Supporting Muslim Refugees Today: The Perspective of a Jewish Refugee from WWII

By Tom Steiner

I am writing to ask you to support Muslim refugees and others who are threatened Trump’s executive order.

As a Jewish refugee from Nazi Europe, I speak from firsthand experience about the hardships of refugees coming to America. My parents and I fled Hungary in 1930-1940, as the government passed severe laws restricting the rights of Hungarian Jews. By accident of birthplace only, my father was able to leave under the more generous Czech quote when the Hungarian quote was filled. Family members who remained behind were annihilated in the Holocaust. Four of my father’s five brothers and their wives died in the concentration camps. My mother’s beloved older brother died in a forced labor factory producing V-2 rockets to attack London. As we were leaving Budapest, he gave my mother a watch for my future Bar Mitzvah, “in case he couldn’t be there.”

In the late 1930s and early 1940s, Congress and President Roosevelt for reasons of security (tinged with anti-Semitism) severely limited the entry of European Jewish refugees into the United States. On the other hand, we were welcomed enthusiastically into the United States to live the American Dream. My father began a successful small business. My mother joined the International Ladies Garment Workers Union. I received an elite university education and went on to become a Lieutenant Commander in the US Naval Reserve and a professor at the University of California. My sister became an award-winning artist and author.

As we remember the Holocaust, the Jewish community in particular should work to advocate for refugees, in recognition of the millions of Jews who were refused sanctuary during wartime in large part because of their religion. My parents and I were incalculably lucky. The United States literally gave us the gift of life, a gift that our country should continue to give whenever and as widely as possible.

Our community participates in the profound Jewish tradition of healing the world by promoting justice, freedom, and responsibility. I hope that this commitment will grow even stronger now.

 

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