How ironic that US President Donald Trump should choose Holocaust Memorial Day to unleash his latest executive order, banning refugees, and in particular Muslims, from seven countries - Syria, Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen – from entering the US for 90 days. This was a first step towards a broader ban, a spokesman said.
It has been widely reported that no act of terrorism has been committed on US territory by people from these seven countries.
I heard the news on the car radio the following morning and felt so angry I could barely speak, angry and scared. This is how it begins – isolating and discriminating against a group of people solely on the basis of their religion. Public attitudes towards that group of people harden, attacks take place, the screw tightens further. The cycle has begun. Look where it ended up in Europe in the last century.
In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, nearly three million Jews left the shtetls of Eastern Europe, the majority of them heading for America, and many of them refugees – victims of pogroms, anti-Semitism, and after the Russian Revolution of 1917, government discrimination. In 1924, the US closed the gates, with the intention of halting the flow of refugees from Eastern Europe. Even in 1939 when European Jews were being herded into ghettos, the US turned away the MS St Louis carrying 900 Jewish refugees from Nazi Germany.
In the 1930s and 1940s, people did not speak out, certainly not in sufficient number. History obliges all of us, and Jews in particular, to speak out against Trump’s Muslim Ban. Martin Niemoller’s poem, which has numerous versions, is as important today as it was when it was written in the 1940s.
First they came for the Jews
and I did not speak out
because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for the Communists
and I did not speak out
because I was not a Communist.
Then they came for the trade unionists
but I did not speak out
because I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for me
and there was no one left
to speak out for me.
Keeping stories alive
This blog aims to discuss historical events relating to the Jewish communities of Ukraine, and of Eastern Europe more widely. As a storyteller, I hope to keep alive stories of the past and remember those who told or experienced them. As my research for a new book set in Ukraine continues, articles published here will focus on three tumultuous periods in particular: the Second World War, the Russian Civil War and the Euromaidan Revolution of 2013-14.