Well, I’ve got to weigh in here with a repeat posting of a piece I published in October 2017 about Aristides de Sousa Mendes, because how he dealt with frantic refugees in southern France after the German invasion is pertinent today. To put it mildly.
In the piece I draw a contrast between de Sousa Mendes’s courageous acts with the acts of Vichy official Maurice Papon.
I don’t know who will be our Aristides de Sousa Mendes with our own frantic refugees. But I do know who will be our Maurice Papon: every head of ICE, DHS, and Border Control, as well as the CEO’s of the privately run, taxpayer financed concentration camps.
But since we’re not post-WWII France, I believe these apparatchiks will face justice much sooner than did Maurice Papon. Pardon me for being constitutionally an optimist.
On the other hand, if you want to be deeply thrilled by how remarkable human beings can be, read Countrymen, by Bo Lidegaard. The subtitle is a good summary: “The untold story of how Denmark’s Jews escaped the Nazis, of the courage of their fellow Danes — and of the extraordinary role of the SS.”
Because it covers the minutiae of Denmark’s intricate politics in coping with the Nazi occupation, it’s a more complex story than the one I read many years ago, but the impact is the same. The extraordinary fact: of Denmark’s approximately 6000 Jews, fewer than 500 were rounded up and sent to concentration camps. The rest eluded capture, most of them having escaped over the straits to Sweden.
And of those 500, a majority of them returned to Denmark after Germany’s defeat.
How did this happen? The sharpest answer is in one word, the title of the book. Danes did not consider their Jewish citizens to be separate from themselves. They considered them to be countrymen, of themselves.
How do we Americans regard the desperate refugees at our border? As human beings, not separate from ourselves, or as Trump demonizes them?
For me, there’s no question that the places where these human beings are kept are concentration camps. Who among us will rescue them and ourselves from this horror?