About Refugees

Like everyone, I’ve viewed videos of the horrible scenes at the airport in Kabul, Afghanistan. Was there no way to avoid this calamity as the Western forces withdraw and the Taliban re-establishes its sharia rule of law?

I’m reminded of what it might have been like for the East Prussian refugees clambering to board ships in the Baltic ports like Balitysk (once Pillau) and Gdynia (once Gotenhafen) under Operation Hannibal. That could have been avoided if the Nazis had only admitted defeat a few months sooner.

The desperation and fear of the Taliban, both men and women, is comparable to the desperation and fear that the German civilians had of the Soviet surge. 

Bundesarchiv, Bild 146-1972-092-05 / CC-BY-SA 3.0

Back in '45, women and children lost track of each other in the mayhem at the harbours.  They had trekked to the coast to try and board ships to the relative safety of northern Germany. They tried desperately to avoid the revenge-seeking Red Army. Winter conditions were miserable. Yet the ships, like the ill-fated Wilhelm Gustloff and the von Steuben, offered only temporary refuge . . . torpedoed hours later on the icy Baltic.  More than ten thousand, mostly women and children, drowned. 

In the news report I watched this week with the desperate Afghans clinging to loading ramps at the Kabul airport, I could only see men and wondered what had happened to the women and children. 

Being a refugee, today from Afghanistan, a few years back from  Syria, or back in 1945 from the Soviet Army is something I’ve been lucky enough to avoid. But the word refugee or ‘Flüchtling’ in German is a word I’ve been all too familiar with. It was a label describing my own mom in the church community where I was raised and it continues to resonate with me—evoking feelings of loss, despair and poverty. 

I wish today’s refugees and their children Godspeed, but they will carry the impact of this crisis with them throughout their lives. If they’re lucky, their homelessness will be temporary, but their sense of self will probably be forever damaged. Being a refugee is life-changing. 



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