I have talked before about how lucky my family was to move to this country in the Twentieth Century. My grandmother fled Nazi Germany in 1938 with my mother, my grandfather and my great-grandmother in tow in October 1938, a mere couple of weeks before Kristallnacht. My grandfather's brother and sister, both married with children, a son each, we're not so fortunate. My great aunts and uncles perished in Concentration camps. Their boys escaped on kindertransports, orphaned in France and the U.S. My grandmother's brother fled to Palestine, then it became Israel, and fought in the Israeli war of independence and eventually moved here with his adolescent sons.
On my dad's side, most of his family came to Kansas City from Poland in the early 1900s. My grandmother grew up in Poland. She and my grandfather married in Palestine and moved to Kansas City to be with the rest of my grandfather's family in 1928. My dad was born in 1929. My grandmother's sister perished in the Warsaw Ghetto, while the others in her family fled to Israel.
Today, my extended family seems to be well settled in America. My relatives worked as maids, in factories, in bars and as janitors. Their grandkids, however are all college-educated responsible citizens. If the FBI was to look at my family today, they would have little concern.
But my family's tale is not so innocent. In the 1930s, my Polish relatives, new in this land, were devastated by the depression. One great-uncle, a Bugsy Siegel-type, began working with the Kansas City mob. From the books I read, he was an enforcer. He was finally caught in a way reminiscent of Al Capone, for income tax evasion. I don't know if he killed anyone in protecting the gambling casinos or what businesses he went into. The case went to the United States Supreme Court and is easible found. His son was incarcerated for many years in Kansas for attempted murder and perhaps rape. As if this wasn't enough shady behavior, during the 1940s, the family sent weapons to Israel and labelled them farm supplies.
On my mother's side, she had a cousin who had the misfortune in the 1950s - 1980s to be gay. He was not accepted by society. In his later years he purchased guns and got sideways with the law. He died in the federal correctional facility in Springfield.
That's not to say all of my relatives are outlaws. The original refugees and their progeny have borne doctors, lawyers, artists, mathematicians, merchants, nurses, grandparents, and some really great, responsible people.
If the present immigration debate was occurring right before our relatives escaped from the Nazis, we'd all be dead. Some of my relatives might today be classified as terrorists, in common 2013 parlance, but we got to stay. The issue of deportation never came up. I am very grateful that politicians and citizens in the 1920s and 1930s and beyond had compassion for the plight of my family and others like them. I shudder to think what would have become of my family if it were not for the kindness of Americans whose families came here long before mine.