Jeffrey here. Today, Holocaust Memorial Day, Joey is silent.
The Talmud teaches that everyone will be forgotten. No one knows Abraham Lincoln as a person; he is but a collection of others’ recorded observations; the real Abe Lincoln has been forgotten. Most Holocaust victims left no such record; they are forgotten even more completely. But so what? Remembering them is temporary and doesn’t help them. The dead are beyond help.
Then why have a Holocaust Memorial Day? So we can learn from the mistakes that cost refugees their lives.
As long as people have existed, some have needed refuge. People have fled abusive families, poverty, stifling cultures, war, crime, disease, prosecution. In the right circumstances, almost anything can be a reason to flee.
For most of U.S. history, refugees faced no formalities. The Pilgrims of First Thanksgiving legend fled England for Holland to escape religious persecution, then fled Holland for America so their children would not replace Pilgrim fanaticism with Dutch liberalism. Like millions of immigrants who followed them, the Pilgrims had nothing to apologize for or explain.
The rise of totalitarianism in the 1920s coincided with a significant tightening of Amerca’s borders. Millions of Europeans and Asians had to flee or die. But the right to emigrate, when it existed, was meaningless without a right to immigrate.
Most countries, including the United States, reacted with hostility or indifference to the plight of refugees, turning away those who had escaped communist and fascist murderers. That attitude abetted millions of deaths.
The West’s post-World War II shame led to international refugee agreements. In the U.S., refugee policy eventually was codified in the Refugee Act of 1980.
I deplore the crimes against humanity committed daily around the world. But our resources and understanding are limited. I am not sure that the U.S. has more than a very narrow duty to intervene abroad.
Our duty is different at home. Not even the Coast Guard patrols the world looking for drowning people to rescue. But if any of us happens to be at sea and we spot someone clinging to a raft, we should, we must, we do haul them in.
So let us not try to police the world. But when someone in our country or at our border — not in some distant place of which we understand nothing, but right here, right now — says, “Help me. Save me. Please.” — let us extend a hand. Not a hand to slap cuffs on the supplicant and haul her to jail. Not a hand to push a victim back across the border. A hand to help, pull in, welcome.
Remember the Holocaust. Remember the six million Jews and the six million non-Jews murdered because they had nowhere to run. Use those memories to remind ourselves and our public servants to welcome refugees, broadly defined.
Let’s be better than our parents and grandparents. Let’s be a good example for our children.
Joey will be back tomorrow with more tales of adventure on the road.