On a recent trip to our nation’s capital, I had the opportunity to venture through the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. While I was walking through the deeply emotional exhibits and hearing the tragic stories of so many lost lives, I couldn’t help but draw parallels between events that took place more than 70 years ago, and actions that are occurring today in the Middle East.
To date, more than 250,000 people have died in Syria since war broke out in 2011, and at least 11 million more have been forced to flee their homes. Syrian refugees are now the world’s largest refugee population. So far, 31 states in this country have announced that they will protest and not accept Syrian refugees; fortunately, Montana is not among them, according to CNN. Although I am gratifed that Montana Governor Steve Bullock refuses to deny much-needed sanctuary to people in desperate need of it, I am still deeply troubled by both the anti-refugee and anti-Muslim rhetoric that I hear and see in my community.
If you’re a history buff like me, you might know that in the very early years of Adolf Hitler’s Nazi regime in Germany, Jews, Jehovah Witnesses, political rivals, and other opponents had a slim chance of escaping extermination if they could find sanctuary in another country. Only a fraction of German Jews seeking asylum in the United States between 1933 and 1938 found it. Most were turned away due to what the U.S. government offcially called “immigration quotas,” but these were really anti-immigration and anti-Semitism expressions among the populace. Even if a Jewish asylum seeker was admitted to the U.S., they still had to undergo what the museum called “a bewildering and often capricious bureaucratic process.” People who obviously needed help amid the horrifying circumstances that were occurring in Germany were turned away from U.S. shores, and thus sentenced to a sure death in ghettos and concentration camps.
The parallels between the Syrian refugee crisis today and the Jewish exodus from Germany during WWII are clear to me. In both circumstances, there are mass numbers of people who are fleeing turmoil and violence to seek a better life for themselves and their families. Both events involve human beings who are willing to do whatever it takes to survive, whether it’s swimming across a freezing ocean like so many Syrians, or Jews hiding for years in dusty attics and basements to escape the Nazis. In both situations, Americans have vehemently opposed humanitarian aid.
I have heard people around me cite various reasons why Syrians should not be welcomed into our country, chief among them being the fear that allowing Syrians here will be the equivalent of inviting terrorism and mass murderers into our lives. I would challenge my fellow Montanans and RMC peers to take a moment to consider that Syrians left their homes, their possessions, and their country so that they could escape terrorism. Many of them have lost friends and loved ones to the attacks that are happening inside their own country. I’m not saying we shouldn’t have some sort of a screening process in place, but please, consider above all that the majority of these people are just trying to rebuild their lives and take care of their families, just like we would if we were in their sit- uation.
America is supposed to be the home of the brave; I know for a fact that Montana is. So why are we letting fear rule our lives? We already let the atrocity that was the Holocaust happen by refusing to acknowledge human suffering; let’s make sure that we don’t turn a blind eye again. (Pictures courtesy of Dustbin Epitaph and DelawareOnline)