We can’t be silent on family separation

By David Fuks

My country is locking up immigrant children to protect me. It’s not working. I don’t feel safer.

Hundreds of children locked in cages with inadequate beds, poor hygiene and no adult caregivers is traumatizing for them and for us. Some children are dying. All of them are being emotionally scarred in ways from which they may never recover. That this is being done to protect those of us who are citizens makes all of us responsible for this atrocity. We cannot be silent.

U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio Cortez calls this concentration camps. So does Charles Blow, of the New York Times. U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney takes offense. So do some whose parents were Holocaust survivors.

My parents were also Holocaust survivors. They were slaves for five years. My father was in Buchenwald in Germany. His first wife and daughter were murdered in Auschwitz.  My mother was in Oberalstadt in what was then Czechoslovakia. My parents were interred because they were Jews and Jews were treated as though they were less than human. Jews were to be locked away and enslaved and ultimately killed.

But this cruelty was built on years of effort … the taking away of human rights … the expression of big lies about who Jews are … the expression of autocratic leaders that stirred up fear and hatred … the silence of good people in the face of evil. Anti-Semitism is growing across the world as autocracy is spreading today.

I don’t know if this internment effort to protect the likes of me can be called concentration camps. But, I am certain it is child abuse at a scale and level that is unconscionable. I am less worried about conflation over what we call interment than I am with the lack of common decency that should be at the heart of being an American.

My family came to the USA as refugees. I was born in Detroit and moved west as a young man. I was taught to love this country and to be grateful to those who fought for freedom and my own family’s deliverance. I would not exist had they not done so. But, like lots of kids from Detroit, I learned to speak up and fight back. My love for our country will not allow me to be silent.

The policy of family separation, of incarceration of young children diminishes this country. It harms the children and families who are fleeing from hunger and oppression. It harms the border agents who are doing a job beyond their capacity. It harms the reputation of the country that for me has always been a beacon of freedom.

As a child of survivors, I speak and teach about my family’s history. I focus at the end of my talks on four questions:

What happens when a country has too much power and too little ethics?

What happens to a people with ethics but no power?

How can a country make amends when it has done wrong?

How can the people who have been wronged find a way to heal?

We Americans must face these questions and struggle to seek the answers.


David Fuks served as CEO of Cedar Sinai Park for 18 years before he retired. He now keeps busy acting, writing and volunteering as an archival interviewer and Holocaust Education Speaker at the Oregon Jewish Museum and Center for Holocaust Education.


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