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Never Forget: We’ve Been Here Before
Sybill was the second of two daughters born to Walter, a merchant, and his wife Margarete, in the south of Poland in 1931. Poland had been entrenched in one sort of political skirmish or another for most of Sybill’s young life. But in the fall of 1938, the racial hatred that the Third Reich was cultivating towards the Jewish people of Europe had begun to pour across Germany’s borders and into Poland.
Sybill’s father, Walter, was a smart man. Seeing the signs of the times, he purchased tickets for his family to board a ship bound for Cuba. They would be safe there until visas came through for the United States. His instincts were right. Within four months, Germany would invade Poland.
Sybill’s family got out just in time. But after a two-week journey, the ship and almost all of its passengers were refused entry into Cuba. Some of the passengers appealed to U.S. president Franklin D. Roosevelt. The State Department responded, saying that they should “await their turns on the waiting list.” Passengers appealed to Canada, but they also denied the passengers entry.
After ten days of asking for entry, the ship sailed back to Europe. The passengers were admitted into Great Britain, Belgium, France, and Holland–where Sybill and her family ended up. Within a year, Germany invaded Holland. Sybill’s family was placed in the Westerbork internment camp in Drenthe before being moved to the Theresienstadt ghetto. By 1944, Sybill and her parents were transported to Auschwitz. It is not known what happened to her sister.
Sybill’s father was killed on September 30, 1944. One week later, on October 6, Sybill and her mother were murdered in a gas chamber. She was twelve years old. That’s three years younger than Anne Frank was when she died.
Her name was Sybill, but today, it could be Fatima, Maryam, Zahra or Hya.
This week’s ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court upholds the president’s policy of refusing entry to people from five countries with Muslim majorities. It is a discriminatory policy rooted in fear, and that fear is already having devastating consequences. It separates families. It denies opportunities. And it costs lives.
Policies like this, implemented in the name of national security, are rooted in the same faulty reasoning that murdered Sybill, her sister, and her parents. Rabbi Jonah Dov Pesner, Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, pointed this out. “As Jews, we remember the consequences of being turned away from America’s shores,” he stated, “and we recall those who perished at the hands of bigoted policy.
We are reminded by those who survived the Holocaust to never forget, echoing the frequent calls that we hear in Scripture, calls to remember. We cannot forget Sybill. We cannot forget how the hatred, and the apathy, of others led to her death. And beyond that, we can honor Sybill’s memory by advocating for those in similar circumstances. We can honor her by living faithfully in relationship to God and to one another, with courage and not fear.
You can read the stories of some of people being impacted by the U.S. travel ban policy here: https://www.aclu.org/issues/immigrants-rights/living-muslim-ban