Denied Immigration Elsewhere, My Father Thrived In America

jazzOn the boats and on the planes...

...They're coming to America

Neil Diamond, 1980

It is family legend. I never actually heard my father tell the story, but it has been part of my consciousness, and my conscience, as long as I can remember. My father  was born in Berlin in 1919, the son of a Jewish couple. Dad's father died very young, and Mutti, my paternal Grandmother, remarried, to the screenwriter Frederich Raff. By 1933, Hitler was Chancellor of Germany, and the first boot steps of his anti-semitism began to echo across the country. Friederich, a Swiss citizen, decided that his family, which now included my dad's half-brother Herbert, would be safer, and life more prosperous, living in Switzerland. The proper documentation was obtained for Mutti and Herbert. My dad, not Friedrich's natural child, was denied Swiss admission. Knowing he would be separated from his family and still eager to leave Germany, Dad turned to distant relatives in the Chicago area, obtained a sponsorship from them, and was able to immigrate to the US.

Dad never spoke much about his early years here, and I never asked enough questions. I know he went to night school, worked hard and in 1946 married my mother, who had fled Vienna with her family years earlier, at the time of Hitler's Anschluss of Austria. Dad lived a productive life here, and along with my mom was the loving parent of two children. Both my parents lived long enough to be a part of the life of four grandchildren. A  legacy to America of two teachers, two physicians, and two attorneys.

By refusing my dad entrance, what did Switzerland miss out on? Had Dad been a young professional in Zurich he would have never met Mom. But I have no doubt that he would have found a Swiss Miss and raised a similar family, believing in education and accomplishment.  What Switzerland lost, America gained. I read the scoreboard of those two generations of Dad and Mom's offspring  as US 6, Switzerland 0.

So I shudder when I hear that we must build an immigration wall, or issue a blanket denial to those who seek refuge here from war and persecution. America has been built on the back of waves of immigrants. I understand that not all assimilate well, and even for the majority who do, it can take a generation or two. I understand that there may be a financial drain on social services while the transition occurs. I understand that some fear the minute risk that some of those entering the country will seek to do serious harm. And I understand that a nation has laws and regulations that need to be respected. What I don't understand is how so many of us don't believe that this country has the strength to accept, and blend, and grow, and survive. I never want to see a zero on the US side of the scoreboard.

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