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By Andrea Peyser
November 20, 2015
I have in my possession just one photograph of my maternal grandfather. His haunted, brown eyes gaze at me from his youthful-looking, 42-year-old face.
The black-and-white snapshot, now turning yellow at the edges, graces Solomon Staendig’s passport. I’m not sure if he realized this when the document was issued on July 20, 1939, but it would become his salvation, the one thing that ensured his survival.
For this was his passport out of Nazi-annexed Austria.
Sometimes, when I look at his picture, I am both fascinated and repulsed. My sole link to this branch of my past is defiled by a Nazi swastika.
Though he had lived his entire life to that point in Austria, my grandfather was designated a “stateless’’ person after the Germans absorbed the country in the 1938 Anschluss, making it part of the Fatherland. He was not wanted. He had no home.
He was a Jew.
It seems strange to think, all these years later, as I sit in comfort in the United States, that seven decades ago, people in my family died, and lived, through war, deprivation and hatred.
In many ways, my grandpa shared a common cause with the refugees now flooding out of civil war-wracked Syria, toward uncertain futures and a public that wants nothing to do with them.
He also was not at all like at least some of them.
In a decision that would spook him for the rest of his days, Solomon Staendig was allowed by the Nazis to flee to New York in 1939, and planned to arrange passage for his wife, my grandmother.
He thought that the Nazis were just bent on slaughtering men.
He was wrong.
His daughter, my mother, then 15 years old, boarded a luxury Italian cruise ship that year with other members of her Jewish youth group and sailed to Israel, then known as the British Mandate of Palestine.
She was safe.
My grandmother was murdered in a Nazi concentration camp.
I don’t have a picture of her.
My mother next saw her father in the early 1950s, when she arrived in America with her new husband, my father. By then, my grandfather had remarried, settled in The Bronx and toiled, not very successfully, as a jeweler and by selling dresses. He died of a heart attack in 1962 at age 65.
President Obama wants the United States to take in 10,000 refugees fleeing Syria’s civil war. But who are these people?
In a gigantic blow to the president’s policies, in a slap at his squeamishness toward fighting terrorism, members of the US House of Representatives rose up and cried, “Hell no!’’
House members — including 47 Democrats — voted overwhelmingly Thursday for self-preservation. They defied Obama’s promise of a veto, and passed a measure that would prevent people from entering the US from Iraq or Syria until the director of national intelligence, as well as the heads of the FBI and Department of Homeland Security, personally sign off on each application for sanctuary.
This after reports that one of the ISIS butchers, who claimed responsibility for last week’s massacre in Paris, entered Europe by posing as a Syrian refugee.
This after a Bloomberg Politics poll revealed that 53 percent of Americans think the door should be slammed on Syrian refugees.
Somehow, I think my grandpa would have agreed.
He came to live in an America in which many Jewish refugees from Adolf Hitler’s Third Reich were denied entry.
But he didn’t get mad. He didn’t yell. He lived quietly, doting on his surviving relatives and friends. He came to love his adopted home, fiercely. I wish I knew him.
I don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect that this great country will only open its doors to people who do the same.