Tag Archives: fear

Refugee crisis recalls that of Jews in WWII

Sol Messinger was just 7 when he stood with his father at the rail of the ocean liner St. Louis and stared into the gathering darkness. But nearly eight decades later, Messinger still recalls the lights of Miami glittering off the bow, so near to him and more than 900 fellow Jewish refugees aboard, yet beyond their reach.

“I look out into the ocean and I get this queasy feeling,” says Messinger, whose family escaped Europe for the United States three years after American officials turned away the vessel in 1939. Now 83, he is a pathologist in Buffalo, New York. “The Jews did not pose any threat to the U.S. It’s really unforgivable.”

Now, fresh angst about whether to admit refugees or turn them away has put the spotlight back on the shunning of the St. Louis and other decisions, now widely regretted, by U.S. officials before and during World War II.

In the wake of Islamic State terrorists killing 130 people in Paris, a backlash against the United States admitting Syrian refugees — many of them Muslims — has fueled a bitter debate, with politicians, pundits and others drawing lines between present and past.

Similarities between the rhetoric of today and the attitudes of the U.S. public and officials during World War II make that history worth recalling, scholars say, as the country confronts new fears of terrorism.

“No historical parallel is perfect, obviously,” says Allan Lichtman, co-author of FDR and the Jews and a professor of history at American University.

But U.S. limits on refugees during World War II, influenced by anti-Semitism, were fed by fears the Nazis “would plant agents, spies and saboteurs among the Jewish refugees and that they would pressure the Jews, particularly those whose families were still in Germany, to act as agents on behalf of the Third Reich,” Lichtman said. “Those arguments are chillingly similar to the arguments being made against the admission of the Syrian refugees.”

The 1930s saw widespread disdain for Jewish people from Europe. Opposition to admitting refugees was heightened by the economic worries left by the Great Depression. Those public attitudes were reinforced by the U.S. State Department and other agencies, which worked to limit an influx of Jewish people whom FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover labeled as potential infiltrators, he said.

When President Franklin Delano Roosevelt pondered relaxation of refugee quotas, Vice President John Nance Garner counseled that if Congress were allowed to vote in private, the lawmakers would ban immigration altogether, Lichtman said.

Lichtman isn’t alone in making the comparison. Recently, Ohio professor Peter Shulman of Case Western Reserve University used Twitter to post results from a 1938 public opinion poll showing Americans overwhelmingly rejected admission of Jewish people from Germany in the years leading up to the outbreak of war.

The reaction “was instantaneous and totally overwhelming. It was like nothing I’ve ever experienced before,” said Shulman.

New York Mayor Bill DeBlasio, criticizing a number of Republican governors — including Scott Walker of Wisconsin — for opposing admission of Syrian refugees, cited the 1938 poll, which said 67.4 percent of Americans said the U.S. should try to keep German and Austrian refugees out of the country and 61 percent opposed allowing 10,000 German Jewish children to enter.

“We are not going to make that mistake in our time and voices of intolerance and voices of division are not going to cause us to do something that is against our values,” DeBlasio said.

“When we sent Jews back to Germany and when we sent Japanese to internment camps, we regretted it and we will regret this as well,” U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., said before 47 House Democrats and 242 Republicans voted for a bill to put new security limits on a plan by President Barack Obama to admit 10,000 Syrian refugees over the next year.

Responding to the vote, Karin Johanson, director of the American Civil Liberty Union’s D.C. legislative office, said House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., “and this un-American bill’s supporters falsely claim it will simply pause U.S. resettlement of refugees. In fact, it will bring resettlement of Syrian and Iraqi refugees to a grinding halt by adding layers of bureaucracy to an already rigorous process. It also discriminates against refugees based on their national origin, nationality and religion. Supporters of this bill want us to turn our backs on refugees who are seeking safe harbor from the very terrorism we all abhor. This is not leadership.”

