Friday, 22 April 2016

Have You A Heart?

Have You A Heart?
Though separated by 70 years, the struggles of refugee life are much the same. On the left, refugees and displaced persons arrive in Schleswig-Holstein in Germany, 1945. On the right, Middle Eastern refugees wait in a Vienna train station en route to Germany, 2015.

I choose this location, and this time, because it is reflected in a letter to "The Pilot" (The Jersey Anglican Church Magazine) in 1948, where the events in Germany led to a plea for help.

For background to the piece in "The Pilot", I looked at the American situation, where in the late 1940s, an intransigent Congress made it difficult for many post-WWII European refugees to come to the U.S. Among those displaced persons was Milan J. Kubic, who looked back on then and on the situation now.

Milan J. Kubic was a correspondent for Newsweek magazine from 1958 to 1989, including stints as bureau chief in Beirut, Vienna, West Germany, and Jerusalem. Born in Czechoslovakia, Milan was a refugee and lived in displaced persons camps in the U.S. zone in West Germany from June 1948 to February 1950.

He wrote of the current migrant crisis:

“Startling as it has been, the tidal wave of desperate and impoverished asylum-seekers who have been arriving in Western Europe is far from unprecedented. Millions of similar victims of violence who were made homeless by World War II paid the same compliment to the free part of the Old World in the 1940s and early 1950s.”

Earl G. Harrison, the dean of the University of Pennsylvania Law School, was sent to assess the situation. He wrote: “One must raise the question as to how much longer many of these people, particularly those who have over such a long period felt persecution and near starvation, can survive on a diet composed principally of bread and coffee”, noting that the refugees were demoralized and lacked medicine, clothing, and fuel for the coming winter.

Congress was dead against opening doors to migrants, but Harry Truman, the President, was resolved to do what he saw as the right thing. As Kubic comments:

“As a result of laws he passed, including the additional immigration authorized in 1953, the United States admitted a total of 600,000-plus World War II displaced persons and refugees whose homes were behind the Iron Curtain. An additional 400,000-plus displaced persons were resettled by Great Britain, Australia, Canada, and other Western countries. By the end of 1955, Europe’s World War II migration crisis was over.”

“In his memoir, Years of Trial and Hope, President Harry S. Truman wrote, ‘All my life, I have fought against prejudice and intolerance.’ The fight may have to be waged and won again to resolve the plight of the Middle Eastern migrants in Europe.”

Truman also wrote:

“It is unthinkable that the refugees should be left indefinitely in camps in Europe. We cannot turn them out in Germany into the community of the very people who persecuted them.”

And yet the modern solution seems to be to try to repatriate refugees to Syria - into the community of the very people who persecuted them. Have we learned nothing?

But going back to 1948, Jersey, too, was being asked to play its part in that first migrant crisis. In “The Pilot” of March 1948, was an article entitled “Have You A Heart?” It is worth reading, and listening to this call to respond to the plight of our fellow human beings.


If you have, I am sure it will be moved by the following extract from a letter from Miss Stocker, a daughter of Col.H. Stocker, of Fliquet:

"I was demobilized this summer after nearly eight years in the Army and I am now back in Germany in a Foreign Office appointment. I am Governmental Staff Officer for an area roughly the size of Yorkshire, and my work touches everything connected with local Government including, amongst other things, public health, welfare, education, school feeding, displaced persons and refugees.

It is of the Refugees that I am now writing. I doubt whether people at home realize the desperate plight of these people or the utter hopelessness of their future. The old and middle aged can never hope to achieve decent conditions in their lifetime; let alone comfort. The younger ones may, but many will be handicapped by chronic ill health due to years of vagrancy and malnutrition.

The overcrowding in Schleswig-Holstein is particularly bad; the refugees outnumber the indigenous population, and more and more continue to pour in from the East. They have nothing but what they carry in their hands: many have been wandering for three or four years; their clothes are in tatters, their footwear practically non-existent.

In Germany the shortages are so acute that the normal residents are unable to replace worn out garments; so there is nothing for the refugees. They cannot even repair the clothes they wear, as they have no needles, no thread, no scraps for patching. Things like handkerchiefs, towels and dusters are unobtainable and new-born babies have to be wrapped in most unhygienic rags as there are no baby clothes and no napkins at all.

I am dealing with these people personally; I see them constantly, and I am not exaggerating. I am asking, there-fore, whether you could ask the members of the Church to send me some parcels for these people. I am not asking for anything new or expensive, but for old garments and scraps which most people would consider useless.

There is literally nothing which these people cannot use, they unravel ragged socks to reknit others; they make a new garment out of half a dozen old ones; colours or shapes are immaterial. Shoes of any kind are worth their weight in gold, and worn out ones are used for patching. Any-thing in the way of tape, braid, buttons, hooks, needles, cottons, and mending wool is invaluable as they have none at all.

I am fully aware that our own people are also suffering from shortages. Furthermore I know that, in the Channel Islands, there must still be bitterness against the Germans, and many will consider that they are reaping just reward. Some may be antagonistic towards my request and even shocked that I should make it. I am confident however that those who know me and my parents will realize that I am not likely either to sentimentalize over Germans or to distribute indiscriminate charity to Nazis.

Anything I receive will be given to women and old people, who were unwilling victims of circumstance, and to children and babies who, we hope, may grow up to be a sane and peace-loving people. Those who survive will be anything but sane and peace-loving, unless something is done quickly to give them self-respect.


john mcnichol said...

Great piece Tony, it seems we have lost our humanity to some degree here in Jersey, the fact that Jersey suffered so appallingly during the war would make you think that we have a huge compassionate core, and i think we do, however there is a small but vocal minority who i think would actually pose a threat to any families resettled here.

Ramona said...

Fascinating and poignant post Tony. Thanks for sharing this with us.