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We Are 1

A Family of the ...

 A Blog on the Parallels Between Refugees Now

and During World War II
 

WeAre1: On Obsolete Liberal Ideas

"Perhaps he loved the people. Perhaps he loved them, but didn't trust them to think for themselves. Or perhaps he was insatiable and wanted even more power to add to his glory. I don't know. But he envied the dictators and thought that all governments of the people and by the people were soon to perish from the earth."
 
Katherine Hepburn spoke these words to Spencer Tracy in the 1943 film noir, Keeper of the Flame. Does her description of an authoritarian leader sound familiar?
 
The last sentence contradicts the concluding phrase of Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address. Dedicating a soldiers cemetery during the Civil War, the 16th president declaired that our nation "shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth."
 
In the film, Hepburn plays newly widowed Christine Forrest, who has been entangled in a love-hate relationship with her late husband, Robert Forrest. Tracy plays a ruthless reporter who wants to write a biography about Forrest. When it comes out that Forrest ran a vast, secret organization that planned to turn the country over to fascism, Tracy urges Christine to tell the world. This is the only film directed by George Cukor with an explicit political message. He peppered it with attacks on fascism, criticizing hero worship, the effects of leaders on youth, and official speeches about patriotism. 
 
Hepburn championed the project and felt it was a way to contribute to the war effort. Despite mixed reviews, the film was a commercial hit, especially in big cities. One historian of film later writing about Hollywood propaganda during the war noted the film's "strong warning to the American people about demagoguery, domestic fascism, and mind control, while praising the virtues of freedom of the press."
 
How would Keeper of the Flame be received today? What would Fox News pundits say to the film's warning about authoritarian leaders and their fake promises?
 
Surely Trump would identify with Forrest. And Trump would probably ignore the film's warning or misconstrue it, as he did Putin's statement at the G20 summit that liberal democracies are over. The Russian president essentially stated that liberalism is obsolete, that the "liberal idea" has "outlived its purpose." Trump explained that Putin may feel this way "because he sees what's going on in cities, such as Los Angeles and San Francisco, that are governed by liberal administrations." Thus Trump revealed his towering ignorance. Or perhaps he just made up something to remain on Putin's good side. You know, my country for a tower. He certainly confused the liberal idea, which is associated with representative, constitutional democracies, with liberals. Oh, West Coast flakes. Those cosmopolitans believe they are their brothers' keepers.
 
Thankfully, others are quite clear about Putin's meaning. As President of the European Council Donald Tusk remarked to the BBC, "Whoever claims that liberal democracy is obsolete also claims that freedoms are obsolete, that rule of law is obsolete, and human rights are obsolete." 

 

WeAre1: Our Brothers' Keepers

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WeAre1: On Medical Care at For-profit Detention Centers

The attic window of my grandfather's house in Lwów, where he and 11 other men hid. It was so crowded that they alternated standing and sleeping, like today's detained children in facilties near our southern border.
Between the gabled windows you can see the grid-covered attic window of my grandfather's house. He hid in the attic during part of WWII. Lviv, Ukraine. 

The health consequences to detainees held in facilities near the southern border are horrific, with the most helpless innocents suffering terribly. Confined refugee children in Texas are in such unsanitary conditions that they have developed scabies, shingles, and chickenpox. The overcrowding is so great that they take turns standing for hours so that others can sleep.
 
My grandfather, Ojzer Fränkel, hid in his tiny attic with 11 other Jewish men during World War II. For almost a year, they slept in shifts, half standing while the others slumbered, but they were grown men with stamina who had learned patience. They chose confinement, having decided that it was the best way to wait out and perhaps survive persecution.
 
In response to reports of appalling conditions in detention centers, Trump had the gall to tweet that detainees are living better in Border Patrol facilities than they would in their home countries. How would Trump feel if his son Barron got chickenpox while being held in an overcrowded, filthy pen unable to lie down?
 
If this administration really wanted to deter desperate people from massing at our borders, it would have invested our tax dollars in aid to the countries those people are fleeing. Instead, Trump and his cronies are using the plights of asylum-seekers to line their pockets. These corporatists implement policies to create markets for the companies in which they have, or plan to take, an interest. Then they see to it that those companies get lucrative government contracts. When these officials leave government, they cash in. Look at John Kelly. When he was Head of the Department of Homeland Security, he oversaw the implementation of Trump's vicious immigration policies. Now the former White House Chief of Staff is a board member of the largest U.S. shelter for unaccompanied migrant children. He has to take his cut––on the backs of babes.
 
Why are there outbreaks of disease? Why are these camps overcrowded? Why are there no beds and not enough soap and toothbrushes? For-profit companies are not motivated to spend money to properly care for detainees. Bottom-line oriented, they skimp to please their investors. You know, it's just business. They don't care that medical neglect or mistreatment can have lifelong, ruinous consequences for detainees.
 
Here's another personal example. My mother, Irene Goldberger, fell ill when she was working as a slave laborer for the Siemens Corporation in Germany during World War II. She developed a sore throat and saw a village doctor who prescribed medication and rest. But the Siemens factory doctor disagreed with the diagnosis; during his cursory "examination" he found her temperature normal. Well, of course. The medication had by then lowered her temperature. But Siemens had to get the most out of its slaves, so the doctor confiscated my mother's medication and ordered her back to work. She toiled with a fever in that factory for nine months.
 
