Never forget: The phrase is a command to act as much as it is to remember. Our duty to the millions of lives lost in the Holocaust goes beyond putting up memorials in their honor; our duty is to call out all state-sanctioned violence and efforts to dehumanize groups of people.
And so we must call out U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik for supporting the systematic dehumanization of refugees at our own border. Last week she claimed sudden concern about the Holocaust — an absolute surprise to many of her Jewish constituents, who have rarely heard her speak to our particular concerns. When U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez referred to detention facilities at the border as concentration camps, Stefanik expressed outrage over Ocasio-Cortez’s choice of words.
In berating her colleague, Stefanik defended an indefensible policy of abuse and neglect. As Jews in her district, we are alarmed that our elected representative is more concerned with semantics than with the fact that the concentration camps exist at all.
The Holocaust did not happen overnight. Step by step, over a period of years, the Nazis tested the public to see what they would accept.
It began with small cruelties, then concentration camps and, in the end, extermination centers. The victims were not only Jews but people with disabilities, gay people — anyone vulnerable. The Nazis used language similar to this administration’s rhetoric about immigrants of color to decry refugees and insist on their own supremacy.
We cannot pretend we don’t know the purpose of that language. We must not look away when at one border patrol facility, immigration lawyers found four toddlers unresponsive, feverish and vomiting. In some cases their mothers, all of whom were teenagers, had begged for medical care and were denied.
We must not look away when lawyers are finding children as young as 7 and 8 wearing clothes caked with snot and tears, caring for infants they just met. When a Honduran mother, pursuing her legal right to asylum, is denied water, when she is shackled like a prisoner as she is shuffled from one detention facility to another, we cannot look away.
Tikkun Olam is Hebrew for “repair the world.” We must not sacrifice our own humanity to the whims of politicians.
America contains the possibility and promise of a more perfect union. We ask our fellow constituents of all backgrounds to join us in calling on our elected representatives to end the inhumane treatment of refugees and to help repair this world.
Michelle Lightbourn Tolosky (in honor of her maternal grandfather, Herbert Hecht)
Marianne DiMarco-Temkin and Michael Temkin