Seventy-five years ago, a German Jewish teenager who had been sent to safety in England in 1939 on the Kindertransport arrived in New York where she was reunited with her parents. After a brief stay in New York, the three of them travelled by bus to Scattergood, Iowa, where the American Friends Service Committee had turned a school into a hostel for European refugees. As the Nazi terror spread through Europe, the members of a Disciples of Christ Church in tiny Eureka, Ill, decided to go beyond reading newspaper headlines and praying and offered to adopt the family. The teenager and her parents moved into a fully furnished apartment on the edge of the Eureka College campus and were welcomed into a community that had known few Jews, let along foreign-born Jews. The father got a job auditing municipal books in small Illinois towns. The mother got a job in the college kitchen. And the teenage girl got a free college education there.
That teenager was my mother, Irmgard Rosenzweig Wessel, who died last year at the age of 88. She never forgot the fear and desperation of the refugee and the strains on the newcomer. As a social worker and activist, she was a lifelong advocate for those who came to America after she did. My last conversation with her focused on the plight of the unaccompanied minors coming from Central America and what we could do for them.
I grew up hearing stories from my mother and grandmother about the painful end of their pleasant life in Germany and the beginning of their new and eventually prosperous life in the U.S. I am particularly proud of my hometown of New Haven, CT for welcoming the Syrian refugee family who had been turned away from Indianapolis. According to Chris George, the Executive Director of IRIS, the Integrated Refugee and Immigrant Services in New Haven, they are planning to double the number of refugees settling in New Haven.
I would love to be equally proud of my other hometown of Takoma Park—its elected officials and its people–– for welcoming of this new generation of immigrants and offering them what others offered my mother so long ago. This is truly the American and the Takoma Park way.