Another German Lesson We Should Think About in the Wake of Trump’s Attack on DACA

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tags: Hitler, Trump, DACA



Richard E. Frankel, Associate Professor of Modern German History at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, is the author of Bismarck's Shadow: The Cult of Leadership and the Transformation of the German Right, 1898-1945.


When Hitler came to power in 1933 and began making clear the boundaries of his German national community, he set in motion one of the greatest migrations of talent in human history. Just a few examples should serve to give a sense of the scope of what Germany lost: Nobel Prize winning scientists like Albert Einstein and Max Born; film talents such as Billy Wilder, Fritz Lang, and Peter Lorre; intellectuals like Hannah Arendt and Herbert Marcuse; architects like Walter Gropius and Mies van der Rohe. And since the focus of President Trump’s decision on DACA is children, there’s one example that is close to my heart as a German historian, and that is Fritz Stern, whose family left Germany for America when he was a child. He grew up to be one of the giants of German historical scholarship in this country and a true public intellectual. All of this and so much more was lost to Germany while at the same time these exiles enriched their new homeland beyond measure. This is, of course, a story that’s been told many times. But there’s another aspect of Hitler’s efforts at exclusion that I don’t believe is discussed as often.

In order to realize his goal of a pure German national community, the main group that had to be excluded was the Jews. The people mentioned above were able to leave Germany because Hitler had not yet settled on mass murder as his ‘Final Solution to the Jewish Question.’ Once he did make that decision, he deprived the world of six million Jews. How many of those people still had contributions to make? But as immense a tragedy as that was, there is something even more heartbreaking still, and that is the fact that, among the six million murdered Jews, approximately one million were children. One million lives yet to realize even a fraction of their potential, starved to death in a ghetto, or snuffed out by a bullet, or asphyxiated by gas. These children came from all over Europe. Their futures were denied not only to Germany. They were lost to France and Belgium and Holland and Italy and Poland and Hungary and the rest of Europe. And putting aside for a moment the potential contributions of these future scientists, musicians, artists, doctors, teachers, engineers—on the very personal level, think of all the joy, all the love these children would have given to family and friends and others in the decades to come.

While Donald Trump has not even begun to build his “big, beautiful wall” on the US-Mexican border, he has already made significant progress in constructing another wall, though this one is not made of cement or brick. The wall Trump has been successfully building is the one that divides his America from all those he believes do not belong. Inside the wall are his white Christian supporters. Beyond the wall are all the rest: people with darker skin, with different languages, different religions, different sexual orientations and gender identities, different ideas.

Now, thanks to his decision to end the DACA program, Donald Trump sent still more people beyond the wall, in this case, some 800,000 Latinos who were brought to this country as children of undocumented immigrants. That’s 800,000 young people with a lifetime ahead of them. Who knows what they’ll do in the years to come? What kinds of wonderful contributions would they make to this country if allowed to remain? Unfortunately, in Donald Trump’s America, we’ll apparently never know.

As of now, we can’t say for certain what will happen to the hundreds of thousands of children who might soon be subject to deportation. Perhaps Congress will step forward and do the right thing and protect these young Latinos who are guilty of no crime whatsoever. Unfortunately, its recent track record is not one that inspires a great deal of confidence. Trump indicated in a tweet that he may act to help preserve the program if Congress fails to take action, but no one knows if he means it or what form the program would take. If the Dreamers do end up being forced out, the President will have come that much closer to creating his ideal national community. He might count that as a victory. For all of us on the other side of his wall, thinking about all that these young people have yet to offer, Trump’s decision is nothing but an enormous loss for our America.



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