Liane Rief was a classmate of mine at Barnard College for Women from 1952 until 1956. We were Chemistry majors and although there were not many of us, I did not get to know her personally. I remember her as being quiet and industrious. It was not until decades after graduation, sitting next to her at dinner at an alumnae weekend, that I learned that she had been a passenger on the St. Louis, the ship full of Jewish refugees fleeing Hitler in 1939 that had been refused entry into the United States. I was surprised not to have known before, but have come since to understand that survivors of the Holocaust were often reticent to talk about their experience, both because it was so terrible to remember and also because remembering brought with it memories of those who did not survive.
In recent years, reading more about the politics of those terrible years, I discovered that President Franklin Roosevelt was persuaded by his aides not to allow the ship to dock because it would “label him as a Jew-lover and cost him the next election.” That was another moment of rude and sad political awakening for me.
Today I phoned the offices of my senators and congressman to register my opposition to the sudden and unwarranted closing of borders to refugees from particular countries. If the voice mail is full, you can email your comments. And, I signed this petition from T’ruah.
I hope you make your voice heard too.