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.

2 thoughts on “Holocaust

  1. My grandparents were hard working immigrants who came to the United States the right way–lawfully. They sought work, not handouts, and made a better life for their children. They instilled the values of honoring God, family, and country in their children, and passed that on to my generation. Maybe we ought to strive to be more like our parents and grandparents, rather than condemn them with arrogant condesension.


    • Dear American,

      There are 300 million of you, so please excuse the impersonal reply.

      You refer to values like hard work and respect. They are not relevant to the “Holocaust” post, which states a fact: our American parents and grandparents abetted the murder of millions of refugees from 1933-45 by turning America’s back on them. Our country was not alone in this. Regarding Jewish refugees (academics, I believe) seeking safety in Canada, a Canadian official famously said, “None is too many.” The Swiss received some Jews fleeing Nazi murder, fed them a meal, charged them for the meal, and returned them to Nazi territory. Etc. Cruelty, like kindness, can be found everywhere. It is not condescension to point this out. “Facts,” as John Adams said, “are stubborn things.”

      Your comment (again, not relevant to the post) also suggests that former immigrants like your grandparents and mine differ significantly from today’s immigrants. It seems that you have been misinformed. Today’s immigrants, like yesterday’s, authorized and unauthorized, participate in the labor force at a higher rate than native-born Americans. They have lower crime rates than the native-born. They have a higher rate of new business creation. They are, on average, healthier than natives (perhaps because they’re younger, but nevertheless). Unlike the average American citizen, they pay more in taxes than they consume in services. (It may not seem so because much of their tax revenue flows to Washington, while the services they consume are local. But it is so.) If anyone seeks handouts, it’s not the immigrants (even authorized immigrants with green cards are ineligible for most benefits, and they cannot vote). It’s the natives who demand services but vote out any officeholder who insists they pony up the taxes to pay for those services. If you think unauthorized immigrants are getting handouts, I suggest you blame the guilty party: the official doing the handing out, who should be expected to know better.

      You make a loaded reference to immigration legality. Legality is a malleable concept. For most of our history, all immigrants were “legal” because there was no law for them to break. Maybe it is more accurate to say that they were not illegal, or better, not unauthorized, because one did not need authorization to enter this country. Indeed, until 1965, there was open immigration from all countries in the Wester Hemisphere. And for many years, the few laws that kept people out included racist laws that banned blacks, “Hindoos” and others (however defined, and some of the definitions seem surprising today). It is hardly a ringing endorsement of one’s ancestors that they were let into this country not due to merit, but only because they showed up and were not black.

      Do you or your friends like beer? In much of the U.S., it was legal to drink beer until 1919. Then it was illegal until 1933. Then it was legal only in some times and places. Today, a 20-year-old combat veteran home from Iraq can’t buy a beer anywhere in the U.S., and you aren’t allowed to treat him to one. So were our grandparents criminals if they drank a single glass of beer at one time but not another? How about that soldier; should we arrest him for sipping a brew? If we’re going to stop looking at facts, and at right and wrong, and rely on the law to dictate morality, we’ll become like Socrates who willingly killed himself because The Law told him to. I think Socrates behaved stupidly, but if the 300 million of you want to behave as he did, can I have your beer? I don’t drink it, but you won’t be needing it and I’m having some friends over.


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