Posted by Marsha Frankel
The recent refugee crisis in Europe has caused a range of reactions based, at least in part, on our own life stories. Because of my work with Schechter Holocaust Services and as a grandchild of immigrants who fled Russian pogroms, I immediately thought of the impact of these events on our Holocaust survivors. I simultaneously imagined the short- and long-term impact on the current wave of refugees. Not surprisingly I have started to hear from some Holocaust survivors that they are experiencing an increase in post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms including nightmares and anxiety as a result of seeing and hearing about this humanitarian crisis.
The Boston Globe published an editorial September 23, 2015 in which Niall Ferguson, a Harvard history professor, wrote about Henry Kissinger arriving in the US in September 1938 with his parents and brother at a time when the US was increasingly reluctant to accept Europe’s refugees. Two-thirds of the US public wanted to limit the number of refugees allowed in and the existing quotas made sure that was the case. In June 1939 the St. Louis, a ship carrying 900 Jewish refugees, was turned away by US authorities and sent back to Europe. More than a quarter of the passengers later died in the Holocaust. Our reaction when we think of all those needlessly lost lives is similar to learning of the people lost in their passage out of Syria. On WBUR this week I heard interviews with Hungarian citizens speaking of their fears of the refugees because they are “different,” “less socialized,” and “Muslims” who might spread disease and social disorder. How different is this than what was said about the Jews in the 1930s?
I have been heartened to hear of Germany’s receptiveness and generally welcoming attitude toward the refugees. It is great that they have learned from the past and reminds us all that history does not have to repeat itself if we open our hearts and minds to those that are different from us.
Marsha Frankel, LICSW, is the Clinical Director of JF&CS Senior Services and the Director of Mental Health. She is a frequent presenter to lay and professional groups on topics ranging from social bullying to mental health issues.