“People who are free are also free to look away and their willingness to do so never fails to astound me.” Malika Oufkir
I remember reading in a book a few years ago about a town in Germany called Weimar. It is just a few miles up the road from Buchenwald where there was a Nazi concentration camp during WWII. While tens of thousands of people were burned alive in the ovens Buchenwald, life went on pretty much as usual in Weimar. There were picnics, Sunday sermons, and kids going to school.
It’s incomprehensible trying to understand how something like the Holocaust was allowed to happen by the ordinary people in society, and especially by all of the religious folks. While Hitler’s mass distortion of truth has a lot to do with it, there was also evident widespread denial. There are films of Weimar residents who were taken to Buchenwald right after the Nazis were defeated. They were completely shocked and a number fainted.
Maybe during that time, they smelled something in the air as the ovens were burning. But they never investigated what it was. Perhaps they didn’t want to know. Perhaps they could have seen if they wanted. Perhaps they had some questions, suspicions, or a plate already too full, too much to do. Perhaps they were just busy. Perhaps not. Perhaps they didn’t see.
Or perhaps they choose to look away.
Last week, overnight art installations popped up in New York City. These installations depicted mannequin children in cages wrapped in foil blankets. There was audio playing of migrant children crying, and a sign saying #NoKidsInCages. These were put up by the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES), a Texas-based immigration legal services nonprofit.
The NYPD worked quickly to dismantle these art installations, taking chainsaws to them. They were disturbing, inconvenient, and, sure, were installed without permission or permits. Taken down in short order so that people didn’t even have to look away for long. The installations got removed from their line of sight altogether.
News broke this week that migrant children are being moved to a military base that served as a WWII Japanese internment camp. Maybe they need the space, we think. Maybe it’s different this time. I’m sure it’s fine. They wouldn’t do it if they didn’t need to, if it wasn’t ok. Right?
Perhaps we don’t consider it all. Perhaps I look, read the article, then look away. On with my day. This is not mine to fix. I’m not doing anything wrong. This can’t possibly be mine to carry. Anyway, I don’t want to be alarmist.
I look away.
The other day on Twitter I saw a thread that a friend shared and she just wrote “Don’t look away.” These words, they catch me. I’ve spent the last 10 years of my life pushing into what I felt were the hard places, the tough things. I’m not one to look away, or at least I desperately don’t want to be.
I didn’t want to look away so I clicked. I read.
She shares about what a friend who is a legal volunteer at Border Patrol facilities has told her. People arrive at the border, seeking asylum after walking, many of them, hundreds of miles on foot. She shares what happens next.
But first, she implores, “Don’t look away.”
These asylum seekers are transferred to “the dog pound” which are cages, on dirt, with no protection, no running water, no tarps, no beds. There are teen moms and no baby food. Everyone is sick, she writes. Everyone.
“Moms are trying to start breastfeeding again so their children don’t starve. These moms are dehydrated, sick, & have walked miles through the desert with no water. CBP gives them nothing.”
After being kept in the dog pound people are moved to “The Freezer” where the temperature is set at 55 degrees and people stay there for WEEKS without beds, without new clothes.
“From “The Freezer,” refugees are supposed to be moved to ICE facilities that are designed for residential care. They have beds, food, bathrooms.
However, (keep reading) THOSE FACILITIES ARE EMPTY.
ICE IS SHUTTING THEM DOWN.
Don’t look away.”
Instead people (or “bodies” as they’re being called by Border Patrol agents) are moving people to military-run bases and camps where media scrutiny, legal counsel, human rights checks, and advocacy access will be limited even more. She goes on and you can read the rest of the thread by clicking on it above or here.
Human rights violations are already abundant and crimes against humanity are next. It’s here. It’s happening. It’s on our door, the next town away. You can see it on the news, you can smell it in the air.
I want to look away. I do. It’s so easy. I’m scared. But I can’t shake the stench, I can’t close the tabs. I can’t look away.
I’ve contacted my representatives and I’m asking myself what this means, what these times ask of us. What I can do and what I should do.
What is asked of us in times like these? How do we uphold the lives of these brothers and sisters? How do we welcome them?
Those answers are manifold, innumerous, easy to find if you look, though perhaps, certainly not easy.
What was required of the residents of Weimar? What could they have done, what should they have done?
What is asked of us in times like these? What can we do? What should we do?
Whatever that is, whatever happens in the coming days we start with this and we don’t stop here.
Today, tomorrow, until all is made right:
Don’t look away.
Don’t look away.
Don’t look away.