NEW YORK – I owe my life to the readiness of the British authorities to accept me as an infant refugee from Nazi Germany. My parents and I got out of Berlin in August 1939, just before the start of the war, to join my ten-year-old sister Esther, who had, along with about 10,000 other children, gone to England months earlier in what is known as the Kindertransport.
What the British did for us, the extraordinary generosity they showed refugees like me during those difficult war years, stood out. Indeed, the eight years I spent in England as a child made me a lifelong Anglophile, not to mention a proponent of kindness and magnanimity for those fleeing persecution. Disappointingly, the spirit manifested by Britons in that era has not been reflected in the policies of British Prime Minister David Cameron – or those of many of his European counterparts.
So far, the United Kingdom has accepted only a relatively small number of refugees from the Middle East. Only since he began to feel pressure from the British public – who have been deeply affected by images of those fleeing persecution, especially the photo of the lifeless body of Aylan Kurdi, a three-year-old Syrian boy, washed up on a beach – has Cameron’s stance begun to change. Still, the UK and other European countries must do much more to protect the desperate refugees seeking safe haven.
To be sure, some countries – namely, Sweden, Germany, and Switzerland – have responded to the influx by upholding humane values. German Chancellor Angela Merkel, in her customary prudent and deliberate manner, has emerged as the most effective champion of those values, making it clearer than ever before that demonstrating respect and dignity for all is a core principle of the European Union. And European interior ministers have finally agreed to a plan to relocate 120,000 migrants across the EU over the next two years, with each country meeting an imposed quota.