My Day by Eleanor Roosevelt

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NEW YORK, Sunday—Now that World War II is over, there are situations brought about by that upheaval which in some cases, I believe, should have almost individual attention. The war dislocated many people, drove them out of their country and their homes, and separated families. The international refugee organization, when it was winding up its work, tried to settle as many people as could be removed from Europe to countries where they could begin new lives and earn a living.

But there remained in Europe a residue of people who could not leave. They were either old or ill or one member of the family did not feel he could desert the others. In many cases, for example, an old man who could have left refused to desert his elderly wife, or vice versa. Sometimes a child was left in care of grandparents so that the younger people could start a new life more easily.

These people who remained behind were not left in very happy circumstances. I have a letter from someone who has just been visiting camps in Austria. He writes me: "It is the dividing of refugee families which has upset me most. In the DP old people's home in Hellbrun, in Salzburg, I met an old lady of 68 or 69 who has two children, married, in the United States. These children came to America as refugees after 1943, but the mother was considered too old. She has lost during the war everything she had--husband, house and the rest of the family--but fortunately her two children survived. Now she cannot see them. The children are more than prepared to give her all she needs--she will never become a public charge! Our U.S. authorities take the view that it is much better for her to stay where she is. I wonder in similar circumstances whether we would feel not only that we would be a burden on our children, but that we were better off in an old people's home."

This correspondent tells me another story: "In Camp Asten, near Linz, in Austria, I found a man about 45 with his wife and six children, and his 82-year-old, vital, vigorous mother. This family was accepted for immigration both by the United States and Brazil on condition that the old mother would stay behind." Rather bitterly, the man remarked to my correspondent that he wondered what the people who made that stipulation were thinking about. All that he has, the fact that he is alive, he owes to his mother, and so he feels that if she has to stay and suffer, all of them must stay and suffer with her.

My correspondent feels that this dividing up of families artificially against their will is almost a crime, that it is against natural, human feelings and therefore against human rights. I know the reasons which have prompted the rules under which we now allow people to enter our country or refuse them. But the war has been over some years, and it seems to me the time has come to reconsider certain policies. We should perhaps take a look at individual cases and make our decisions, case by case, with due consideration of people as people, all having similar human feelings, no matter what their background or nationality or race or creed.

E.R.
PNews, NSJ, 20 January 1953