The sun has just set in England, marking the start of the third night of Hannakah, when I reach Eva Schloss on the phone. At 86, she still leads a busy life, and is preparing for a trip to Los Angeles for the premiere of "No Asylum," a documentary exploring Otto Frank's desperate, and ultimately unsuccessful, attempts to seek refuge in America.
Otto Frank was Eva Schloss's step-father, and Anne Frank, the diarist through which most American children learn of the Holocaust, was her step-sister. In 1990 she co-founded the Anne Frank Trust in the UK where she still sits as the organization's honorary lifetime president.
"It doesn't look very positive I'm afraid. Things are getting worse and worse I think." There's a sadness in her voice that reminds me of my grandmother's tone when she's worried about us. I've called her to ask for her insight on the refugee crisis and the response of the West, but she's interested in my thoughts on what's happening in America.
"Do you think that the Republicans have a chance with Trump? Do you think he can actually win?" Before I can answer she says "Well actually...probably yes, right?" and sighs.
The creeping fascism of Donald Trump's proposals has led some to throw out Godwin's Law and compare Trump rhetoric to that of Hitler. He wants to monitor all mosques, require special ID's for Muslims, and ban all Muslims from entering or re-entering the country, even US citizens who are abroad.
In an opinion piece for Newsweek, Mrs. Schloss makes the comparison herself stating that Trump "is acting like another Hitler." A less discussed comparison is to pre-WWII America. These proposals, as well as official US policy and public opinion, are very similar to the American response to Jewish refugees fleeing Hitler in the lead up to, and during, the second world war.
"I was a refugee you know, and suffered a lot. I lost all my confidence. I had to leave family behind. It was very similar, but in many ways it's worse for these people," Eva tells me. "We didn't have to walk through the whole of Europe, to use boats which were sinking, and then not be allowed entrance anywhere."
"I blame the world for the Holocaust, because nobody tried to prevent it. People knew what was going on. President Roosevelt was confronted very early on by a Polish diplomat who had been to Auschwitz who told him what was happening and he just didn't care."
Polls in Fortune magazine from 1938 show over two-thirds of Americans opposed accepting any Jewish refugees from Europe. Another poll from the following year, well after the events of the Kristallnacht, show an equal number of Americans opposed to accepting 10,000 Jewish refugee children. Perhaps not coincidentally, 10,000 is the same number of Syrian refugees President Obama has committed to accepting this year. David Cameron has committed to only 4,000 a year over the next half decade.
Mrs. Schloss is indignant at those numbers, "They're quite ridiculous to mention only a few thousand. It's a matter of millions of people who need refuge."
"It's worse for these refugees. We were not put in those terrible displaced people camps. It's no good putting them in camps where they are like in prison. Those people are valuable."
"Like what is happening in Calais. It's outrageous. And now winter's coming. It's awful. It's really, really, awful to see that decent human beings are treated like cattle."
Conditions at these camps have become so bad that over 600 refugees seeking refuge in Australia, housed at the Manus Island Regional Processing Centre off the coast of Papua New Guinea, have asked the Australian government to end their lives.
In an open letter to the Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Immigration Minister Peter Dutton, the refugees write "we realise that there are no differences between us and rubbish - but a bunch of slaves that helped to stop the boats by living in hellish condition." They go on to state "We are dying in Manus gradually, every single day we are literally tortured and traumatized and there is no safe country to offer us protection."
Stating that "This is not a joke or a satire" and to "please take it serious" the refugees suggest "a navy ship that can put [them] all on board and dump [them] all in the ocean," "a gas chamber" or "an Injection of a poison" to end their lives.
Just as Eva Schloss blames the world for the Holocaust, she blames the world for the refugee crisis. "It's partly through their actions that we caused the refugee problem. America, England, France, they attacked Libya, Afghanistan, Iraq, and now Syria. Before these horrific wars there was no refugee crisis. Without these wars, these people wouldn't have to flee their homes."
"It's not easy for people to leave their home and culture. They don't do that because they enjoy doing all this; taking risks on boats, walking through half of Europe. They are desperate to save their lives and the lives of their families."
"I'm actually sorry I had to leave Austria. I loved it there. I loved the mountains, the lakes, I loved my family. I didn't want to leave. It's the same with the Syrians. They love their country, their families have been there for generations. Why would they go to Europe or America, a different climate, a different language, and start a completely difficult new life? They are forced to flee the wars caused by the western powers."
"We have to accept that it is necessary to find a way to accept these people. We have to."
In 1939, Anne Frank's mother, Edith, wrote a friend ""I believe that all Germany's Jews are looking around the world, but can find nowhere to go." Otto Frank, Anne's father and Eva's step father, spent months filling out the colossal amount of paperwork necessary to be granted asylum in America. He acquired affidavits of support from family already stateside. He wrote friends in positions of power. In the end, fueled by fears of "Nazi spies" being among the refugees, a fear very similar to today's claims of ISIS infiltrators among Syrian refugees, the US would deny his and thousands of others.
The similarities between the western response to the Jewish refugees in the 30's and 40's and the current response to Syrian refugees leads me to ask a question I've been dreading asking; "Would your step sister Anne Frank be alive today if the US hadn't denied sanctuary?"
"Of course!" She doesn't hesitate, "No doubt about it."
"The refugees who struggled to get out would have contributed enormously to culture, to medicine, to science. It is a great crime of humanity that we deprived people of the knowledge and contribution of these people."
"The fact is that six million people were not able to find refuge and were murdered," she tells me, "And that is what is happening to these people. They have to leave because their lives are threatened!"
The sadness in her voice has given way to anger, but it returns when I ask what she would say to the refugee child fleeing the wars in Syria and elsewhere, the children who have to risk the boats across the Mediterranean or cross an entire continent on foot.
"That's very difficult" she says.
"I'd tell them 'You have to trust your parents. They are trying the best they can to get you a safe place where you will be accepted, and go to school, and have a decent life." She begins to choke up, "That might never happen for them...but you must not take the hope away from them."
She pauses, "It's a very, very, sad world I'm afraid. It will get worse and worse if people don't act." Her despair, however, is pierced by hope.
"I have five grandchildren who all want to help those people. There are plenty of young people who want to help, who see that justice has to be done for these people."
"We mustn't give up hope. We must have hope."Suggest a correction