THE VOYAGE OF THE DAMNED—THEN AND NOW
Three hundred and ninety-five years later, Nazi thugs obeyed the Protestant patriarch’s counsel to German princes. What historians call the beginning of the Holocaust, we refer to as kristallnacht—“The Night of Broken Glass”—put Luther's anti-Semitic hogwash to the test. Germany didn’t blink. Lutheran bishops awoke the next day, incidentally Luther’s birthday, in celebration. A retrospective glance over the months that followed would lend the impression most German Jews pushed aside an event they seemingly hoped to be isolated.
Others didn’t, and in May of 1939, nine hundred and thirty-seven passengers boarded the MS St Louis in Hamburg, Germany and set sail across the Atlantic. Most were Jews fleeing Hitler’s gluttonous rage. Many had begun the paperwork to process Cuban and American visas, but once they docked in Havana, only a few were allowed off the boat. Stalling for time, the captain crept close enough to Florida to see the lights of Miami and called the ranks of Roosevelt to expedite the necessary papers.
America shut her doors.
In what is now referred to as the “Voyage of the Damned,” the ship set due course eastward to her continent of origin. The story gripped the news of the nations, and after no small amount of campaigning, the remaining passengers were spread across England, the Netherlands, Belgium and France, all of whom took in an allotment of the refugees. Nevertheless, most of those forced back into the Continent returned to Hitler’s reach. Hundreds died in Nazi gas chambers.
As the Arab Spring was in infancy, the Syrian uprising emerged. It would become a full-scale civil war beyond the worst human imagination. Of all the national leaders and dictators against whom the people surged, Bashar al-Assad is the only Arab leader still standing.
The same cannot be said of his country.
Chemical warfare, barrel bombs, cowardly geopolitical powers and a grossly underestimated outfit of “JV jihadis” later, hundreds of thousands of Syrian civilians have lost their lives. Millions have lost their homes. The Middle East is facing one of its greatest refugee crises in history. Families fleeing blown-apart hometowns and ISIS aggression are getting beat back at border lines. Traffickers are banking as desperate parents are liquidating everything they have left and can scrounge together to pay exorbitant rates—thousands of dollars—to run across borders under the cover of night, traumatized toddlers in their arms. To jump in dinky boats, gambling the tempestuous Mediterranean waves. To make it all the way to Hungary, only to have police pull out batons at train stations.
This time, Germany has no Nazis at her helm. Instead, she has Angela Merkel, the Chancellor defying every bit of European Union protocol in order to accomplish what she believes is “morally and legally obliged," challenging every nation in the EU to do the same. She has a nation of Germans who heard refugees were rocking up on trains and needed water. Needed clothes. Needed their dignity restored. They brought so much stuff the police had to ask them to stop.
It makes me want to be German.
The Icelandic government claimed they could handle the overwhelming burden of fifty refugees in a nation of nearly 330,000 people. Icelanders balked. Within days, eleven thousand publicly declared their homes and houses open to any Syrian who could get to their doorstep.
It makes me want to be Icelandic.
And then there’s Aylan. In the photo that may well define the crisis for years to come, the toddler too young to know how to tie his own shoes is found face-down in Turkish sand not far from his mother and kindergarten-age brother because their criminal captain jumped ship minutes after hitting the water and their desperate and fatigued father couldn’t hold them all above the water line for more than a few hours. Turns out the captain was afraid of waves so small no dignified Californian would consider them worth surfing.
This particular family had relatives in Canada, and since the Canadian government isn’t presently dropping barrel bombs on Canadians it seemed as good a place as any to go. Aylan’s family paid their coward captain and his thugs two thousand dollars to get them across the Mediterranean—one step of many in a long trek across the Atlantic. We know how tragically, and how quickly, that story ended.
Yet even more debased are the asinine declarations Westerners are willing to make on public platforms:
We will all stand before our Maker and give account of our days. We will all stand before Aylan’s Maker and give account for our response, our action—or our lack thereof. Should the Lord tarry, a generation from now will look back and wonder why the Mediterranean, so much smaller than the Atlantic, became the bloodless grave of lungs filled with salt water while the entire world watched. It’s too easy to dismiss Luther’s bigotry now, half a millennia after he penned his stupidity to parchment. Politicians today aren't far behind him.
