Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Immigrants All




In 1923, my father, Bernard Wieder stepped off the boat at Ellis Island, having fled the Rumanian Army where his older brother died in World War I.  Dad did not wish to suffer the same fate for a blatantly anti Semitic Austro-Hungarian Empire.  He was of military age and he would have none of it.
Bidding a sorrowful good bye to his parents and five brothers and sisters, he took a  train from Budapest travelling to Hamburg and boarded a ship for America, in below deck steerage class.  As a child,  reading "Nick Carter" mysteries centered in New York, he had decided that was where his future would lie.
People rode in Automobiles, dressed in fancy clothes, and lived in heated houses with indoor plumbing. And Nick always found the murderer.

The following year the US Congress passed the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1924, discriminating against Eastern Europeans (Jews) who wished to come to America, frustrating Dad's plans to bring the remainder of his family to America.  Every year, he returned to Hungary for the Jewish High Holy Days, and dutifully throughout his time here until 1939 when the war erupted, he sent his diabetic father insulin.  Dad married in 1939 and planned to take his bride to meet his parents that September.  After the war started, his Dad, my grandfather, died of diabetic shock in 1940, unable to receive the life saving medication from his son.  Dad said his father was lucky.
All of the rest of his family, his mother, and brothers and sisters, aunts, uncles, cousins all perished in Auschwitz, except for two sisters who survived and also came to America as immigrants after the war, in 1945.   They lived into old age and had children, my cousins, who married and lived, as did I, the American dream.

Dad used to quote the well known, Emma Lazarus who talked about the "huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the tempest tossed," words found at the base of the Statue of Liberty. And from his first days bought and read the New York Times to learn English and of America

Dad made a success of his life, working industriously in Miami Beach and in New York City in all manner of jobs and in his own businesses.   His first job was at the Nemo hotel on 1st street here in Miami Beach as a busboy.   My mothers parents, landed in 1900 also having fled Hungary.  So I am really only a first generation American, born in New York City during the darkest days of World War II.

Many of my friends tell  a similar story, although I do have some friends who grew up in Georgia and whose ancestors employed slaves, but had a relative who fought in the Civil War, although on the Union side over the darkest stain in American history,  involving African Americans who travelled here in suffocating below deck slave ships, their arms and legs in shackles.  They too were immigrants.

Some clich├ęs bear repeating.   We are and always will be a nation of immigrants.  It is just that some of us have conveniently forgotten our heritage, and seek to exclude others who are currently fleeing the same deprivations their ancestors did decades and centuries ago.

The economic forces that have created migrations are people who seek a better life--that is what America represents.

It does not stand for leaders ripping children from their parents.  It does not stand for values that are un-American.  If we are a nation of immigrants, we should be taking in as many as we can.  No matter what  price we pay, no matter what the cost.  History will look kindly on us if we do.  The economic benefits bestowed on this country by immigrants has always been positive.  We remained Ronald Reagan's shining city on the hill.  We remained Roosevelt's arsenal of democracy.

Edmund Burke said that evil triumphs when good men say nothing and Republicans in congress should remember who their first President was and what he stood for.  They should re-read Lincoln's second inaugural address.  They should read the Constitution, and the lives of our founding fathers who understood deeply what we should be as a nation.   Alexander Hamilton was an immigrant too.