Sunday, August 26, 2012

Schindler's List Redux

My decision to go to the General Assembly of Unitarian Universalist Congregations wasn’t a well-considered, rational choice. It was pure impulse, prompted I think by a vague sense that immigration issues (which I didn’t really understand) were issues that I could no longer ignore.

 There was no way to ignore them in Phoenix. The General Assembly was replete with information about immigration issues. I began to understand that these issues were people – people afraid to go to work lest they be arrested, thrown into a private prison, permanently separated from their husbands and children, with no legal rights, no legal recourse. No hope.

One afternoon, I left the convention center to see a documentary called “The Minister’s War,” the story of a Unitarian minister, Waitstill Sharp, and his wife Martha. In 1939, their Wellesley, Massachusetts home was filled with news of the war engulfing Europe. One Sunday, Rev. Sharp stood at his pulpit and declared war on Nazi Germany.

Martha Sharp remembered, “We realized that we were living at the front lines against Nazism. We had never felt such an urge to act before it was too late – to save these brave people, to help them save their world and our own.”

 So they acted. They left their young children with friends and flew to Europe. In Nazi-occupied Prague and Paris, in the detention camps of Vichy France and on hidden trails through the Pyrenees, they risked their lives to rescue thousands of refugees, including anti-Nazi dissidents and Jews. It was a powerful and important film – that turned out to be a theme for my experience of GA.
I stayed in the hotel closest to the Convention Center. One afternoon, I took the escalator from the first to the second floor. Looking down, I could not help but notice the manufacturer’s name: Schindler.
 On June 23, before participating in the Candlelight Vigil at Tent City Jail, I heard Maria Hinojosa, anchor and managing editor of NPR’s Latino USA. She said Nobel Peace Prize Winner Elie Weisel had advised her to question using the term “illegal immigrant.” He said there is no such thing as an illegal human being. He said that term was dangerous -- that the Nazis declared the Jews to be an illegal people and that was the beginning of the Holocaust.

 Maria told about conditions she had witnessed in immigration detention camps where people were not just fed bad food, they were hungry. People who were not criminals were being held by our government in windowless rooms with no drinking water.

 She talked about a conversation with a young, humble woman who told of her experience in a detention center. She said that when their guards would find a bed bug or lice, they would line up all of the women detainees, disrobe them and take out all of the bedding. Then the guards would make the women stand in line, naked, for the open showers. The woman told her: “There was a movie I watched as a kid and I felt like I was in it at that moment...did you ever see that movie? It's called “Schindler's List.”

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