Edith Lichtenstein Morgan picked a good time to return to Minnesota. The Massachusetts woman is in the state this week to talk about her experience escaping from the Nazis and emigrating to the United States, drawing parallels with today's immigrants. She's on her way to St. Cloud this afternoon, a city that -- for whatever reason -- is gaining a reputation for intolerance.
"I get concerned when there's talk about rounding up people and when there's talk about any kind of war... but I think a lot of the American public is concerned when the subject is immigration. We almost didn't get in because the country had very strict quotas, and the Jewish quota was filled when we tried to get," she told me today. "The public goes hysterical whenever anything happens and looks for some group to blame, and I think we're approaching another one of those hysterical periods."
Which group will it be? "It looks like it's going to be Muslims or Middle Eastern groups, Syrians and Egyptians and Pakistanis. Most Americans, I don't think, can tell the difference," she said.
The recent problems in St. Cloud are not limited to that city or Minnesota, she points out. "In Massachusetts we've had several recent cases of desecration of synagogues and I'm not always sure whether it's just a bunch of (kids) looking for attention or whether it's skinheads or something worse, although it doesn't get much worse than them," she said. "I'm concerned about the militias and what appears to be a growing violence that has been sort of generalized but is probably going to focus in the near future unless we can do something to stop it."
Mrs. Morgan's "something" is telling her story, to draw a parallel between history and current events.
"My father was a federal judge and Jewish, which was a double-whammy because he was also progressive," she said. "They fought the Nazis every way they could but by January 1933, they put my father under house arrest and when he wouldn't stay home, they imprisoned him. When my brother was born, they allowed him out for just a few days, but we took a train to the Black Forest, but got off on the Swiss border. But we couldn't stay there. We were resettled in Paris, lived there for three years before the Germans followed us there. We got mixed in with the retreating French army. Finally, the armistice was declared and a small slice of France was left free, but it was only a matter of time before they got us so we had to leave there. They got my grandmother, and they got my mother's sister; my grandmother died in a cattle car."
Her family eventually made it to the U.S., thanks to a Swiss family "who gave us their life savings," and American Quakers, who sent the Lichtensteins to the Scattergood Hostel near Iowa City. Her father found work at Macalester College in St. Paul.
Only recently has Edith Lichtenstein Morgan started telling her story. "I'm not sure why," she said. "I married a Midwest American and it didn't come up that much. I probably wasn't ready to deal with a lot of that stuff so I didn't talk about it that much."
Her tour through Minnesota this week is sponsored by the TRACES Center for History and Culture, which "gathers, preserves and presents stories of Midwesterners' encounters with Germans or Austrians between 1933 and 1948. Out of that legacy, it documents the effects of hatred and war, and explores alternatives to intolerance and armed conflict. Above all, it offers educational outreach."
Edith Lichtenstein Morgan will be a guest on MPR's Morning Edition on Friday.
· The reason for her visit. (Listen)
· Her path from Nazi Germany (Listen)
· Why she's telling her story. (Listen)