What does it matter if the papers print the stories if the people make no movement?
Obama’s twiddling thumbs and disastrous foreign policy have borne incredible global consequences. Western inaction when the Fürher showed the early signs of insanity cost eleven million lives in death camps, in addition to the military death toll of the Second Great War’s scourge. America’s ambivalent inaction in May 1939 specifically cursed hundreds of Jews—we know their names—to Hitler’s playground.
We’ve already got a Voyage of the Damned in the books. Let’s not do it again.
1 Luther, M. (1543). Concerning the Jews and their lies.
2 Goldhagen, D. (1997). Hitler’s willing executioners. London: Vintage.
3 BBC. (2015). Syria: The story of the conflict. Retrieved from http://www.bbc.com/ news/world-middle-east-26116868
4 Sinha, S. (2015). Obama’s evolution on ISIS. The New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2015/06/09/world/middleeast/obama-isis- strategy.html?_r=0
5 The New York Times. (2015). Traveling in Europe’s river of migrants. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/projects/cp/reporters-notebook/migrants/hungary- refugees-pepper-spray
6 VICE News. (2015). People smuggling in Sicily: Europe or die. Retrieved from https:// news.vice.com/video/people-smuggling-in-sicily-europe-or-die?utm_source=vicenewsfb
7 The Telegraph. (2015). Syrian refugee throws wife and baby on to train tracks in protest to migrant camps. Retrieved from http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/ europe/hungary/11841913/Syrian-refugee-throws-wife-and-baby-on-to-train-tracks-in- protest-to-migrant-camps.html
8 Hutton, W. (2015). Angela Merkel’s humane stance on immigration is a lesson to us all. Retrieved from http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/aug/30/immigration- asylumseekers-refugees-migrants-angela-merkel?CMP=twt_gu
9 The New York Times. (2015). Which countries are under the most strain in the European migration crisis? Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2015/08/28/ world/europe/countries-under-strain-from-european-migration-crisis.html?_r=0
10 The Independent. (2015). German police forced to ask public to stop bringing donations for refugees arriving by train. Retrieved from http://www.independent.co.uk/ news/world/europe/german-police-forced-to-ask-public-to-stop-bringing-donations-for- refugees-arriving-by-train-10481522.html
11 Tegan, H. (2015). Thousands of Icelanders have volunteered to take Syrian refugees into their homes. Time Magazine. Retrieved from http://time.com/4018241/iceland-syria- refugees/
12 Moyer, J. W. (2015). Aylan’s story: How desperation left a 3-year-old boy washed up on a Turkish beach. Retrieved from http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/ wp/2015/09/03/a-desperate-refugee-family-a-capsized-boat-and-3-year-old-dead-on-a- beach-in-turkey/
13 Barnard, A., Shoumali, K. (2015). Image of a small, still Syrian boy brings migration crisis into focus. The New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2015/09/04/ world/europe/syria-boy-drowning.html?smid=fb-nytimes&smtyp=cur&_r=0
14 Chorley, M. (2015). Fury as Ukip candidate says tragic Syrian toddler Aylan died ‘because his parents were greedy for the good life.’ The Daily Mail. Retrieved from http:// www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3221258/Outrage-Ukip-candidate-says-tragic-Syrian- toddler-Aylan-died-parents-greedy-good-life.html
15 BBC. (2015). Migrant crisis: Australian PM says stopping boats key for Europe. Retrieved from http://www.bbc.com/news/world-australia-34148931? OCID=fbasia&ocid=socialflow_facebook
16 Morgan, T. C. (2015). Graham's call to end Muslim immigration could backfire. Christianity Today. Retrieved from http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2015/july-web-only/franklin-grahams-call-to-end-muslim-immigration-could-backf.html
17 Hanson, V. D. (2015). Obama: Earning contempt, at home and abroad. The National Review. Retrieved from http://www.nationalreview.com/article/422643/obama-failed- foreign-policy
18 The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Voyage of the St Louis. Retrieved from http://www.ushmm.org/online/st-louis/