I Can’t Remain Silent
By Jill Jenkins
As an educator the fate of children is a responsibility I have always taken seriously. During the past week the images of children snatched from their parents arms and incarcerated in cages and finally internment camps across the nation without the parents sickens and angers me. Even though Donald Trump has provided some reprieve by signing his order, a grandmother who crossed legally with her granddaughter she is raising was separated because she was not the girl’s mother. The cruelty to parents and more importantly children has left me speechless, but no more. I cannot sit immobilized in disbelief. I cannot remain silent and neither should other teachers across the nation.
Since historically, the holocaust offers us an opportunity to see how separating children from their parents impacts them. I think many of us know people who were in hiding or in concentration camps during World War II. Some of us know people who were interned in camps like Topaz also. Internment of any kind causes Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome in children, but especially those separated from their parents. For example, my first husband’s family migrated to the United States from Holland where both of his parents had been hidden during World War II. His mother, Elly, was hidden separate from her parents. After her father was sent to a concentration camp and the family had been picked up by the Gestapo a couple of times, questioned and released, her mother gave both of her daughters: Elly, ten years old, and Rachel, four years old to the resistance. Elly and her sister, Rachel were hidden separately; as a result, for five years Elly never saw her mother or sister. One dark night a stranger escorted ten-year old Elly to train. At the train station she met another stranger who escorted her to house. It wasn’t until Elly was in her mid-sixties that she was able to remember that at the first house, she was hidden with a four-year old girl, the same age of her sister. Both girls cowered in fear as they heard the Nazi going house to house rounding up Jews and shooting. In terror, the four-year old dashed from the house. When Elly heard the Germans shouting, the child’s screams and the blast of rifle fire, she knew the girl’s fate. The psychological pain caused from being separated from her family and terror of the events she suffered affected her forever. Elly had difficulty flying because the sound of engine before take-off reminded her of her time in hiding traveling from one safe-house to another. As a nurse, she was often picked up by the Maryland National Guard and driven to work during ice storms; the uniforms and trucks brought back memories of the Gestapo picking up her family and led to panic attacks. After five years of hiding, Elly then 15 didn’t recognize her mother. In a great sense, the period of separation resulted in a loss of bonding that was difficult to recreate. Her cousin, Jeannette, who had been in hiding on a farm during the war told me even the sight of the uniforms and high boots of Utah Highway Patrol Motorcycle Police gave her heart palpitations and difficulty breathing.
My former husband’s father, Louis, was in hiding with his parents in the beginning. The family hid behind a fake wall whenever visitors came. During the high holidays, Louis father was allowed to listen to services on the radio. On Yon Kippur, there was a loud banging on the door and loud voices yelling in German, Louis and his mother hurried to the hidden wall, but his father was too far away to reach the wall and jumped through a window and ran. Louis and his mother listened in horror as a German Shepherd Dog attacked his father who had jumped a fence into a neighbor’s yard. When I was helping Louis compile his memoirs, his wife told me that each time he recalled his childhood; he had terrible nightmares and would awaken sweating and screaming. The horror of being forcibly separated from a parent or the result of ruse is heard in the recorded sounds of the children weeping and calling for their parents in the detention camps. The United States, a nation built on the idea of the value of each individual is inflicting the same long-term pain on innocent children crossing the border.
The psychological effects can negatively affect the choices and behavior of these children. In Jerzy Kosinski’s semi-autobiographical book, The Painted Bird, the children who are recovering from both their time in hiding and the horrors of the concentration camps, turn to violence and derail a train because they are filled with such wrath. Although the current administration wrongly believes that all illegally migrating people are members of dangerous gangs, he maybe leading these children into the hands of modern-day Fagins. Children join gangs because they feel unsafe and the gangs offer them protection. Children join gangs to fulfill a need to belong. Children join gangs to replace a family they have lost. Children who have been separated from families feel vulnerable and they will not lose the lost security. Children who have been separated from families feel alienated and alone and that loneliness will not be dissipated over time. Children who have been separated from families will forever feel their families can be snatched away. That insecurity can lead children to the violence of gangs. They will be angry and the younger they are during that separation the less ability they will have to express that anger.
Experts have innumerate the many physical illness these children will be susceptible to, but as educators we have seen what psychological abuse does to children. We are a country of due process. These children are not being given due process. People will say that these children are dangerous and the government is looking after our safety, but I know that is not true. The number of students who I have taught coming from these country have been amazing students. Victor whose arms were burned off as his family threw him from a window of an apartment building while escaping a coupe in Columbia. Abel who was the brightest member of my debate team was seeking political asylum from a country in Central America. All of my refugee students have struggled through horrible ordeals to come to America, but when they arrived they were bright, students who were polite with a strong work ethic. Just the kind of people America was built by. Stop the madness. Children are not political pawns. They should never be treated cruelly and suffer such irreparable damage. We should no longer be silent. We must speak for the children.