By Sam Wolf

In the midst of the Administration’s continued attacks on refugees and asylum seekers, I feel compelled to speak out. Let me tell you why.

On April 15, 1940, my great grandparents — Ferenc Rakos and Aranka Neufeld — arrived in New York on the USS Manhattan. It was a long journey from their native Hungary, but they knew they had to leave because the Nazis would soon invade their homeland (Aranka’s half sister would later go to Auschwitz and thankfully survive).

Getting to the U.S. was no easy task though. Due to rampant anti-Semitism at the time, U.S. officials made blatant attempts to stifle Jewish refugees from entering the country. Between 1933 and 1945, only about 132,000 Jews were allowed to immigrate to the U.S. The USS Manhattan was one of the last ships with immigrants aboard to be allowed into the U.S. during World War II.

My great-grandparents, who actually met on the Manhattan, were two of the lucky few who gained entry. Ferenc went to Detroit where he made contact lenses. They would later reconnect and get married. Soon, my grandmother was born. She went on to become a computer programmer dealing with technology in hospitals.

The rest of my great grandparents and great-great grandparents came to this country to escape the pogroms in Russia. My great-grandfather, Granum, would eventually land in Los Angeles (via Omaha) to start a liquor store chain called Vendome Liquor, which still exists today.

So as I witness the current situation at our southern border, I am stricken with great pain and grief. The people who are fleeing gang violence from Latin America or war in the Middle East bear many similarities to my ancestors. They too are facing hostility from the U.S. as they attempt to escape violence in pursuit of a better life for them and their children.

Many public officials are currently using hostility toward immigrants to boost their political capital. This fear mongering mirrors that of the 1930s and 40s when many Americans feared Jewish migration because they believed Jews were spies or Nazis sent to infiltrate our government. That fear resulted in many refugees not being able to reach America, left to suffer in their home countries. Now we find ourselves repeating history all over again.

It is my solemn hope that we as Jews, and Americans, will learn from the past, and not send these refugees back to the terrors they are attempting to escape. Given my family’s history alone, I believe we must allow them come into America and provide them the opportunity to create a better life for themselves and their children. It was the right thing to do back then. And it’s the right thing to do now.

Sam Wolf is a sophomore at Beverly Hills High School and a teen fellow at the Jewish Center for Justice.


Ancestry Ferenc Passenger List

Ancestry Aranka Passenger List