My Turn: Our crimes against humanity will long haunt us

  • German Chancellor Adolf Hitler (center) talks with German officers somewhere in Germany on April 18, 1944. AP

For the Monitor
Published: 9/7/2019 8:00:07 AM

I was born in Germany in 1948, after World War II ended. I’ve had to live my whole life with the stigma of responsibility for crimes against humanity committed by my country.

Part of my family is German, the other part Belgian. I remember being the target of insults on the street in Belgium because my father’s American car had German plates. It took my cousins in Belgium a long time to accept my sister and me because of the stories they heard in school about the “bad Germans.”

In my professional career in international hotel management (working for the greatest American international hotel company, Inter-Continental Hotels, owned by Pan Am), I was confronted with the guilt for these crimes on all my business trips around the world, especially in France, England and the United States. I always had to defend myself with “I was born after all that had happened.” However, inside, I did feel guilty for the sins of my country, and eventually I immigrated to the United States and became an American citizen.

Today, I live in an America, which once again is beginning to operate detention centers that resemble the concentration camps, where men, women and especially children of a particular ethnicity are treated in unbelievably inhumane ways. No space to lie down to sleep, no sanitary equipment, children taken from their parents – just because these people dared to ask us for asylum, a promise our country signed onto years ago with the rest of the free world.

Today, we have an authoritarian president who lies whenever he opens his mouth, implements policies that make his citizens poorer and less free, insults almost any group of human beings besides his own male white race, covers up for Russia, enriches himself and his family by steering government business to his own properties, and has wiggled out of paying what he owed to his workers by declaring bankruptcy several times.

If any of us had committed a fraction of the deceits he commits daily, it’s likely we ordinary people would be in prison. But he seems to be above the law.

We have a vice president who doesn’t want to spend time alone in a room with “the devil, any women” yet openly condones the president’s despicable misbehavior. These, our leaders, have surrounded themselves with minions who are just out for themselves, and they are hurting the very people who voted them into office.

Look at the current Republican politicians who support blindly the lying and corrupt president and his goons, people who are just out for their own gain, and judges (mostly white men) who will fight against women’s rights – these men who should not even be involved with a woman’s right of choice because it should be just that, a woman’s right.

Evangelicals, and some other people who call themselves Christians, stand silent and support inhumane treatment of people and agree that children who are in our country on a visa to receive medical treatment can be kicked out of the country with a 30-day notice.

All of this looks to me so much like the rise of that authoritarian regime, before I was born. The ramifications for us will persist for decades.

Is this the country we are proud to call our own, this new America? Are “we the people” agreeing with or at least acquiescing to these new policies? If so, then we are also guilty, all of us, along with our children and their children. We will be judged harshly, just as I and generations of other young Germans have been accused for the sins of our forefathers.

Do we really wish this curse upon our kids?

(Pecco Beaufays lives in Andover.)

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