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Would History Repeat Itself?

by Greg Siskind

Every once in a while a historical event is back in the news and it reminds you how our world today is still shaped by the past and how the same mistakes are repeated over and over again.

The Associated Press and other news outlets reported on recently discovered letters from Otto Frank, the father of Anne Frank, the teenage diarist whose story of hiding during the Holocaust is one of world’s most widely read works of literature. The letters tell of Mr. Frank’s unsuccessful efforts to secure a visa to bring his family to the United States. As the situation got worse in Europe for Jews, the US made it tougher and tougher to get a visa.

This may be a previously unknown part of the story of Anne Frank and her family, but there are, sadly, many other examples where the US slammed its doors to those fleeing Hitler’s death machine. One of the most prominent examples involved the SS St. Louis, a ship that sailed from Europe to Cuba with Jewish refugees who had secured visas to Cuba . When they reached Cuba , their visas were not honored. The ship then sailed for Miami and were again denied refuge once they reached Florida . The ship eventually took the 900+ passengers back to Europe where sizeable number of the passengers perished in concentration camps.

There were Americans who did the right thing. Diplomat Hiram Bingham was recently honored on a postage stamp. The little-known State Department official saved about 2,000 lives by bucking procedures and issuing visas to people not technically eligible, but who faced imminent death. ( And there are examples of various religious communities in the US banding together to try act. One example can be found with the Unitarians (

After the war, the US and the rest of the world was shamed into signing the UN Convention on Refugees. America has accepted refugees for the last half century, though there are indications that perhaps the US has lost its way. Just this past week, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom issued a scathing report card on the US asylum system. ( Sadly, in the last twenty years, the US asylum and refugee system has steadily become more and more restrictive.

Can we honestly say anymore that the US would act differently if history was repeating itself?

About The Author

Gregory Siskind, Esq. is a partner in Siskind Susser's Memphis, Tennessee, office. After graduating magna cum laude from Vanderbilt University, he received his Juris Doctorate from the University of Chicago. Mr. Siskind is a member of AILA, a board member of the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, and a member of the ABA, where he serves on the LPM Publishing Board as Marketing Vice Chairman. He is the author of several books, including the J Visa Guidebook and The Lawyer's Guide to Marketing on the Internet. Mr. Siskind practices all areas of immigration law, specializing in immigration matters of the health care and technology industries. He can be reached by email at

The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the opinion of ILW.COM.