There is a long pattern in U.S. politics of labeling refugees as a threat, whether those fleeing the Nazis, refugees of the Hungarian Revolution or boat people uprooted by the Vietnam War, said Kelly Greenhill, author of Weapons of Mass Migration: Forced Displacement, Coercion and Foreign Policy.

“Every time this country is confronted with .… a visible influx of people, the issue becomes politicized,” said Greenhill, a professor of political science at Tufts University and a research fellow at Harvard University’s school of government. “This is a movie we’ve seen before and it’s sort of unfortunate, but it has a curious sameness across time, which doesn’t make it better.”

In the years since World War II, the U.S. has become the world’s largest recipient of international refugees. 

But of the 784,000 refugees resettled in the U.S. since the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, just three have been arrested for planning terrorist activities, according to the Migration Policy Institute, a non-partisan think tank. Only one of those, an Uzbeki immigrant, spoke of targeting the United States but had no specific plans, the institute said.

While taking in 10,000 Syrian refugees would be a significant increase from the roughly 2,000 admitted since the country’s civil war began in 2011, it is a fraction of those going to other countries. Up to 800,000 people are expected to seek asylum in Germany by the end of this year, according to MPI.

Study: 53 percent of LGBT employees are closeted at work

About 53 percent of LGBT employees nationwide are closeted on the job, according to a new report from the Human Rights Campaign Foundation, the educational arm of the nation’s largest gay civil rights group.

HRC noted that consistent legal protections are not afforded to LGBT people state to state: There are no statewide laws prohibiting workplace discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in 29 states and gender identity in 33 states.

“While LGBT-inclusive corporate policies are becoming the norm, the fact is that LGBT workers still face a national patchwork of legal protections, leaving many to hide who they are for fear of discrimination in the workplace and in their communities,” said Deena Fidas, director of HRC’s workplace equality program. “Even among those private sector employers with laudable, inclusive policies and practices, these are necessary but not wholly sufficient for creating a climate of inclusion. Employees are getting married without telling their coworkers for fear of losing social connections, or they’re not transitioning even though they know they need to for fear of losing their jobs. The inclusive policies coming from the boardroom have not fully made it into the everyday culture of the American workplace.”

To prepare the report, HRC surveyed more than 800 LGBT workers across the country, and also added a survey of non-LGBT workers.

The research showed that

• Fifty-three percent of LGBT employees hide who they are at work.

• More than 80 percent of non-LGBT workers report that conversations about social lives, relationships and dating come up weekly and often daily and 81 percent feel that LGBT people “should not have to hide who they are at work.” However, less than half would feel comfortable hearing an LGBT coworker talk about dating.

• One in four LGBT employees report hearing negative comments such as “that’s so gay” while at work.

• One-fifth of LGBT workers report looking for a job specifically because the environment wasn’t accepting of LGBT identities.

• Twenty-six percent of LGBT workers have stayed in a job because the environment was accepting.

“Employers must go beyond policies to a truly inclusive practice,” said Fidas. “By implementing training aimed at improving the day-to-day climate for LGBT employees, workplaces can make significant improvements in the lived experience of their employees, whether in the corner office or on the factory floor.”

Exorcism of 1949 continues to fascinate St. Louis

Saint Louis University junior Zach Grummer-Strawn has never seen “The Exorcist,” the 1973 horror film considered one of the finest examples of unadulterated cinematic terror. He’s only vaguely familiar with the monthlong 1949 demon-purging ritual at his school on which the film and William Peter Blatty’s 1971 novel were based.

But just in time for Halloween, Jesuit scholars have joined a whole new generation of horror buffs in St. Louis to recount the supernatural incident. The university hosted a panel discussion this week on the exorcism, which involved the treatment of an unidentified suburban Washington, D.C., boy. About 500 people crammed into Pius XII Library, with some spilling into the library aisles, leaning against pillars or sitting on desks.

“I’d like to believe it’s the real thing,” said Grummer-Strawn, a theology and sociology student from Atlanta. “But you just can’t know. That’s part of why we’re here. It’s the pursuit of truth. And it’s such a great story.”

