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Trump to Sign Executive Actions Against Refugees, As We Observe Holocaust Remembrance Day…and the Refugees We Turned Away

History repeats itself. We’ve heard this before, and yet it hasn’t ever rung as true as it does right now. Today is International Holocaust Remembrance Day, when the world remembers the Jews (and other marginalized people) who were murdered in German concentration camps. Back then, before the U.S. finally got involved in WWII, it turned away thousands of Jewish refugees who subsequently were sent back to Germany to die. Today, President Trump is signing three executive actions against refugees.

According to CNN, President Trump will be signing three executive actions today in the Hall of Heroes at the Department of Defense around 4:30 PM ET, including one “limiting the flow of refugees into the United States,” and another that institutes “what he called ‘extreme vetting’ of immigrants on the campaign trail.”

What boggles my mind is that Germany is now one of the leading liberal democracies in the world as the rest of the world grows increasingly fascist. So, what? Now everyone has to have a turn before we finally figure out oppression’s not a good idea?

This blatant ignoring and/or ignorance of history is not lost on people. An amazing Twitter account called St. Louis Manifest was started to share the individual names and photos of Jews who were turned away by the United States only to be murdered during the Holocaust. The images are haunting:

Their Twitter bio reads: “On Holocaust Remembrance Day #WeRemember the victims of Naziism turned away at the doorstep of America in 1939. #RefugeesWelcome.”

There are comments among the tweets that say that we shouldn’t compare “Muslims fleeing Muslim violence” to “Jews fleeing the Holocaust.” First, I would argue that this shouldn’t be a competition. There’s plenty of oppression and racism to go around without needing to compare which one is better or worse. No one wins the Oppression Olympics.

However, I’d also argue that it’s hard not to see the similarity when you consider that the Jews were also German citizens, they were also citizens of other European countries (despite the fact that their anti-Semitic fellow citizens might not have felt that way). Innocent people were being persecuted by and fleeing violence from their own governments. German citizens who were suddenly not citizens because of their lineage and their faith.

And while the Muslims fleeing violence today are not specifically being targeted because they are Muslim in a situation like that of the Syrian refugees, they have no more say in the actions of their oppressive governments than the Jews did. The entire point is that many of those Muslims are facing violence because they stand in opposition to a violent, oppressive regime. To me, making the distinction of “Muslim fleeing Muslim violence” only matters if you think that innocent people fleeing their oppressive government or the violence crashing down around them somehow deserve what they get. For what? Existing? Being Muslim?

But where the similarity really exists is in the United States’ attitude in both cases. Before the U.S. finally deigned to make its presence felt in WWII (and only after Pearl Harbor), it didn’t get involved, and it didn’t want to have to deal with refugees that needed help. We like to look back and think that the U.S. was this upstanding, moral place that totally defeated the Nazis. Captain America punching Hitler in the face.

Sure we did. Eventually. And not single-handedly. After Europe spent years fighting on its own, we show up just in time to do a victory lap. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing. I’m saying we should have gotten involved sooner. I’m saying that we waited too long to start helping Jews because of, among other things, our own anti-Semitism, and that bigotry and inaction allowed for millions to die.

Today, once again, we see a situation where people are fleeing a war in their homeland, one that’s being exacerbated by Trump bestie Vladimir Putin and his Russia. They’re coming to the U.S. (among other countries) for safe haven. Once again, our fear and bigotry is standing in the way of our humanity and basic decency. And this afternoon, our President plans to sign executive actions (because who needs a Congress when you have executive actions!) barring refugees entry via “extreme vetting.”

Is it 1939 all over again?

(featured image via Ted Eytan/Flickr)

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