“An America which turns away refugees is not America. We forgot that during the Holocaust. Let’s never again forget who we are,” writes Mark Hetfield, president and CEO of HIAS. Hetfiled was one of many to point out a compelling coincidence: President Trump issued his controversial refugee ban on International Holocaust Remembrance Day.
In a segment on her show, Rachel Maddow of MSNBC was among those to flesh out the historical parallel between Trump’s refugee ban and America’s refusal to take in Jewish refugees during the Holocaust. Maddow recounts the history of a 1939 bill that would have protected Jewish children from persecution by admitting 20,000 of them into the United States — a bill that never made it out of the Senate Immigration Committee. She then told the story of the St. Louis, the ship carrying over 900 people, almost entirely Jewish refugees, which was denied entry into the United States and Cuba in 1939. Instead, the ship was forced to return to Europe, where many of its passengers ultimately perished in concentration camps.
“On Holocaust Remembrance Day, Americans remember experiences like that as part of our own culpability,” said Maddow, “as part of our own failure as a country,” adding that after World War II, the United States adopted a more open policy toward refugee resettlement “in part because of our national shame.”
Maddow juxtaposed her history lesson with an interview with Prof. Daniel Drezner. Drezner, a professor of international politics at The Fletcher School of Tufts University, is a Jew whose synagogue was preparing to host and help resettle some Syrian refugees. Drezner and his fellow congregants recently learned that their refugee sponsorship program had been abruptly cancelled because of Trump’s impending refugee ban. In addition to expressing his frustration, Drezner described the larger impact of Trump’s action: “You can argue that Trump’s executive order today was unique because it manages to simultaneously harm American values and American interests.”
The shameful parallel between America’s treatment of European Jews during the Holocaust and Trump’s recent refugee ban assumed visceral clarity through the Twitter project created by Russel Neiss, a self-described Jewish educator and technologist. Neiss established a Twitter account called the St. Louis Manifest and programmed it to tweet out the fate of each passenger on the St. Louis. The tweeting, which took place on International Holocaust Remembrance Day, went something like this:
My name is Joachim Hirsch. The US turned me away at the border in 1939. I was murdered in Auschwitz pic.twitter.com/pfvJtMpIps
— St. Louis Manifest (@Stl_Manifest) January 27, 2017
Dan Loeb, publisher of The Philadelphia Jewish Voice, brought Neiss’ Twitter project full circle. Commenting on the recent protests at Philadelphia International Airport, Loeb said, “It is great that people are standing up for what is right. If people had welcomed Jews from the St Louis similarly, all of these people in the St. Louis Manifest would have survived the Holocaust. Never again.”