste a minute harassing you at any occasion they have!
    Open your eyes already, or you and your kids can kiss goodbye the freedoms that give you you righteous overconfidence

  4. I will readily admit that refusing the Jewish children would seem to be a decision that should have been questioned; however, it is done. I know, don’t forget history!!
    The Syrian thing, in my opinion, is very different. I suppose, if all the refuges consisted of children, it might be compared, but, the group consists of adults and children and, unfortunately under present conditions, adults should be vetted. Didn’t one of the Paris bombers come in with a bogus passport as a refuge?
    This is not only very complicated issue but also very very serious, and using an admittedly questionable decision from almost fifty years ago to discredit serious caution seems more emotional than credible. In time when we should be exercising greater control of those we invite in, are we saying that we should swing the doors open to all, even terrorists? Seriously?
    Yes, the Republican Presidential aspirants and mostly Republican governors may be over the top, but, if you were in or had a relative in the Twin Towers, wouldn’t you have hoped that there was a bit more caution with who gained entrance? I know I would have!

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