After Liberation, a U.S. Army doctor treated her with the then-new drug penicillin. He said she had had strep throat that had turned into rheumatic fever. He was concerned that left untreated for so long, the fever had damaged her heart valves. In fact, that's precisely what happened. Years later, when my mother was treated for breast cancer, chemotherapy had to be cut short because of her weakened heart.
 
This administration, while enriching itself, is using our tax dollars to trample human rights. Furthermore, it is creating a large population with good reason to retaliate for being mistreated. In their avarice and quest for instant gratification, those in power ignore the long-term consequences to our country. Perhaps those responsible will face trials for crimes against humanity, as did the Nazis in Nuremberg.

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WeAre1: A Family of Truthtellers

"Get rid of them," Trump said during his press conference with Putin last week at the G20 summit, again showing his disdain for journalists. By now, we expect Trump to disregard the U.S. Constitution, particularly the First Amendment. Though jocular, he revealed his seething and growing  hostility by delivering his comment close to the anniversary of the horrific murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi.
 
Fearing imprisonment or death after Hitler seized power in 1933, many reputable journalists fled Germany. Publishers replaced them with badly trained and inexperienced amateurs loyal to the Nazi Party, and with skilled journalists willing to collaborate to advance their careers.
 
At that time, the Nazis controlled less than three percent of Germany's 4,700 papers. After the Nazis outlawed the Communist and Social Democratic parties, the hundreds of newspapers they produced vanished. The state seized printing plants and equipment and gave them to the Nazi Party. All media—radio, press, and newsreels––stoked fears of a Communist uprising masterminded by the Jews. By 1944, only 1,100 newspapers remained, of which the Nazi Party owned one third. The rest could publish material only as directed by Goebbels' Ministry of Propaganda. 
 
Today we have Trump's darlings––Fox News, Breitbart, and the Sinclair Broadcast Group––to spread propaganda and stoke fears of immigrants of color. Of Sinclair, veteran journalist Dan Rather commented, "News anchors looking into a camera and reading a script handed down by a corporate overlord, words meant to obscure the truth not elucidate it, isn't journalism. It's propaganda. It's Orwellian. A slippery slope to how despots wrest power, silence dissent, and oppress the masses."
 
Also at that press conference, Trump remarked further that "fake news" is a really great term and stated that Putin does not have that problem, as we do. "We also have," Putin commiserated, "It's the same." Poor, beleaguered authoritarians. The press is supposed to serve them and their aims. Or else. Twenty-six journalists have been murdered under Putin's rule. Because much of what Trump says is projection, I'm almost OK with him labeling any reporting he doesn't like "fake news"––that is what he himself spews––propaganda. I'll never be OK with his statement that journalists are the enemy of the people, although I think that's projection, too.
 
The Nazis' purpose in controlling the press was, of course, to manipulate the German people. A good example is the propaganda during the battle and after Germany's catastrophic defeat in Stalingrad in February 1943. Hitler ordered the press to refer to the city as a fortress that had to be stormed and to emphasize the bitter struggle and the bravery of German soldiers. As the situation deteriorated, there were headlines like "Hold Fast – To the Last Man," "The Heroes of Stalingrad," and "The Führer Honors the Heroic Band at Stalingrad." The public could read about U-boat victories and Axis solidarity, but there were few details and no maps of the Battle of Stalingrad. As doubts arose, the Propaganda Ministry stated that certain facts had to be concealed to protect the troops at the front. The High Command hid the fact that the Soviets had surrounded Germany's Sixth Army. It never admitted surrender and created the myth that the army had been destroyed and had fought to the last man. You can read more about this in "The Myth of Stalingrad," by Jay W. Baird.


Throughout the battle, Goebbels tried to reassure the nation in several speeches. After the battle was lost, he called for greater sacrifices from civilians, asking mothers, wives, sisters, and children to prepare for "total war" while they had no idea how huge the toll already was. If someone had reported 250,000 casualties and 91,000 captured soldiers, would the Nazis have called that "fake news?"
 
In the end, the German public was never convinced by the Stalingrad propaganda, yet that is not comforting. People eventually drew their own conclusions, but a great deal of damage happened in the meantime.

 

Here's a personal example. My mother was working as a slave laborer in Germany when the Soviets defeated the Germans at Stalingrad. She understood this to be a turning point in the war and anticipated that the Soviets would retake Lwów. In that event, the Germans could no longer check her false papers, which were from Lwów, and prove that she was Jewish. She also noticed that the Germans were no longer so sure that they would conquer the world. Little by little they became friendlier, wanting to get on the good side of those they had wronged.

 

Starved and abused as a slave worker at a produce nursery in Bad Neustadt, it was crucial for my mother to find another job. She felt that otherwise she would not survive with her health intact. Her timing depended on three factors: when the Soviets would march into Lwów, the villagers' growing realization that they might not win the war, and their disapproval of how she was being mistreated; she wanted public opinion on her side.
 
In January 1944, my mother carefully timed her visit to the Labor Office. There she showed the Kommandant her scarred and blackened hands, stated that nevertheless her employers were dissatisfied with her work, and asked for a transfer to the local Siemens factory. She found out later that people were shot for what she had requested.

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