Saturday, January 20, 2018


While doing some random pondering the other day, I came upon a news item saying that the regime had cut the number of admissible refugees from 100,000 a year to 20,000 and suggesting that the real number let in this year would probably be less than that.

This in a world of displaced people -- most of them victims of the various wars of aggression instituted, supported and maintained by our dauntless civilian and military warriors -- numbering upwards of 65 million and growing thanks to the effects of climate change.

Well. How special.

As we know, the immigration fight, including the admission of refugees, is part of the budget impasse that has resulted in yet another "government shutdown" which may or may not get resolved some time soon. Ya never know with these things, but every time there's been a "shutdown" something else appalling is integrated into the formulas for budgeting and operating the government of These United States. With Shitball in the White House, you can bet a whole raft of Awful will emerge with the restoration of government function (probably some time in March) and few will be the wiser. So it goes.

Meanwhile, I was thinking about the plight of refugees in general and particularly how some of my ancestors were themselves refugees from the policies of Great Nations and Empires which found it useful to scapegoat, starve, and run out of their homes certain segments of their own populations and those of nations, empires and imperial conquests they went to war with -- thus creating any number of refugees in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries.

The practice never really ended, did it?

I learned recently of the Huguenot French heritage of my mother's father and his paternal ancestors. They were refugees driven out of France during one of the intolerances of the 1600s and wound up in England where they weren't exactly welcomed and assimilated. So about 100 years later, they emigrated to America, winding up on the Frontier -- such as it was -- first in Virginia and then Kentucky, moving on to Indiana in the 1830s. That's where my mother was born and that's where some descendants still are.

I've known about my Irish ancestors for some time, but I wasn't told the truth about them when I was growing up. An elaborate fiction was created connecting them with a prominent colonial family in Maryland and their arrival in America between 1688 and 1705. Or so.

But there is no connection between my ancestors and that family. There may be a distant connection in Ireland well before then, but there's none now.

Instead, it looks like my Irish ancestors were in fact Famine refugees who arrived in America between 1848 and 1854.

The Famine was never mentioned in the family lore I heard. Nor was the journey from Ireland to eventual settlement in Iowa ever detailed. Over time, I've learned a little bit about it, and how anti-Irish/anti-Catholic sentiment in Ohio, where my ancestors first tried to settle in America, drove them out and set them on a long route across the Mississippi River to take up homesteads in Iowa's Scott County.

Not only were they refugees from Ireland, they were among many internal Irish and other domestic refugees in the US.

Meanness was endemic among some Americans then as it is now.

I'm still trying to find out more details about my German ancestors. There are some indications they might not have been ethnic Germans at all. Indeed, there is family lore that they were Jewish conversos, and some of the DNA evidence suggests they came from somewhere in Eastern Europe, possibly from territories of the Russian Empire, likely some time in the 18th century. They settled in Baden and in the Palatinate and converted to Catholicism. But it seems their settlement was uneasy at best.

In 1850, my father's German grandmother's large family all left Koblenz for America, almost immediately heading west to Iowa where many of their descendants still are. They settled as farmers and merchants and their descendants are now found all over eastern Iowa.

Were they refugees? I don't know, but I suspect they were. During the 1840s and '50s what would become united Germany in the 1870s was wracked with rebellion and revolution. Some of the victims included Jews and conversos who were subject to all manner of discrimination and sometimes death presaging in part the later Nazi anti-Jewish programs.Those who could get out did so -- sometimes under compulsion by authorities or the mob.

I think something similar might have happened to my father's German grandfather Reinhold. But there was a twist. He left his town in Baden in 1854 -- when he was 14 (or maybe 16 or even 17, records suggest he was not truthful about his year of birth. He said it was 1840, but it was probably 1837 or 1838). He was not the first of his family to leave. His older brother left in 1852, his parents would leave in 1856, and his younger siblings would leave shortly thereafter. Ultimately, the entire family emigrated to America.

Reinhold went to France and sailed to New York in 1855. He stayed in New York apprenticed to a book binder in Brooklyn until 1863 when he went out to Iowa. Some of his relatives were already there. Shortly after he joined them, he married my father's German grandmother, and over time, they  had many children, including my father's mother Elizabeth who was the great beauty of the family, though she was deaf.

Thinking about when Reinhold left Baden and then when he left New York, I find a common thread: the military draft. If he was 17 when he left Baden, then he was of draft age. There were military campaigns throughout the region against rebels in those days, and so it's quite likely he sought refuge from the draft. There were draft riots in New York during the Civil War, and I can well imagine he went out to Iowa to escape the draft in New York.

Refugee? It's possible he felt the sting of antisemitism in Germany that was part of the revolutionary fervor of his youth, and it's likely that he wanted no part of military service in either Germany or the United States.

But it's as likely that he was descended from refugees who escaped pogroms in the east.

And then there are my English ancestors, all of whom arrived in America between 1620 and 1640. They settled in New England and New Jersey which suggests to me that they were probably religious dissenters, but I haven't found any details to confirm it one way or another. Religious dissenters of the era were in many cases refugees, and some of them, when they got to America, became refugees from persecution by earlier arrivals. There was little respite.

But the point of going through this is that were it not for refuges like America and the US many of my ancestors probably wouldn't have survived the conditions they faced in their homelands, conditions created by forces beyond their control. Their situation was in some ways comparable to the refugee crises of today.

The US has had both "open door" and "closed door" policies toward refugees. When the door has been closed, as it was during WWII and its lead-up, millions of people were sacrificed abroad so that nativists at home could feel protected from their taint. It was a shameful display of racial, ethnic, and religious prejudice that we seem to be headed into once again. Since 1924, the immigration door has been either closed to "undesirables" (ie: non-Northern European Christians) or cracked open just a little bit.

The lie is that the US has had an "open door" immigration policy at any time since 1924. It's false.

Asylum for refugees has always been limited since 1924 as well.

Now it looks like immigration and asylum will be further restricted. There may be reasons to do so, but the anti-immigrant and anti-refugee campaigns are full of lies and deceptions and should be rejected as unworthy of the nation's best qualities.

On the other hand, "open door" immigration -- which enabled many refugees to immigrate, survive and prosper in the US -- had a deliberate and devastating effect on Native Americans, a topic to explore in another post.

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