Tuesday, November 17, 2015

"Because I Have Been Given Much": Why We Don't Have to Repeat 1939

With the recent terrorist attacks in Beruit and Paris (among other places), I was among many who watched, listened, and read in horror and heartache for those who have lost their loved ones. Social media erupted with images and videos expressing love and support for those who were hurting. Moments of silence and candlelight vigils were planned across the country, and many wanted to know what they could do to help.

It didn't take long, however, for the shock to devolve into fear. Within days, if not hours, the tragedies were turned into opportunities for political activism

Instead of hearing, "We love you," I began to hear, "Leave us alone." 

States across the country started (illegally) declaring that they would close their borders to Syrian refugees. "What if there's an ISIS operative among the refugees?" "You want those people here?!" "We can't afford to take care of anyone!" 


This past Sunday, I sat in sacrament meeting and sang, "Because I Have Been Given Much." The words of the song has reverberated in my ears throughout the week as I've watched the vitriolic and fear-filled reactions: 

Because I have been given much,
I, too, must give.

Because of thy great bounty, Lord,

Each day I live
I shall divide gifts from thee
With every brother that see
Who has the need of help from me.

Because I have been sheltered, fed,

By thy good care.

I cannot see another’s lack and I not share.
My glowing fire, my loaf of bread,
my roof, safe shelter overhead
That he too may be comforted.

Because I have been blessed by

thy great love dear Lord,

I’ll share thy love again
According to thy word.
I shall give love to those in need.
I’ll show that love by word and deed.
Thus shall my thanks be thanks indeed

Few in America would argue that we are not among the luckiest in the world. The majority of those who read this will have clothes on our back, food in our fridge, and a roof over our heads. The mere fact that you can read this means that you have more opportunities available to you than nearly 3 billion people. 

Our lives are undoubtedly difficult, but in the grand scheme of things, we have been given much. And so we, too, must give. 


In the Spring 1939, the SS St. Louis left from Germany carrying 937 passengers, the vast majority of which were Jews escaping Hitler's Nazi Germany. The previous fall, the German government began to force Jews out of the country, knowing the anti-Semitic and xenophobic attitudes of other countries. After Cuba rejected them, the St. Louis turned toward Miami. We turned them away.

By the time Germany had conquered Western Europe one year later, more than half of the passengers were once again under control of the Nazi regime. Just over half of those survived the Holocaust; 27% of the original manifest did not. 

We did not know what the Jews were escaping in 1939. We know what the Syrian refugees are escaping now. 


My dad once asked me when I was a kid, "If you could meet anyone who ever lived, who would it be?" 

I didn't care about meeting celebrities or famous figures in American History. If I was going to meet someone, I wanted to learn something to make the world a better place. I thought of all that I had heard and read, all that I wanted to prevent.

"I want to meet Hitler."

My dad was undoubtedly shocked, but my reason was simple: I couldn't understand him. I couldn't understand how anyone could ever hate so purely, could ever cause the kind of torment and pain that he did. I wanted to see how he manipulated people, convincing them to do what he told them to. And I wanted to prevent that from ever happening again. 

It's happening again. 

ISIS is a terrible threat, and those who have been living with the nightmare that they have brought are desperately trying to escape. We have the opportunity to learn from our mistakes. We have the opportunity say, "Wait! We'll help you escape!" We have the opportunity to apologize for the lives that were lost in 1939 when we callously turned away those who were desperate for help. 

ISIS, like Hitler did, relies on our fears. They are relying on us to do their dirty work for them. They want us to turn them away. 

I am not saying that accepting refugees is going to be easy, but I cannot say that it won't be worth it. Every life is worth it. The leaders of the LDS Church issued a letter encouraging members to assist the refugees, and I would gladly open my home to those who are seeking refuge. 

I believe in the words that are carved into our Statue of Liberty: by the grace of God, please bring me your huddled masses. 

We have been given much, so we, too, must give.

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