Give Me a Name, Give Me a Face
“I knew the people who worked for me. When
you know people, you have to behave towards them like human beings.”
Oskar Schindler was referring to the Jews of his work camp when he said
this (Schindler 2). Oskar Schindler was a spy for the Nazis. He had a
ravenous desire for money, and all he wanted was cheap labor for the
enamel factory he owned. He worked the Jews from the Krakow ghetto and
began to become increasingly sympathetic toward them. Some say he had
twisted motives for what he did, but he saved the lives of over 1,000
Jews. He bribed Nazis and made false IDs for his workers. At war’s end
his workers remained safe in what had become his work camp (Schindler
3). Schindler was greedy, but he realized something many do not: he
found that persecuted Jews had faces, families, voices, and lives. He
demonstrated agape love, “ …An overflowing love which is purely
spontaneous, unmotivated, groundless, and creative….not… discriminating
between worthy and unworthy people, or any qualities people posses. It
begins by loving others for their sakes” (King 19). He valued people,
and why, even 60 years after the Holocaust, do we still have trouble
Hidden in the creases of the history of the United States is the issue of not allowing Jews to immigrate to the U.S. during the years of the Holocaust. As the German and Austrian Jews were persecuted, they tried in vain to obtain visas to the U.S. Violence, such as Kristallnacht, was widely reported in the States, but Americans did not want the Jews to take their jobs or “overburden social programs” designed for the needy. In 1924 Congress had set immigration quotas which “limited the number of immigrants and discriminated against the groups considered racially and ethically undesirable”. In the summer of 1938 at the Evian Conference, the United States offered various excuses for not permitting Jews into the country. Embarrassingly enough, Germany of all countries, said with great pleasure “how ‘astounding’ it was that foreign countries criticized Germany for their treatment of the Jews, but none of them wanted to open the doors to them when the ‘opportunity offer[ed]’” (Bachrach, 26-27).
Anne Frank, a young Jewish girl widely known for the diary she kept during the Holocaust, went into hiding in Holland from 1942 to 1944. Her family’s hiding spot was betrayed and ultimately she met her fate at the concentration camp of Bergen-Belsen (Rogasky 149). Nazis were, of course, blamed for her death; but with a closer look into the lives of the Franks, the blame may fall a little closer to home: the United States. Otto Frank, Anne’s father, knew many powerful men in the United States and was willing to pay large sums of money for their visas. He applied for visas in 1938 and again in 1941. The Nazis had not yet decided to exterminate the Jews as of 1941, and there would still have been time for the Franks to escape. As German history Professor Richard Brietman says, “Anne Frank could be a 77-year-old woman living in Boston today… The Frank family could probably have gotten out…The Nazis made it harder and harder over time and, by that time, the American government was making it harder and harder for foreigners to get in” ( Simon 2). The U.S. government made critical mistakes throughout the Holocaust. But that was the Holocaust, decades ago. It is rather ironic, though, how America still falls into the ruts of past mistakes.
A controversial subject today is “illegal” immigration. The disadvantaged come from beyond our borders to take refuge in the bounty of the United States. Fences are being built and even more severe than that, stereotypes are being built – “job stealers” who don’t belong in our country. As in World War II, people today do not want immigrants taking their jobs or taking advantage of social programs. Many would argue, “Oh, it’s different now, they are not being murdered.” Who are we to say, from one human to another, that poverty is not death?
Some in our country have caught on. In the city of Los Angeles, the church Our Lady Queen of Angels, is providing “living quarters in which to harbor an immigrant family facing deportation” (Sahagun 1). Pastor Alexia Salvatierra knows it’s more than just providing protection: “We’d like these families to represent the 12 million undocumented people in the United States” (Sahagun 2). She is speaking of the families who are broken apart by the “inhumane” immigration laws. She understands what Schindler understood: when you know someone on a personal level, you find it hard to deny them basic human rights.
Philosopher Martin Buber said, “In an I-Thou relationship we encounter the other authentically, as a full, complete person. In a relationship of I and Thou, a sacred interconnectedness is affirmed. In an I-It relationship…we view the other as object… the stance of the racist… views the other as “It,” never as Thou” (Corthright 56). Looking at the Holocaust, think of how many innocent people were viewed as an “it”. Over 11 million, including six million Jews, that’s how many. The Nazis worked toward a future without Jews. The Jews to them were “maggot(s),” parasite(s),” “vermin” (Rogasky 16). Imagine how the outcome of the Holocaust would have differed if Jews had been people with a face and a voice. Yet, still today, we fight dehumanization.
Prejudice starts here. Racism starts here. Refusing innocent people the right to live, starts here. The trials, the suffering the Jews faced, will be for naught if we are too blind to see how the lessons apply to us today. We must embrace diversity around us. The Maria, the Ahmad next door who just moved in? They are not illegal immigrants anxious to steal jobs, they are people who have struggled and fought the odds to make it to a place they deserve to live in just as much as we do. We can’t change the past, but the future, our tomorrow, we have the power to change every bit of that.
The voices of the past are screaming in our ears, if we will only listen; they are saying: “Value each individual, trade stereotypes for friendship, and bitter hate for love. Give people a voice and a face. One person can make a difference.” I am stepping up as one person. I am opening my ears to their voices. Will you?
Bachrach, Susan D. Tell Them We
Remember. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 1994.
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