THE BLOG
01/30/2017 06:35 am ET Updated Jan 31, 2018

Immigrant Ban, 1921, 1924, 1939 Through 1943 -- A Family History

Dear President Trump and members of the United States Senate and House of Representatives,

I strongly oppose the executive order banning refugees from war zones and immigrants and visitors from largely Muslim countries. As an American Jew, I want to share some of my family history.

My grandfather Solomon had two brothers, Avram and David. They were Jews from a small village, Burshtyn or an even smaller nearby village that's name is lost, in Galicia, part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Records are confusing but we think he arrived in the United States in 1909. Avram, the oldest of the brothers, was already here. My grandmother Fanny joined Solomon in 1913, just before the outbreak of World War I. My father, Mandel, was born in the United States in 1920, the third of their four children.

In 1921 the United States passed a quota law sharply restricting immigration from Eastern and Southern Europe. Technically the quota was by region, but a major purpose was to keep out Jews who many in Congress considered incapable of assimilation. The restrictions were tightened in 1924 further cutting off Jewish immigration to this country.

Unable to immigrate to the United States, David and his wife moved to Berlin in Germany where they had two sons, my father's first cousins, and eventually prospered in the garment trade. Toward the end of the 1930s, with Adolf Hitler and the Nazis in power in Germany, David and his wife decided they had to leave Germany. Unable to get permission to come to the United States because of the quota system and the refusal of this country to accept refugees, they eventually escaped to Palestine which was a British mandate.

The family struggled in Palestine and decided that they had to make another attempt to join David's brothers in the United States. Somehow they made it to Marseilles, France where David could secure only one entry permit. They decided his wife and two children would return to Burshtyn, now part of Poland, and stay with David's father, my great-grandfather, until David could arrange for them to join him in the United States.

In September 1941 Nazi Germany invaded Poland from the west and the Soviet Army invaded from the east. My father's aunt, cousins, and grandfather, along with the other Burshtyners, were trapped in the Soviet zone but remained safe. However in June 1941 Germany declared war on the Soviet Union and in August took control over Jewish regions in Galicia. At this point the family in the United States lost contact with family in Poland. The rest of the story is more general history.

The Nazi occupiers ordered Polish Jews to relocate into ghettos and wear Star-of-David armbands. In December 1941 Germans confiscated fur coats from Jews. In March 1942 the Gestapo allies in the Ukrainian militia started rounding up Jews and shooting them. Thousands died. In October 1942 the Jews of Burshytn were driven into a ghetto in the larger town of Rohatyn, about ten miles north. We assume our family was part of that forced migration. In December 1942 all Jews in the local hospital, about two hundred, along with over a thousand other Jews were sent to the Belzec concentration camp where they died in the gas chamber. We do not know if family members were among this group. In June 1943 the last Jews left in Rohatyn were forced to dig their own graves and then shot to death.

In the United States, families knew their relatives were dead, but the extent of the European Holocaust was so great, and with a war going on, it was impossible to learn any details. After the war that region of Poland became part of the Ukraine and records were unavailable. American survivors placed an obelisk in honor of their dead in the Burshtyner Society plot in a cemetery in Queens, New York.

When talking of the European Holocaust, American Jews swear to "Never Forget." The Trump administration has either forgotten or is choosing to ignore the consequences of United States actions during that period and is pursuing a similar immigration and refugee policy. This is inhumane and unacceptable. I pledge to do all in my power to help reverse this Trumpian human tragedy.

Sincerely,
Alan Singer