What Dr. Ruth told Dr. Kissinger at a dinner with Angela MerkelRoundup
tags: immigration, Henry Kissinger, Angela Merkel, Trump, Kindertransport, Ruth K Westheimer
… It was the fall of 2015, the height of the migrant crisis in Europe. Germany had announced that it would admit a million refugees, most of them fleeing the civil war in Syria. Merkel had come under heavy criticism for the decision, and, during the soup course, [Henry] Kissinger—ninety-two years old, eight decades removed from his own experience as a Jewish refugee from Nazi Germany—let the Chancellor have it. Of course, he said, he could admire the humanitarian impulse to save one person, but a million? That would change “German civilization.” It would be, Kissinger said, like the Romans allowing the barbarians inside the city gates. [Angela] Merkel listened, in her focussed way, and didn’t argue, except to say, “What choice do we have?”
When Kissinger, on the Chancellor’s right, finished, Merkel turned to Dr. Ruth, on her left. Did she have anything to add? Dr. Ruth is five years younger than Kissinger and so tiny that her feet didn’t reach the floor. (She asked me to push her chair closer to the table so that she could eat her soup.) It turned out that she did have something to add. Her high, cheerful Frankfurt accent is as familiar in its way as Kissinger’s sombre Bavarian gutturals, but she began quietly, almost apologetically, as if she didn’t want to claim too much authority on a subject that had nothing to do with the orgasm.
She told us the story of the Evian Conference, held on Lake Geneva, in July, 1938, where countries from around the world gathered to debate the plight of Germany’s Jews. In the end, only one country—the Dominican Republic—agreed to take in a substantial number of Jewish refugees. All the others, including the United States, made excuses.
Four months after the failure of Evian, in November, came Kristallnacht. At the time, Karola Ruth Siegel was a ten-year-old Jewish girl living with her parents in Frankfurt. Nazis showed up at their apartment to arrest her father, a salesman. As they marched him off into a covered truck, he turned around and looked at Ruth, who was watching from the window. She waved, and he waved back. Then he smiled, so that she wouldn’t cry. She never saw him again.
Two months later, in January, 1939, Ruth’s mother placed her on a train with other German Jewish children bound for Switzerland—part of the Kindertransport. Her mother hugged her on the platform, Dr. Ruth told Merkel and the rest of us, and, to keep herself from crying, she began to sing songs during the train ride that would bring her back to the happy time when their family was together. Dr. Ruth survived the war and the Holocaust in Switzerland. Her parents perished in the Nazi death camps.
“The Evian Conference gave us no help,” Dr. Ruth said. “If not for the Kindertransport, I would not be here today. I hope something more comes from this conversation about the Syrian refugees than came from Evian.”…
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