As some Americans harden their hearts against Central American immigrants, shrugging off the 2600+ children who have been separated from their parents, the six children who have died in (or immediately following) border patrol custody, and the cages in which people have been housed, we would do well to remember how in 1942 America turned back a ship carrying hundreds of Jewish refugees. Many of them subsequently died in concentration camps, just as some of these immigrants will die if they are returned to Guatemala and Honduras. Are we willing to close our doors once again?
Bertolt Brecht, writing in the 1930s, imagines the lament of one such immigrant. Married to a gentile until she turns him in, the Jewish doctor escapes across the border, only to find himself vilified by those from whom he requests assistance.
I earned my bread and ate it just like you.
I am a doctor; or at least I was.
The color of my hair, shape of my nose
cost me my home, my bread and butter too.
She who for seven years had slept with me
My hand upon her lap, her face against my face
Took me to court. The cause of my disgrace:
My hair was black. So she got rid of me.
But I escaped at night-time through a wood
(For reasons of my mother’s ancestry)
To find a country that would be my host.
Yet when I asked for work it was no good.
You are impertinent, they said to me.
I’m not impertinent, I said: I’m lost.
Trump is accusing today’s immigrants of something far worse than impertinence, but the point still applies.