Sunday, March 09, 2008

It was ever thus ...

An unschooled 19-year-old hoping for an education was scolded for dreaming and sent to work in a factory.

... An ailing, jobless father of three, facing immigration laws that called for deportation of those who sought public aid, told his caseworker, as her notes put it, that "he was more concerned and more disturbed now than he had ever been..."

In another case, a young family was cut off from agency assistance two months after their arrival, for failing to disclose a "secret bank account" containing $138 in loans from friends. ...

The father ... was later chided for not reporting the few dollars that his young son earned fixing bicycles after school. And when his daughter graduated from high school with honors, she had to give up on college to help support the family.

Were these people some of nearly 38 million foreign born people currently in the United States? Were they undocumented migrants, the fellow digging that trench at the construction site, the maid cleaning your hotel room?

No. These were "DPs," -- displaced persons -- Jewish survivors of Nazi persecution, of Auschwitz, of the Warsaw Ghetto, seeking a new life away from the death and destruction of post-World War II Europe. Five hundred thousand were belatedly allowed to enter the United States in 1951. In the McCarthyite atmosphere of the time, they were looked upon as potential freeloaders and security risks. The record of that migration from the resettlement agency, the New York Association for New Americans, has just been opened and written up in the New York Times by Nina Bernstein. Go read it all.

One more echo of today's migrants:

"We were all smuggled across borders. ...We had to go someplace. America seemed good. ...

1 comment:

Nell said...

This is a story worth telling for many reasons.

The lack of support many of these refugees got from American Jewish communities is an uncomfortable fact. Norman Finkelstein's parents saw and experienced it, and his bitter recounting just poured salt in the wounds for readers already outraged by his other polemics.