Summer Camps for Immigrant Children?

Years have passed since I visited Terezin. Given the context, “visited” seems a strange word, as “the Fuhrer’s gift to the Jews” is no hospitable place. In spite of today’s clean and uncrowded buildings, there’s still the feeling of being on the set of a horror movie.

 Current images on TV remind me of that concentration camp outside Prague.

 “The ghetto of Terezin (Theresienstadt)… was created to cover up the Nazi genocide of the Jews….[T]his “model ghetto” was the site of a Red Cross inspection visit in 1944 and of a propaganda film produced by the Nazis.”

https://www.ushmm.org/research/publications/academic-publications/full-list-of-academic-publications/i-never-saw-another-butterfly-childrens-drawings-and-poems-from-terezin

Terezin was a P.R. site, meant to assure the world that the Nazis weren’t really so bad. Of the more than 150,000 Jews sent there, 15,000 were children. Fewer than 150 children survived. Among the Terezin exhibits, for me the most compelling were pictures children drew while imprisoned. Along with poems these pictures have been compiled in the book, “…I never saw another butterfly…”

For now Trump has backed down from his child-separation policy. Yet recent news about children being pulled away from their parents still troubles me. While journalists have not been allowed entry into the facilities, photos released by our government show rather pleasant accommodations: spacious well-lit rooms, beds with blankets. Older boys move about in orderly fashion. Like “summer camps” for immigrants, Laura Ingraham, of Fox News said.

Do you see why I’m reminded of Terezin?

When I was young I lived with a German family in Berlin for one year. My German father had fought for Nazi Germany under Rommel, the Desert Fox. How did people I came to love and respect become engulfed by such an abhorrent ideology, I often wondered. Based on what I’m witnessing in the U.S. today, I see how discrimination against Jews moved from hostile rhetoric to extermination. Hitler didn’t suddenly appear out of nowhere. Over time his ethos became normalized and widely accepted by Germans.

Trump’s spokespeople have used talking points for defending the incarceration of children. “Parents put their children’s lives in danger” is one. Do those speaking for the president really believe that a father and mother decide to leave relatives, their cultural and linguistic heritage, that they pack a few essential items and walk across a desert in the summer heat, all without regard for their children? Many leave because staying in their homeland means death, either by hunger or violence. They leave for the sake of their sons and daughters.

In the 1940s many Jewish parents found ways to sneak their children out of German-occupied countries. Illegal  actions. Sometimes they paid strangers to carry the children to safety. Efforts were fraught with danger. Getting caught meant death for parents, children, and abettors.

 Then and now parents have been forced to make excruciating choices.

__________________

Since writing the first part of this, I’ve been made aware of

HR4391: Promoting Human Rights by Ending Israeli Military Detention of Palestinian Children.

https://mccollum.house.gov/media/press-releases/mccollum-introduces-legislation-promote-human-rights-palestinian-children

 “No Way to Treat a Child”: https://nwttac.dci-palestine.org

 Nancy Werking Poling is author of “Before It Was Legal: a black-white marriage (1945-1987),” “Had Eve Come First and Jonah Been a Woman,” and “Out of the Pumpkin Shell.”

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Encountering the migrant

A recent photo shows me standing in front of a saguaro cactus, my arms spread in imitation. Ah, southern Arizona in March, when flowers bloom and birds are passing through. For me the Sonoran Desert is a great place to hike.

The number of illegal migrants crossing our southern borders, trekking the desert I hikeincreased between February and March (the same months retirees from the North migrate to Arizona.) Trump would have us imagine those coming from the south as invaders, most of them drug dealers, criminals.

On TV this morning camera footage out of Mexico showed a large group making camp at a city playground. Children play on swing sets while women sort through piles of donated clothing, searching for items that will fit their families.

These women and children are among the Honduran asylum seekers Trump would have us fear.

For those of us who have options, it’s hard to empathize with people who don’t. Hard to comprehend the fears that drive women and men to pack a few belongings, gather their children, and make a dangerous journey across arid land by foot.

Last week, during the flight home from Tucson, I read Crossing with the Virgin: stories from the migrant trail. Though published eight years ago, the book is still relevant. Three Samaritans, humanitarian volunteers from southern Arizona, write of their experiences. They patrol desert roads and trails searching for migrants who need water, food, and/or medical care. There’s a protocol, rules about what they can and cannot do. For example, they cannot offer a ride. If border patrol personnel are at the scene, the aid workers must ask permission to offer water or food.

Aid volunteers understand migrants not as criminals but as human beings desperate to survive. Migrants leave their homes not for adventure but because home has become a perilous place or because there is no work. Danger awaits them on their journey: dehydration, hunger, bandits who steal their money.

And border patrols. Some personnel are kind, some hostile. Homeland Security buses are parked out in the desert. Even in February and March the afternoon heat on a bus can be suffocating. Once the bus is filled, it carries shackled migrants to detention, where they are locked in a 20X20-foot cell until they appear before a judge.

Reading this book has made me uncomfortable. Can I return to Arizona, hike in the desert, and return to the comfort of a rented apartment, all the while choosing to be blind to the human tragedy taking place within a few miles?

The fiftieth anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination has been marked with photos. One stands out: I am a man on picket signs carried by protestors of the Memphis sanitation strike.

Empathy doesn’t come naturally to many of us. It’s easier to consider migrants as law breakers than as humanity caught in a crisis. Yet photos call out to us: I am a man; I am a woman; I am a child.