History, Anne Frank, and The Syrian Refugees – America is Better Than This (or Should Be)

Sometimes, as a writer, I do feel obligated to speak up on certain points. I generally keep politics out of my writing discussions because my readers (and friends) vary across the political spectrum, and I have other places I can voice my views. However, the Syrian refugee issue is different since it involves so many aspects I write about, including the failure to understand other cultures which was the basis of my book, The Bottle Tree, and, of course, the protagonist of the Noah Chance series is a young man with Down’s Syndrome. 

When I first heard all of the right wing Governors stating they would refuse to allow refugees in their state, my first thought was “More grandstanding because that’s unconstitutional”.

However, that happens so much I didn’t dwell on it long.

My next thought was “Has everyone forgotten their history?”

Although I don’t usually reference Wikipedia for my writing, I have done so in this piece since the information is verified based on other sources and Wikipedia is a quick, see of yourself, location to see the information on this topic.

In 1939, the MS St. Louis, a German ocean liner (made famous by the book and movie Voyage of the Damned), left Germany with a cargo of 937 refugees seeking asylum from the Nazis. When they arrived in Cuba, their destination, they were refused entry.

The Captain then took his ship to Florida, where the U.S. Government denied entry and the U.S. Coast Guard (although they deny it) allegedly fired shots to turn the vessel away from where the Captain had considered running it aground and gaining access for the passengers that way. If you look through the newspapers, editorial, and Letters to the Editor pages of the newspapers it is easy to determine the refugees were refused for two reasons which were behind the laws at that time. First, the U.S. was still trying to appease Hitler to an extent and wanted to avoid being drawn into the war. Second, many people expressed hysterical fear that some of the refugees may have been spies sent here to commit espionage (essentially, the 1939 equivalent to the 2015 fear of Muslim Terrorists).

The ship then headed back to Europe. 

The United Kingdom agreed to take 288 of the passengers (31.76 percent), who disembarked and traveled to the UK via other steamers. After much negotiation by Schröder, the remaining 619 passengers were allowed to disembark at Antwerp; 224 were accepted by France (24.70 percent), 214 by Belgium (23.59 percent), and 181 by the Netherlands (19.96 percent). Without any passengers, the ship returned to Hamburg. The following year, after the Nazi German invasions of Belgium and France in May 1940, all the Jews in those countries were at renewed risk, including the recent refugees.

While the eventual fate of all of the passengers is not known, and the numbers have changed over the years, researchers from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum have now stated:

“Of the 620 St. Louis passengers who returned to continental Europe, we determined that eighty-seven were able to emigrate before Germany invaded western Europe on May 10, 1940. Two hundred fifty-four passengers in Belgium, France, and the Netherlands after that date died during the Holocaust. Most of these people were murdered in the killing centers of Auschwitz and Sobibór; the rest died in internment camps, in hiding or attempting to evade the Nazis. Three hundred sixty-five of the 620 passengers who returned to continental Europe survived the war.”

The Captain of the St. Louis, Captain Gustav Schröder, was an extremely honorable man and was awarded the Order of Merit by the Federal Republic of Germany after the war and in 1993, Schröder was posthumously named as one of the Righteous among the Nations at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial in Israel. His actions in trying to find places to accept those he felt a responsibility for should be looked at as an example by the “leaders”, both real and wanna be, in our country who never learned or want to ignore the history lesson.

In addition to the above situation, I also thought I remembered a tragic, yet interesting fact, I was able to verify through a number of sources but I’ll use a link to Snopes.com . Even those people who were unfamiliar with the St. Louis story would likely know the story of the young Jewish Girl, Anne Frank, since many of us had The Diary of Anne Frank as required reading in school.

What most don’t know is that in 2007, researchers discovered old files in a New Jersey warehouse which revealed Otto Frank, Anne’s father, had tried for many months to obtain visas for he and his family to come to the United States as refugees from the Nazis. 

An April 2015 article titled “Op-Ed: Getting Anne Frank All Wrong” published in Arutz Sheva addressed the plight of Anne Frank and other Jewish refugee children who perished:

Otto Frank, Anne’s father, dutifully filled out the small mountain of required application forms and obtained supporting affidavits from the family’s relatives in Massachusetts.

But that was not enough for those who zealously guarded America’s gates against refugees. In fact, in 1941, the Roosevelt administration even added a new restriction: no refugee with close relatives in Europe could come to the U.S., on the grounds that the Nazis might hold their relatives hostage in order to force the refugee to undertake espionage for Hitler.

Once again, fear of a remote possibility cost people their lives. 

Those who oppose allowing the refugees in without solid reasons to back up the stance should join with others who feel the same way (Democrats or Republicans), invest in a cutting torch and visit Liberty Island, taking the time to remove the words from the plaque at the Statue of Liberty, since apparently it no longer applies:

“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

There’s already precedent in American history for denying entrance, but it was wrong then just as it is wrong now and the result will be the same.