The Plight of Refugees Echoes World War II Memories

It is 1945. The image is of my mother -- now deceased -- hanging large wet white sheets on the laundry line strung across our back yard. The grass is that new green, loudly green, clumpy and tender when it first pushes from the earth in the spring. Mother is stretching the fabric, working the clothespins onto it with a squeak, the taut line groaning, the poles at a precarious slant, and while working, she is concentrating on something else, her brow furrowed, her eyes almost unfocused. She doesn't see me watching her.

And then the image changes and I think I hear my mother speak. I think I hear her say, I see the world going mad...

And I think it is right that she says these words, though the image doesn't fit my age -- for I was not alive, not born yet in 1945 -- when she was hanging laundry in the yard on the southside of Chicago, when my family was only my father and mother and my older brother. But certainly images of the war in Germany were coming at my mother in the newspapers, via the radio that once stood in the corner of our living room. Or possibly through grainy news films that ran in theaters before a Laurel and Hardy movie. Juxtaposition? I see the world going mad.

And what were those images? Men lying in fields, their bodies sinking back into the soil; mothers and children searching for a place to sleep, because birds fly through the open roofs of their blasted houses; people carrying a few belongings, marching in feeble lines and searching for shelter; trains carrying cattle and cars of people jammed together without air, a decent toilet, food; bodies being burned in ovens, flames soaring out of oily, dark smoke, ashes wafting on the same breezes that blow west and back across the dark Atlantic -- a long journey those winds take to a place where my mother is drying the laundry.

But is it any different today in September 2015? I see the world going mad -- because there are many of the same disturbing images, the same deadly events occurring. People are killed or tortured for their religion or race; people are forced to leave their homes because invaders will destroy their way of life; women are raped; women do whatever they can to protect their children, to keep them fed and healthy, to allay their fears by attempting to create some kind of normal day-to-day life in the middle chaos.

A headline in yesterday's Los Angeles Times read Open doors soften nation's image; Germany's response to a massive influx of Syrian migrants casts it in a new light. A good thing. Germany is a prosperous country, yet the loss of lives during WWII had its effect on the population. Germany needs a young eager workforce. Germany wants to erase the images that might have caused my mother to say, I see the world going mad. Trains now bring migrants into Berlin where they are welcomed. Germany's leader, Angela Merkel, said that she was moved when, last week, she saw a film of the hundreds of migrants unable to leave the railway station in Hungry. They were chanting: we want to go to Germany!

It will take months, years for us to see how the turmoil of uprooted peoples, the constant fleeing and suffering that seems to be taking hold of so many countries on our planet ends. In the meantime, let's do what we can to create positive change. We can teach our children to respect those they know and to not make judgments against those they do not know. We can keep understanding and generosity in our hearts when considering the plight of others. We can provide goods and services to people torn from their own lands. Or we can simply pray for them or argue for them when a negative voice arises and would rather see: men lying in fields, their bodies sinking back into the soil; mothers, children searching for a place to sleep because birds fly through the open roofs of their blasted houses; people carrying a few belongings, marching in feeble lines, searching for shelter.

The winds of change continue to blow. We hope that a final message might be one of peace and safety for all peoples who live on this amazing earth.