Nuggets of Wisdom

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Trump's Muslim Ban Repeats History


The young girl pictured above is Eva Dublon. She and her family were some of the 937 refugees aboard the SS St. Louis fleeing from the Nazis in Europe.

They arrived in America in May 1939, but before they could dock in Miami, their boat was forced to turn back and return to Europe.

Eva and her family were inevitably captured and sent to Auschwitz, where they met their untimely deaths.

Her story, as well as that of the other 254 passengers aboard that fateful ship, was told on Twitter during Holocaust Remembrance Day on Friday.

Because the universe has a very sick and twisted sense of irony, that was the very same day that Trump decided to sign his executive order banning Muslim refugees.

Now, you're probably not surprised that Trump would ban refugees. He had mentioned his intention of doing so during his campaign. But you're probably surprised that our country would ban Jewish refugees during WWII.

Why would we ever do a thing like that? Weren't we supposed to be the good guys? Why would we ever ban the very people who were fleeing from the Nazis?

The same reason that Trump today wants to ban Muslim refugees (or at least those NOT in countries where he does business): Americans back then believed those refugees were working for the enemy.

Yes, believe it or not, many Americans suspected that Jewish refugees were being forced by the Nazis to serve as spies in America, as agents known as "Fifth Columnists."

Reason Magazine recently wrote an excellent article shedding a light on this dark moment in our history:
The idea in that piece was that the agents among the refugees didn't want to do Hitler's bidding. They simply had no choice, because otherwise their relatives back home would be in danger—an approach the article called a "blitzkreig of blackmail." This theory was endorsed by no less than President Franklin Roosevelt, who said at a press conference that refugees ("especially Jewish refugees") could be pressed into Nazi service with the words "we are frightfully sorry, but your old father and mother will be taken out and shot."

Those worries turned out to be overblown. In Insidious Foes: The Axis Fifth Column and the American Home Front, the historian Francis MacDonnell concludes that "Axis operations in the United States never amounted to much, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation easily countered the 'Trojan Horse' activity that did exist....Though the Germans practiced espionage, sabotage, and subversion in United States, their efforts were modest and almost uniformly unsuccessful." In American Refugee Policy and European Jewry, 1933–1945, Richard Breitman and Alan Kraut point out that "fewer than one-half of one percent of all refugees arriving from Nazi-Soviet territory in 1940" fell under enough suspicion to be brought in for questioning; just a fraction of those were indicted, and "most of those were violation of immigration regulations rather than espionage."
Of course, despite this "Fifth Columnist" fear-mongering being just that--irrational fear!--our government decided to ramp up restrictions on European refugees anyway:
But fear carried the day. "Instead of adding reasonable screening precautions to the existing immigration procedures," the Holocaust historian Rafael Medoff writes in Blowing the Whistle on Genocide, "the State Department exaggerated the threat, and Assistant Secretary of State Breckinridge Long used it as a pretext to cut in half the use of the already small quotas" of Jews permitted into the country. That was in 1940; in 1941 Long tightened the number yet again. By 1944, Treasury Secretary Henry Morgenthau would write a blistering memo complaining that State Department officials had "not only failed to use the Governmental machinery at their disposal to rescue Jews from Hitler, but have even gone so far as to use this Government machinery to prevent the rescue of these Jews." Medoff argues that the State Department was rife with anti-Semitism at the time, and that this fed its eagerness to choke off the flow.
The result were refugees like Eva and her family being turned away and forced to meet their deaths in Nazi concentration camps back in Europe.

And as Trump's executive order proves, those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.

The good news is that Trump's terrible, horrible, no good, very bad executive order has been temporarily blocked.

The bad news is that we're still stuck with Trump for another four to eight years, and he's sure to refuse to learn from history and insist on making refugees the scapegoat to his fascist agenda.