My 81-year-old mother, Ruth Rubenstein Grill, still sends me newspaper clippings and letters by snail-mail.
I like it. I like seeing her handwriting, the carefully formed cursive that she was taught as a child in Europe.
But today’s letter is different than any other I’ve received from her in the past. It’s a letter in which my mother describes her profound sorrow and deep fears about the Trump administration’s “Zero Tolerance” immigration policy.
The policy, enacted ostensibly to deter undocumented immigrants and those seeking asylum from coming to the United States, has resulted in the separation of thousands of children from their parents.
My mother knows what it’s like to be a young child separated from her parents. During the Nazis’ occupation of Belgium, her parents, Gertrude and Henry Rubenstein, made the incredibly difficult and brave decision to protect her by placing her first in a convent and then with a Catholic Belgian family. (Shortly after my mother left the convent as a 5-year-old child, it was raided by the Nazis and the children who lived there were taken to a concentration camp.)
“I was spectacularly lucky,” writes my mother. “Nevertheless, this being sent away from my place of safety, well-meant in this instance, has colored the rest of my life. These children [the current refugees] are being warehoused with no one to console them. Most probably, they will never see their parents again.”
My mother writes that in this current situation, she hears echoes of the Nazi concentration camps.
“I hear of children, in this country, kept in cages,” she writes. “Our attorney general assures us that, ‘The children will be well taken care of.’ But as a survivor of World War II, I know that the children will bear the scars of this brutal separation forever.”
Undoubtedly, some people would accuse my mother and others of making false and unfair equivalencies by comparing the Holocaust to the Trump era. Others will insist that the president and his team, the many Republican congressmen who remain silent in the face of this cruel and heartless policy, and the minority of Americans who support it, have nothing in common with the Germans who stood by Hitler during the Holocaust.
But as my mother points out, “Ordinary people commit atrocities when they fail to recognize the humanity of their victims. … Most of the Nazis who bayoneted infants, gassed and tortured millions, were ordinary people ‘just following orders’ much like the people who work at the [U.S.-Mexico] border. Most of these Germans probably didn’t differ much from American citizens, intoxicated by the rhetoric and promises of the president and his minions.”
My mother came to this country seven decades ago. She writes that she has always felt safe here — until now.
Now, she is afraid.
I wish I could somehow comfort her.
Simone Ellin is Jmore’s associate editor.