Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Cruel to be Cruel

(By American Zen's Mike Flannigan, on loan from Ari.)
"You know, we always cling to the hope something is going to happen. They're not going to let us rot on the ocean. I mean, something had to happen to us. Of course, the fear was that we would go back to Germany." - Gerda Blachmann Wilchfort, passenger on the St. Louis and Holocaust survivor
"We haven’t really learnt anything.” -Eva Schloss, Anne Frank's step sister, January 2016
It's generally agreed upon that the final judge of what is moral or immoral are those who have the privilege to live long enough to view the history through which they'd lived or that had transpired before their time. Saying "So and so was on the wrong side of history" is the ultimate finger waggle. Of course, that admonishment only works as long as history, so we're led to believe, continues to bend in the arc of justice and humanity. Yet those of us who study history and the history of history itself are very well aware of the old adage that those who win the wars get to write history. Or, in these Orwellian times, who gets to unwrite it.
     There are very few of us alive today who remember a fateful May in 1939 when the MS St. Louis, a steamer ship from Hamburg, tried to reach port in Havana, Cuba and, later, Miami, Florida. So those of us who care to relearn the history that Harry Truman says we've forgotten can be forgiven for not knowing about the St. Louis and its almost exclusively Jewish 937 passengers. Cuba eventually took just 29 of them.
     Over three years before wouldbe Gestapo spy Herbert Karl Friedrich Bahr was snared by US authorities and made the poster child for why we should not allow Jewish refugees from Europe by that same government, nativist types, antisemites and ordinary Americans panicked about the sanctity of our once impregnable shores and their jobs, the St. Louis was denied entry in first Cuba and then the United States.
     At that pivotal time in world history, the St. Louis ran into a perfect storm of anti-immigrant, anti-Communist (including, ironically, some far right wing Cubans who would eventually see Castro in the warm embrace of the Soviet Union) and antisemitic hysteria coming from the far right in both countries. Add to the mix Hitler's impending invasion of Poland and the anticipation of thousands of Polish refugees, political corruption on the part of a Cuban official, Roosevelt seeking a third term and the unrest of American voters regarding national security and job availability. Add further to the mix an absurdly low quota of 27,000 that was set in late 1938 for Germans and Austrians seeking asylum. It was obvious to some those poor passengers never had a chance.
     The history we've forgotten or had allowed to die with our ancestors would go on to tell us that over a quarter of those displaced souls would later die in the Holocaust when most of the European countries that had eventually taken them in were invaded by the Nazis and were rounded up and sent to the death camps. Of the 254 who were murdered, 84 had been in Belgium; 84 had found refuge in Holland, and 86 who had been admitted to France. Only the ones admitted by the UK escaped unscathed (save for one who was killed in an air raid the following year). But I'll get back to that in a few minutes.
     The other thing about history is that it likes to repeat itself or, more accurately, humans persist in dooming themselves to repeat it because, as George Santayana reminds me, we never seem capable of heeding its lessons (Perhaps the reason why history feels the need to repeat itself as a teacher would a classroom full of dull pupils). Which brings me to Donald John Trump, heir-apparent to the presidency and the new de facto leader of the American Nazi Party.

Leave Those Kids Alone
Since about WWI, every human rights emergency and virtually every event of historical significance has had an iconic photograph attached to it. We do this to give these crises human faces to make them more fully real. And a well-timed photograph sometimes achieves an iconic status all its own because of its very impeccable timing, its ability to sum up the particular evil of a human rights violation in a single static image. And if the caravan coming up from Central America had one, this would get my vote.
     Around Thanksgiving weekend, US Customs and Border Patrol repelled with tear gas canisters hundreds of migrants fleeing their own persecution from their native countries and the USCBP didn't seem to discriminate between men, women and small children. Donald Trump assures us that they used a "minor form of tear gas" (which the Border Commissioner denied, saying there is only one type of tear gas in their equipment arsenal). Fast-rising consignment shop Eva Braun-wannabe Tomi Lahren said watching the migrants getting hit with tear gas was the highlight of her Thanksgiving weekend. (Read this article in The Atlantic about the seduction of shared cruelty among the right wing.)
     The temptation to link the passengers of the St. Louis with the migrants is irresistible for several reasons. One, they're fleeing their homelands and the persecution and very real possibility of death, mainly from genocidal factions (including, in Honduras, right wing paramilitary death squads created by us during the Reagan years).
     And, as with the St. Louis passengers, they're being repelled at a southern border. However, not to make light of the plight suffered by those on the St. Louis, they were at least documented by ship passenger manifests, which is how we know to this day exactly how many were on board, how many were accepted into what countries and how many eventually died in the Holocaust. Plus, no one fired tear gas at the ship and its passengers (being stopped well short of the shore and surrounded by Coast Guard ships, they would've been out of range, anyway). And the Central American migrants are among the most undocumented of the undocumented. We will never know almost any of their names because they are on foot and are on no passenger manifest.
     And we will, consequently, have no record of how many of those in the caravan, much less their names, will walk into their own executions in their native countries.
     On January 27th last year, exactly one week after his puny inauguration, while the rest of the world was solemnly commemorating Holocaust Memorial Day, Trump decided, with the toweringingly hideous timing of which only he is uniquely capable, to unroll his plans to stop Muslim refugees from entering the US. It was the Cheney 1% Doctrine on steroids- If a small handful of Muslim extremists were terrorists, we must treat them all like terrorists. It didn't matter to Trump that many of them were Syrian refugees that were the victims of a proxy civil war fought between us and Russia.
     Among the Dutch refugee Jews that were killed in the Holocaust were Anne Frank, her sister and mother. And when you see our own government repelling migrants fleeing their own persecution (and using the Israeli defense of protecting themselves against rock throwers) only to meet our noxious brand of persecuting the refugees, one has to wonder if Central America brought with it its own Anne Frank or Albert Einstein.
     Will history judge Trump to be on the wrong side of it or will the human race, again, rewrite history to save the legacy of a noxious, Hitlerian racist and nativist like Donald Trump?


At November 28, 2018 at 7:38 AM, Anonymous CC said...

Don't forget Obama and Hillary's roles in screwing up an already screwed-up Honduras.


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