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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 the Wisdom of Sixteen-year-olds  

The activist sixteen-year-old Greta Thunberg is doing everything she can to stop the climate crisis. Her passion has inspired children and teens worldwide, who she says have been asking themselves, 'Why study for a future that's being taken away from us?' Thunberg, who has been calling out politicians who belittle climate change, also knows how to appreciate the positive. Having been diagnosed with Asberger's, she says she is "neurodiverse" and credits the syndrome with enabling her to think outside the box and not care about social codes; she says what she thinks. She also has faith that people can be reached by rational argument: "The most important thing to do right now is to understand the crisis, to grasp the problem," she recently told hosts of CBS This Morning. "Once you fully understand ecological emergencies then you know what you can do as well."


Or course, Thunberg is now being demonized by the Right. One extremist suggested on Twitter that Thunberg is a pawn of the Left: "Children—notably Nordic white girls with braids and red cheeks—were often used in Nazi propaganda. An old Goebbels technique! Looks like today's progressive Left is still learning its game from an earlier Left in the 1930s."


The Left? The Nazis were the Far Right. How dare you distort history?


Now for the reality a Jewish teenager faced during World War II. In the fall of 1941, my sixteen-year-old mother was living with her parents in German-occupied Lwów. They had zigzagged across Galicia since fleeing Kraków in September 1939. Now they faced the formation of the Lwów ghetto. My mother ran into a former classmate from Kraków, who said his parents had just paid $500 ($8,300 in today's dollars) for passports to the Dominican Republic. They were planning to leave in a day or two.


My mother told her parents her friend's plan and begged them to do the same. Her father said they did not have the money and refused to ask wealthy relatives in New York to loan it. My mother argued desperately for him to change his mind. This was the second confrontation in a series of arguments, which in her testimony for the Fortunoff Video Archive for Holocaust Testimonies she explained this way:


"I couldn't convince him. It was irrational. He said, 'What's the matter with you? Your uncle just came to America. You think that money grows on trees? $500 is a lot of money.' But in the back of my mind, however, I knew that we had very wealthy relatives there."


Later, when my mother and grandfather argued about buying false papers so that they could pose as Catholic Poles, she prevailed, but commented:

 

"I told my father. I told him that we must have false papers and he was convinced he raised a snake. He really thought that there was something terribly wrong with me. My parents did not have the sense of danger I had….I believe that Hannah Arendt mentioned that children not burdened by experience and education had sort of an open slate and saw the reality easier, some of us did, than our elders. Because I already then in Lwów told my father there is not a chance [that they would survive the war as Jews]."


Thus, my teenage mother recognized and reacted to the catastrophe of her day in much the same desperate and outraged manner Greta Thunberg has to ours.


Remember these words of wisdom from another bygone era? "Teach your parents well. Teach your parents well, their children's hell will slowly go by. And feed them on your dreams, the one they picks, the one you'll know by." –Graham Nash, 1969.


Happy Rosh Hashanah.
 
 

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