The university scholars and guest speaker Thomas Allen, author of a 1993 account of the events at the school’s former Alexian Brothers Hospital, emphasized that definitive proof that the boy known only as “Robbie” was possessed by malevolent spirits is unattainable. Maybe he instead suffered from mental illness or sexual abuse – or fabricated the entire experience.

Like most of religion’s basic tenets, it ultimately comes down to faith.

“If the devil can convince us he does not exist, then half the battle is won,” said the Rev. Paul Stark, vice president for mission and ministry at the 195-year-old Catholic school. He opened the discussion with a prayer from the church’s exorcism handbook, imploring God to “fill your servants with courage to fight that reprobate dragon.”

Some of the non-students in the audience spoke of personal connections to an episode that has enthralled generations of St. Louis residents.

One man described living near the suburban St. Louis home where the 13-year-old boy arrived in the winter of 1949 (his Lutheran mother was a St. Louis native who married a Catholic). Another said she was a distant cousin of Father William Bowdern, who led the exorcism ritual after consulting with the archbishop of St. Louis but remained publicly silent about his experiences – though he did tell Allen it was “the real thing.”

Bowdern died in 1983.

Bowdern was assisted by the Rev. Walter Halloran, who unlike his colleague spoke openly with Allen and expressed his skepticism about potential paranormal events before his death a decade ago.

“He talked more about the boy, and how much he suffered, and less about the rite,” Allen said. “Here was a scared, confused boy caught up in something he didn’t understand.

“He told me, ‘I simply don’t know,’ and that is where I leave it,” the author added. “I just don’t know.”

Allen zealously protects the anonymity of “Robbie,” despite others’ efforts to track him down to this day.

Gary Mackey, a 59-year-old accountant who left work early to attend the campus event, said he also is unsure whether “The Exorcist” was a work of fiction or instead a riveting real-life account of barely comprehensible forces.

He does know this: He cannot forget the movie that he saw with a buddy four decades ago. They drove 100 miles (160 kilometers) from their home in Louisville, Kentucky, to the nearest theater showing it across the state line in Cincinnati.

“I saw the movie when I was 19 years old and it scared me to death,” Mackey said. “I think it’s the scariest movie ever made.”

Survey: Across Europe, gays live in fear for safety

Across Europe, gay couples are scared of publicly engaging in even the most basic expression of their affection: Holding hands.

Released earlier this month, the largest ever European Union survey of hate crime and discrimination targeting members of the LGBT community in the 27-nation bloc and Croatia showed many of them live in fear and conceal their sexual orientation or identity.

Two-thirds of the 93,000 people who filled in the anonymous online questionnaire said they were afraid of holding hands in public with a same sex partner – the figure rose to 75 percent for gay and bisexual men.

Austrian European lawmaker Ulrike Lunacek, said she has seen improvements in attitudes since she came out as a lesbian 30 years ago, but wasn’t surprised at the fear of holding hands.

“I know myself. In some areas of some cities I maybe also wouldn’t do it,” she said.

The survey, released for the International Day against Homophobia, is important, she said, because “for the first time, we see how much fear there is still around.”

The results showed that more than 80 percent of the group are verbally abused or bullied at school, nearly one in five feel discriminated against when seeking work and a quarter of the people have been attacked or threatened in recent years.

“It shows very clearly that things are not going right,” said EU Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding. “That there are still very many discriminations, that the (laws) which are in place in member states are de facto not really applied in practical terms and that LGBT people are afraid to go to court or go to police because they are afraid of being victimized a second time.”

In the Georgian capital of Tbilisi last week, thousands of anti-gay protesters including Orthodox priests occupied a central street with some brandishing stinging nettles with which they threatened to lash any participant in a gay pride parade which was scheduled. Sixteen people were reported to be injured in scuffles.

Reding said the results of the EU survey confirm findings in earlier studies but should still alert lawmakers in the EU and its member states that they need to do more to ensure members of the gay community are not targeted.

