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Last week I got to spend some time in the National Holocaust Museum in Washington DC.  This is the 2nd time I have visited the museum/memorial, and it didn’t fail to move me. * This time, however, I found myself caught by the description of Hitler’s rise to power, and the state of the nation that was ripe for his ascension. 

Germany was in dire straights.  

  • Unemployment had risen to 25%.  
  • The governmental body had become an ineffectual divisive mess.  The extreme right wing parties were refusing to work with the socialist and communist parties on the left, and “communist” and “socialist” had become epithets of degradation and vitrol.  In fact, in the year before Hitler rose to power the government functioned only by emergency decrees, because the Reichstag couldn’t pass any legislation. In addition, the anti-immigrant caucus had gained power.  
  • The prevailing sentiment, voiced over and over again was, that if we just got rid of those damned immigrants and the gypsies, then there would be enough jobs for every good German, and we wouldn’t have to suffer any more. 
  • One of the first things the Nazi Party did when it came to power was stripped power from Trade Unions.

A few caveats: I know this is very reductionist, and many other things were playing into the situation.  I also do not believe in calling everyone the ‘new Hitler’ or see a Nazi under every rock.

That being said, I can’t believe how much of the rhetoric I heard in the Holocaust museum was remarkably similar to the rhetoric and vitriol I’ve heard over the last few years in the US.  Now I think, if you look at history, the way we’re treating the current crop of immigrants looks terribly like the way we treated the Germans, the Irish, the Polish, the [fill in the blank].  Apparently in America, if you’re an immigrant you’re golden, as long as you’re not the current ethnic group we’re seeing come in.

However, I do think the language we’re using, and the other items echoing in my brain after this recent visit, really give me pause for thought.  The similarity between our country, and pre/early Hitler Germany really shake me a bit.  I don’t want to be overly alarmist, but neither do I want to be silent and let something happen that would tip the scales, and lead us down a path of great destruction.

The groups I work with in Reading for Life have discussed this too. What makes us incapable of committing an atrocity like this again?  Knowledge? Experience? Moral Certainty? Having a more global perspective? Being American?  Nothing we came up with satisfied us, because really, we’re all human, and sadly, all blessed with the capability to do great acts of kindness, or destruction, or indifference.

Jay-Z in his song “100$ bills” (which I came across on the Great Gatsby soundtrack) says “History don’t repeat itself, it rhymes” 

I feel like this is extremely apropos. Are we just echoing the sentiment we’ve heard for a while, or are we on a path that we need to change, and just to indifferent, or convinced of our superiority, to alter course. 

For me, I know it made me pause and think. A lot. 

It’s still echoing in my head a week later. What do you think?

 

*It helps that I was reading Maus, the great graphic novel that deals with the Holocaust, on my journey to DC.

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Ok, so I borrowed that line.

I share the sentiment though.
A while back I wrote this post about the Alien, Orphan, and Widow.  While it arose chiefly out of the congealing of revelation in the nebulae that is my thought process, it did have something to do with the way I've perceived Christians responding to the question of immigration.
So now I've really had it.
There have been one too many people saying something of a derogatory nature about the hispanic immigrants in our area. There have also been one too many positive comments about the Arizona law. 
There is a whole list of things that trouble me about this.  
At the top of the list:
     1.  I know first hand how hard it is to immigrate to another country just because you want to live there.  I can't imagine how much worse it would be if a) I lived in poverty and b) I had little education.  These are things I can't forget as I look at the immigration situation we face today. I can understand, even as I don't endorse, someone trying another way around the system.
     2.  The people I'm hearing make such a noise are people who are very good at using scripture to justify their positions on a regular basis. However they have yet to do it for this issue.
The reason they haven't is that, inherently, this position is very anti scripture.  And as those who forget history are doomed to repeat it I thought I'd do something.
This week my status updates on facebook are going to just be bible verses which talk about how we are to treat the 'alien' among us.  I'm intrigued to see what conversation it triggers.  I'll probably cross post the verses here.
Todays is from everybody's favorite book Leviticus.

Leviticus 19:33-34 " 'When an alien lives with you in your land, do not mistreat him. The alien living with you must be treated as one of your native-born. Love him as yourself, for you were aliens in Egypt. I am the LORD your God."

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So I came across the most intriguing piece of work yesterday.  A transcript of a piece by Monsignor Ivan Illich to the Conference on InterAmerican Student Projects in 1968.  He was taking quite a stance on short term missions and service projects to Mexico.  He was invited to speak at this conference, and pretty much let them have it. 
His position, in a nutshell, GO the *%&#  home.

He posits that Short term workers are little more than 'vacationing salesmen for the middle-class "American way of life". As such they assume that god (or whatever) has blessed them, so they need to help those less privileged than themselves.  That things that make up our way of life, capitalism, two party 'democracy', free enterprise etc. should be given to everyone, regardless of whether or not they ever will be able to obtain them. In addition he adds that when there is not common language we never really ask or understand if the people being 'reached' really want or see the need for change, and they also do not have a way to tell us to go away.  In lands where the average person doesn't even get a middle school education, the people who speak english are far more educated and therefore more likely to be middle or upper class, and therefore, effective and meaningful dialog is not possible  with the poor we deign need our assistance.

The speech was biting and sarcastic, and very interesting.  I'm not completely on his side, but I really see a lot of truth in what he's saying.

I heard a story recently about the first western factory that was built in Mexico.  Ford built it.  They constructed it in an area full of very poor people, postulating that they would want to work and better their lives.  However, Ford couldn't find workers for their factory.  Simply because no one saw the need to make more money. Most of them lived off the land and were content.  Then the marketing geniuses at Ford figured out a way to staff the factory.  They sent everyone in a certain radius Sears catalogs.  Within a few weeks the factory was up and running.  People now knew what they needed to earn money for.  God Bless Consumerism 😦

My question in all of this is.  Is our present immigration 'crisis' of our own making?  Not, I mean, by failing to deal on our end, but instead by years of, as Illich puts it "vacationing salesmen of the Middle class" going to the poorest of the poor and pointing out their poverty, assuming, as we often do, that there is a better way of life for these people?

Illich made the point that we, in programs such as the Peace Corp, Youth with a mission, and others, spend money teaching our 'missionaries' how to deal with the culture shock.  He believes that money should be spent teaching the indigenous  peoples of Latin America how to deal with the culture shock of our best intentions.

Maybe our assumption that our life is better and naturally everyone else would want to aspire to it has bred an unhealthy desire in our brothers and sisters south of our border, and now they long for what we advertised for so many years, and they are seizing it the only way they can.

How much responsibility should be laid at our door?

If you want to read the full speech by Illich click here

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