Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Why I hate walls. It is personal.

A version of this was published in the Sky Hi News on line edition Jan.22, 2019

I spent my junior year , 1958-59 in Berlin before the detested Wall was built.  Berlin in that post World War II period was an island of freedom surrounded by Soviet controlled East Germany.  What I have learned is  no wall dividing nations and people from each other will imprison the human spirit . Walls have   become symbols, more powerful than their physical being.  . Such walls  can be a representation of the sinister reasons  that cause them to be built so  they become the symbol of oppression or  of hatred.

 The Berlin Wall  was an atrocity, a knife cutting in two a Berlin I loved for its free and open  spirit where two worlds met and mingled.  Between the end of World War II and the Wall, the Berlin I knew was also the exit for refugees from the Soviet sector. Like the country, the city  was divided into sectors controlled by the victorious forces who destroyed the Nazis. The Wall   was built in 1961 by their Soviet sector  puppets to stop the brain drain from East Germany as the educated middle class and professionals  fled the oppressive regime.  My husband to be  from Communist Yugoslavia , who I met in Berlin, left Berlin in 1959 and finished his medical education in Switzerland as a refugee  to avoid  communists when he feared being forced to return to his home country . The word  refugee has  a special meaning to me. 

The Berlin Wall  became the symbol of Soviet oppression and it  inspired JFK to express his oneness with those left in the western zones with the famous speech there, proclaiming in German“ I am a Berliner” .  Toward the end of the Soviet era, it was Ronald Reagan demanding “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall” 
After the Wall was erected those who escaped had many routes, tunnels, a trip through Czechoslovakia and then through a more porous neighboring countries. In fact, one of the most famous tunnels was Tunnel 57 built by enterprising students under the Berlin Wall .  Over 145 would be refugees died trying to go over the wall, shot by the East German police and Soviets, but an estimated 5000 breached it.  

The Berlin Wall was built to keep people in. Another Wall is proposed to keep people out and the symbol it has become is more powerfully divisive  than its physical ability to keep desperate refugees  from Central American violence from seeking refuge.  Do not accuse me or  Democrats for supporting open borders. We do need to be able to control who can enter our country, but we need a way to separate humanely refugees  who have an internationally recognized human  right to claim asylum from those who do not.  A wall is only a small part of that solution and given modern technology, not the most effective one, either . Even last week seven tunnels were discovered under existing walls  . Loathing of immigrants  and “others” was what set Donald Trump apart from the rest of the GOP field of candidates and he struck a chord with a large segment of that party. For those who do not share their dislike of immigrants, giving in to his demands to build the wall is giving in to his gut felt  dislike  of  immigrants, a sentiment  he extolls,  generalizing them as murderers, rapists, and terrorists, fact checking proving otherwise not withstanding. The Great  Wall of Trump  is the symbol of an anti refugee sentiment to which I object  because of my life’s experience. 

Footnote: After posting this blog, Joy Reid on MSNBC shed light on Martin Luther King Jr's visit to the Berlin Wall in 1964 and his sermons there:  He, too, saw the symbolic importance of walls:
"...Clayborne Carson, and Director of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Research and Education Institute. But in Berlin, “It was a big deal. It was major. In fact some people compared it to Kennedy’s visit to Berlin.”
Carson points out that the message King preached to those Berliners who were so moved was not a new one. In a 1953 sermon, for example, he’d urged the audience to “transcend the narrow confines of nationalism.” The Berlin Wall was a vivid and literal example of those confines, but the world was full of metaphorical walls and King had long advocated for tearing them down."

It is estimated 5000 breached the Berlin Wall.

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