The survey did not only highlight the fear of violence and abuse on the streets and discrimination in the workplace. Two-thirds of students or former students who took part in the survey reported disguising their sexuality at school.

Bullying at school is even more widespread, according to the survey, and Lunacek said that, in part, is because of the increased number of gays who are open about their sexuality.

“It’s become more obvious, more visible and that also means there are more negative reactions to that,” she said.

Lunacek urged lawmakers and policy makers to use the report to tackle discrimination at all levels of society across the EU.

“It’s simply unacceptable that people, because of who they fall in love with, are afraid and live lives of fear,” she said.

The anonymous online survey was conducted between April and July last year. It was carried out for the EU Fundamental Rights Agency by Gallup Europe in partnership with the European region of the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association – an umbrella organization representing lesbian, gay bisexual and transgender civil society groups.

The survey collected information from 93,079 persons aged 18 years or over who identified themselves as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender, and who lived in the EU or Croatia, about their experiences.

Further details of the methodology were not immediately available, but the FRA says its results are in line with previous smaller surveys.

Getting up when you’re down | Four simple ways to fight depression

It’s no wonder nearly one in 10 Americans suffers from depression.

“Top risk factors include being unable to work or unemployed; having no health insurance; suffering from obesity,” psychologist Gregory L. Jantz notes in a news release, citing a U.S. Centers for Disease Control study. “Unfortunately, those topics have dominated headlines for the past five years. What’s worse, by 2020, the World Health Organization estimates depression will be the second most debilitating disease worldwide.”

The author of “Overcoming Anxiety, Worry and Fear” (www.aplaceofhope.com), says these negative emotions along with sustained, excessive stress can lead to depression, which now overshadows other problems for which patients seek help at his clinic.

“Depression can be rooted in a number of problems, and those need to be addressed – simply taking a pill is not usually effective treatment. Anger, fear and guilt can all be underlying causes, even when the person isn’t aware she’s experiencing those feelings.”

A holistic treatment approach, which may or may not include medication, helps people overcome a bout of the debilitating illness, and learn techniques to manage it themselves, he says.

People at risk of depression can work at maintaining their emotional equilibrium by counterbalancing negative feelings with optimism, hope, and joy. This is most effective if they do this holistically, addressing the four main categories of human need.

“By purposefully feeding the intellectual, relational, physical, and spiritual aspects of your life positive emotions, you can achieve balance,” Jantz says.

He offers these suggestions:

Intellectual. Be aware of what you’re feeding to your mind. Try reading a positive, uplifting book, and setting aside time in your day to fill yourself up intellectually with constructive, encouraging messages. Be aware of what you are reading and listening to, and seek to counter the negative input we all get with positive influences.

Relational. Think of a person you really enjoy talking to, someone who makes you feel good about yourself or someone who’s just fun to be around. Plan today to spend time with that person this week, even if it’s just for a moment or two. Make the effort to verbalize your appreciation for his or her positive presence in your day.

Physical. Physical activity is a wonderful way of promoting emotional health. Engage in some mild exercise this week. Take a walk around the neighborhood. Stroll through a city park. The goals are to get your body moving and to allow you to focus on something other than yourself and your surroundings. Greet your neighbors, stop at the park and watch someone playing with his dog, or cheer at a Little League game. Intentionally open up your focus to include the broader world around you.

Spiritual. Take some time to nourish your spirit. If you are a member of a religious organization, make sure to attend services this week. If you are not, listen to some religious or meditative music. Spend time in quiet reflection, meditation, or prayer. Intentionally engage in an activity that replenishes and reconnects your spirit.

If you are not depressed but feel anxious and stressed, have trouble sleeping or find you’re not content much of the time, Jantz says it’s time to start taking care of yourself.

“Depression is painful and as debilitating as any other disease,” he says. “Take steps to de-stress your life and to work on emotional balance before it gets worse.”