My mother-in-law recently died at the triumphant age of 104. She was the last person I knew who had the blue numbers of Auschwitz tattooed on her arm. I can tell my grandchildren how she was rounded up and put in a death camp at the age of 32, and how fortunate she was to be alive when the war ended. But they will never hear the story in her heavily accented Hungarian English, or see the evidence on the arm resting on the kitchen table.
My mother was a child in The Bronx during World War 2. She remembers the horror in her parents’ voices as they discussed the St. Louis, an ocean liner filled with Jews that was sent back to Nazi Germany after President Roosevelt refused to increase the cap – then set at 27,000 annually – on Austro-German immigrants. The Holocaust Encyclopedia notes, “The Great Depression…fueled antisemitism, xenophobia, nativism, and isolationism. A Fortune Magazine poll at the time indicated that 83 percent of Americans opposed relaxing restrictions on immigration.”
Yesterday, my 16-year-old asked, “Can the president detain and handcuff people because they are Muslims? That seems so wrong.” Now it is my turn to provide historical context. To say it is wrong. It was wrong 80 years ago and it’s wrong now.
As human rights — ours or others — are threatened, we need to think about the role we will play. "Waiting to see what happens" is no longer an option for morally conscious citizens.
To this end, my friend Dorothy Potter Snyder has compiled an action plan. She will:
1. Ally herself with effective local, statewide and national organizations.
2. Be prepared to interrupt her regularly scheduled life to join protests as they form.
3. Take targeted, coordinated action with others.
4. Resist the temptation to engage with social media trolls; stay focused.
Dorothy has printed out her list and taped it to the wall next to her desk. I challenge my son – and each of us – to do the same. The first item on my list is “Share stories, past and present.”
What’s on your list?