Questions for discussion:
How does Daniel Victor’s article compare responses to Jewish refugees in the 1930s with responses to Syrian refugees today? What are some of the key similarities and differences? How do ideas about race and religion shape attitudes to refugees in each example? What other factors play a role?
How does the film clip from “Defying the Nazis” connect to Mr. Victor’s article? How does it extend your thinking about the lives of refugees and the fears, hopes and challenges they have experienced? How does it add to your understanding of United States’ policies and attitudes toward refugees in the 1930s?
The historian Peter Shulman, interviewed in the article, argued that there are “enough similarities between Jewish refugees in the 1930s and Syrian refugees today to draw a ‘moral connection’ between the two situations.” Do you agree with Mr. Shulman? Why or why not? If yes, how would you describe this “moral connection?”
What dilemmas did Martha and Waitstill Sharp face in their decision to leave home and help refugees in Europe? What risks did they take? What do you think motivated them to make a choice to help refugees when that was so at odds with American public opinion and national policy?
Many who connect the refugee crisis of the 1930s to the plight of Syrian refugees today emphasize the failure of the United States and other countries to help. The Sharps’s story, in contrast, is about a small group of private citizens banding together to aid refugees. Is their history relevant to the current refugee crisis? How might a story of people who chose to help then inform decision-making about the refugee crisis today?
Samantha Power argues in favor of learning the “lessons of history.” In one New York Times article, a Human Rights Watch staff member argued, “We all say we have learned the lessons of history, but to be turning away these desperate people who are fleeing a horrific situation suggests that we haven’t learned the lessons at all.” What are the potential benefits of looking for “lessons” in history? What might be some of the challenges or drawbacks? Why is it so difficult to learn and apply the “lessons of history?”
The two images below were placed side by side atop a newspaper column written by Nicholas Kristoff of The New York Times with the caption "Anne Frank, left. At right, Rouwaida Hanoun, a Syrian 5-year-old who was wounded during an airstrike on Aleppo last week." What do you think Kristoff was hoping to communicate by placing these two images side by side? Do you agree with the newspaper's decision to publish them together? Why or why not?
What concerns does Donald Trump have about letting in refugees from predominantly Muslim countries today? How are these concerns like – and unlike – the concerns felt by Americans in the 1930s and 1940s about Jewish refugees seeking to enter the United States?