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Tuesday, January 31, 2017

My cousin Imre had to go to Canada when the U.S. kept him out. Worked out well for him. But, maybe that wasn't and isn't a great plan.

I don’t usually write political pieces, but today’s news reminds me of my cousin Imre. He grew up in what is now Slovakia, escaped to London as part of the government during the war and returned home to help after the war. He was forced to leave Czechoslovakia after the Russians arrived. He tried to emigrate to the U.S. He was denied entry. His uncle, my grandfather, had lived in the U.S. for over 40 years, but there was nothing my grandfather could do to get him. He visited him in New York in 1946 when he was concerned about staying in Europe  but was sent back. Canada let him in. He was always “Imre from Canada” to me. (There was also an “Imre from Vienna” in our family.)
As someone who now lives in Canada in the summer, I realize that nearly every Jew that I meet there has the same story. Their family was denied entrance to the U.S. in the 30’s and 40’s, so they went to Canada.
We have had presidents who stopped immigration for reasons best left to their own reasoning. I am no fan of Franklin Roosevelt, but I note that he never gets vilified for this. Today, we are very worried about Mr. Trump’s actions. I can say in his defense that we ought to be used to Presidential decisions that affect people badly. (Would we have ISIS today if Woodrow Wilson had kept us out WW1?) Maybe Mr. Trump is right. Who knows? Mr Roosevelt wasn't right. Many members of my family died because of his decisions. Keeping my cousin Imre out of the U.S. was Canada’s gain. 

Here is a link to a site about him:

Here is an excerpt about his life taken from this: 
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lmrich Yitzhak Rosenberg. Bom in NoveMesto,Slovaki& May22,1913. Active in national Jewish youth movement. Doctorate in government and law, Bratislava University, 1939. After two interruptions to work underground against Hitler. While attending the Academy for International Law in The Hague, he helped organize the escapes of Jews from Czechoslovakia and Berlin in 1939. "I landed in England the day before the war broke out, to buy a boat to move refugees," he recalls.  "Every decent person who was safe in London wanted to join a unit fighting Hitler." He joined the Czech army and helped build the London-based resistance movement, led by Edvard Benes, which was eventually recognized as the legitimate democratic government- in-exile in Czechoslovakia. He headed for Czechoslovakia as the war ended, travelling with the Soviet Army as it liberated concentration camps in Poland, Germany, Austria and Czechoslovakia. "The world that had been closed in by the Nazis was being opened up. I was one of the first people to visit Theresienstadt camp, north of Prague, and I selected 301 orphaned children for transfer to England. The British Home Office sent 16 planes to pick them up. I also chose adults, most of them already with relatives in England, to accompany the children - about one for every ten children." There was also a steady stream of Jews arriving in Czechoslovakia from camps in Germany's Ruhr valley. "I don't think there is another living person who has seen as much as I in terms of broken people who survived the camps." He says now in a tone of wonder, "I was a young man when I was doing these things -today I think it was impossible. You're dealing with 180,000 people moving across the border. We gave them medical help, money, tickets. I heard about (Foreign Minister Jan) Masaryk's death from a street cleaner at seven in the morning, though the government didn't announce it until the afternoon. He was pushed from a window; there is proof. I slipped out of the country but my first wife made a mistake and she was caught. She was in jail, terrible jail, for twelve years." Having learned he'd been sentenced in absentia to life imprisonment, Rosenberg spent a year in England waiting for a Canadian visa.   When he arrived in Ottawa as a landed immigrant he was turned down by the Civil Service Commission and instead worked as a laborer, carrying vegetables in Byward Market. Eventually he started lecturing at Ottawa University and selling houses, becoming a partner in a successful real estate company. Along the way he donated $12,000 to establish a home for international students and public servants ("so others would not be left out in the cold in Ottawa, as I was”.)  


I believe in vetting potential immigrants. But there are many potential Imre Rosenberg’s out there. Let’s give them the chance that FDR didn’t give my cousin Imre.

1 comment:

Paul Miller said...

Perhaps this trajectory seems normal to you, to me it sounds extraordinary