Holocaust survivors: Refugee travel ban recalls their own experience

 
 
Updated 2/2/2017 5:25 PM
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  • Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center Vice President Aaron Elster, left, discusses President Donald Trump's refugee travel ban Thursday. Elster is with fellow Vice President Ralph Rehbock and museum President Fritzie Fritzshall during a news conference at the museum in Skokie.

      Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center Vice President Aaron Elster, left, discusses President Donald Trump's refugee travel ban Thursday. Elster is with fellow Vice President Ralph Rehbock and museum President Fritzie Fritzshall during a news conference at the museum in Skokie. Joe Lewnard | Staff Photographer

  • Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center Vice President Aaron Elster takes a follow-up question about President Donald Trump's refugee travel ban Thursday during a news conference at the museum in Skokie.

      Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center Vice President Aaron Elster takes a follow-up question about President Donald Trump's refugee travel ban Thursday during a news conference at the museum in Skokie. Joe Lewnard | Staff Photographer

  • Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center President Fritzie Fritzshall discusses President Donald Trump's refugee travel ban Thursday during a news conference at the museum in Skokie.

      Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center President Fritzie Fritzshall discusses President Donald Trump's refugee travel ban Thursday during a news conference at the museum in Skokie. Joe Lewnard | Staff Photographer

  • Ralph Rehbock, vice president of the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center, shares his thoughts about President Donald Trump's refugee travel ban Thursday during a news conference at the museum in Skokie.

      Ralph Rehbock, vice president of the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center, shares his thoughts about President Donald Trump's refugee travel ban Thursday during a news conference at the museum in Skokie. Joe Lewnard | Staff Photographer

Holocaust survivors compared President Donald Trump's travel restrictions aimed at refugees from seven primarily Muslim countries to U.S. immigration practices that prevented Jews from fleeing the Nazis during a Thursday news conference at the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center in Skokie.

Museum President Fritzie Fritzshall said the situation for refugees and citizens in war-torn Syria and Iraq is not the same as it was for European Jews during World War II. However, when Trump signed his executive order, she said, it made her relive her experience as a 13-year-old when her family was told they were not allowed to immigrate to the United States to join her father.

"Because of immigration, I lost my entire family in Auschwitz to the ovens," Fritzshall said, referring to the U.S. policy of the time. "I feel for all of those mothers who are out there trying to give their children a better life."

Fritzshall was one of 18 Holocaust survivors to attend the news conference. Museum Vice President Aaron Elster said he avoided detection from the Nazis when he was 10 by hiding an attic for almost two years. When he got out, he had to be smuggled out of the country and sent to the United States.

Elster said he and other refugees had opportunities to succeed in America and in doing so helped make the country great.

"So for somebody to come along and say, 'Hey, these people cannot come in,' frankly I believe that is a sliding slope," he said. "What else could possibly happen once you do that? You dehumanize people, and then it's OK to do what you want with them."

He acknowledged Trump said he made the order for security reasons. However, Elster said he trusted the two-year vetting process refugees now go through.

Trump's executive order announced Friday severely restricts U.S. entry for people from seven mostly Muslim nations, suspends all refugee admission for 120 days and bars all Syrian refugees indefinitely.

Museum CEO Susan Abrams said another reason survivors decided to speak up was because of what she characterized as Trump's intentional omission of any reference to the Nazis' attempted annihilation of the Jews in the speech he gave on International Holocaust Remembrance Day.

"To not mention Jews or anti-Semitism on International Holocaust Remembrance Day is to fundamentally misunderstand the Holocaust and its commemoration," Abrams said.

The White House has responded to similar criticisms by saying they were taking into account the 5 million others also slaughtered during Adolf Hitler's genocide.

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