What happens to the Next Generation of Refugees?
PART ONE: INTRODUCTION - Treating Refugees the Right Way
A Series Written By a Child of 2 German Jewish Refugees,
by Rick Landman - October 8, 2014
I was so blessed to be born in New York City. It was my parents and grandparents who had to flee persecution as refugees. They were one of the few lucky ones who were able to leave Nazi Germany in 1939. Due to a quirk of old geographical lines, my grandfather was considered a Russian living in Germany and thus was able to come to America, while his siblings, parents, and relatives perished in the Holocaust. In all 17 members of the immediate family perished in the camps.
My father was released from Dachau and made it to America in November after the war already broke out. He later joined the US Army and liberated Dachau in 1945. We now call my parents Holocaust Survivors, but when I was younger "Refugees" was the term I heard most. As a little kid I called them "refrigerators". I still remember the line from "Auntie Mame" when they talked about the refugee orphans who were going to live next door of Upson Downs. Those were children like my father's cousin Anne.
My parents met in Washington Heights after the war and moved to Queens where I was born. I was the lucky one. I grew up in New York City right at the beginnings of our country's push for full civil rights for everyone. I was encouraged and permitted to assimilate to become an American, even though segregation and discrimination against minorities (including Jews) was the law of the land nationwide until the Supreme Court ruled in 1954 and Congress acted in 1968 to make this unconstitutional.
Unlike other refugees who were kept in camps or specific regions, we became part of the American culture. I raised my standard of living to even more than what we had in Germany. Germany even gave my grandparents restitution money after the war for their horrendous experiences. America then gave millions of dollars to rebuild Germany and even dropped food to help those starving in Berlin when the Wall went up. I am happy and proud to be an American, without the desire to re-settle in the birthplace of my parents.
I grew up on a block of 28 families where 26 were Jews who immigrated to America before World War I. Mine was the only family of refugees. No one on the block treated me differently. It was just that my father had a German accent unlike the other kids whose "Bubbes" had a Yiddish accent. The other kids never minded or made me feel different. I went to NYC Public Schools and graduated from high school at 16 and then went to State Universities. At the time all NYC graduates could get a BA from a City College for free and then I got 3 Masters Degrees with scholarships. Things like education, transportation, housing, and medical care were more subsidized in those days.
As a result, I was able to find employment and support myself ever since I was 26 years old. In my mid 30's I paid to go to law school and by the time I was 55 I was able to retire. I now volunteer my time as a lawyer and volunteer in Holy Apostles Soup Kitchen each week, and take care of my parents. America really did a great job of helping me and my family overcome the refugee status by accepting us. The next installments of the Series will explore in detail my experiences with how the next generation of refugees are treated worldwide.