Today was the day the world recognizes as the International Holocaust Memorial Day. The day when the world remembers the 6 million Jews who were murdered by the Nazi’s in World War II. It is a day in which we pause to reflect on one of the greatest horrors in human history. The systematic executions of 6 million human beings for no other reason than the fact that the fascists in Germany were so anti-Semitic that they treated Jews as non-humans, resulted in the death of 37 percent of all Jewish people on the planet.
The Nazi’s persecution of Europe’s Jews was something that sadly, the world’s powers ignored. Indeed, as it became clear in the late 1930s that Jews were at risk, there was an effort by many to escape the Third Reich. In May 1939, a ship, the St Louis, left Hamburg, Germany, filled with 937 people, almost entirely Jews, escaping Germany. The ship’s intended port was Havana, Cuba. But Cuba refused to provide refuge. Only 28 were allowed to enter, and the ship was forced out of Cuban waters. It sailed towards Miami, with 908 refugees, and efforts to get President Roosevelt to authorize entry of the refugees were ignored. There were strict quotas on the numbers of refugees, and the State Department refused to make an exception. The ship sailed back to Europe. Arrangements were made for entry visas in Great Britain, the Netherlands, Belgium, and France.
According to the United States Holocaust Museum, “Great Britain took 288 passengers; the Netherlands admitted 181 passengers, Belgium took in 214 passengers; and 224 passengers found at least temporary refuge in France. Of the 288 passengers admitted by Great Britain, all survived World War II save one, who was killed during an air raid in 1940. Of the 620 passengers who returned to continent, 87 (14%) managed to emigrate before the German invasion of Western Europe in May 1940. 532 St. Louis passengers were trapped when Germany conquered Western Europe. Just over half, 278 survived the Holocaust. 254 died: 84 who had been in Belgium; 84 who had found refuge in Holland, and 86 who had been admitted to France.”
Had Cuba and the United States not refused entry, 254 people would not have died at the hands of the Nazi’s.
When I first saw the display on the Voyage of the St. Louis at the USHM, it was early during the current Syrian refugee crisis. Today, as we remember the Holocaust, I am disgusted by the fact that on this very day, the president of the United States has issued an executive order limiting refugees into the United States from Syria and a temporary ban on refugees from Iraq, Syria, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia and Yemen. Not only did the president issue a ban on refugees, he made it government policy that the entry of refugees would give priority to Christians and other religions over the entry of Muslims. He created a RELIGIOUS TEST.
The president created a religious test. Let that sink in. In a country of immigrants, its chief executive said we will favor Christians over Muslims, and we will not all any refugees in from Syria – the country where a monumental humanitarian tragedy has been on-going.
When the Holocaust is remembered, it is common to say Never Forget. and Never Again. We must never forget what happened. The United States Holocaust Museum uses the statement #WhatWeDoMatters. What We Do Matters. If the American people allow the president to get away with this, we are all guilty. If we allow this travesty to continue, then every single one of us is culpable for the consequences. It is incumbent on our elected officials to stand up to Mr. Trump and say NO. What we do matters. And this is not what America stands for. It is incumbent on every one of the 62 million Americans who voted for him to say NO. We are better than this.
What we do matters.