Holocaust Survivor and educator, Nate Leipciger, recently visited Lulu Pusuma, a six-year old Roma girl in hiding in a Toronto church together with her mother and father.
The Pusumas, human rights activists from Budapest, Hungary, came to Canada after death threats and a beating from neo-Nazi skinheads with a warning to leave the country. Canada has denied refugee status to the Pusumas because of incomplete legal documentation. Their lawyer is currently under review by the Law Society for botching this case and many others.
Nate arrived in Auschwitz when he was only 15 years-old. He lost his family in the death camps and suffered terribly. While he was initially hesitant about making any comparisons between the Pusuma's situation and the Holocaust, after the visit he changed his thinking.
Despite Nate's painful memories he has committed to educating thousands of students and adults, Jewish and non-Jewish, about his and other's experiences during the Holocaust and the uncapped hatred which allowed for the Holocaust and the death of millions during the war. Through this poignant and touching piece, Nate continues to teach others about the requirement as free human being to be vigilante of injustice.
Nate wrote the following about his visit with Lulu:
Last night I visited a five year old girl nicknamed Lulu and her parents who have been hiding from Canadian immigration and refugee officials for the last 27 months. If found and despite mortal threats to their lives they will be deported back from where they came.
I was taken by the easy smile of the child the gracious way she extended her hand and offered her cheek for a kiss. The hour was late and the child should have been asleep hours ago. Her bright eyes display a maturity beyond her age. This child should be in school playing with other children instead she is cooped up in this one room with only occasional excursions into a small fenced-in yard. The child's behaviour and demeanor did not betray the trauma of her young life but her environment did.
A one room makeshift apartment hidden in a church in the western end of Toronto was grim reminder of a time some 70 year ago, in a different country under vastly different circumstances.
My mind kept saying there is no equivalence, don't go there. And yet I could not help but make the comparisons. A small room, clean, crammed with the required furniture, a double open cot dominated the room, a sofa, a table, three chairs, a commode, some stuffed animals, left hardly any room to receive the five visitors present.
The room betrayed the fact that for 27 months this one room has been the sole area for this family to live in hiding. There was some incongruity that kept me from reverting to the past images; today there was a TV and a laptop on the table. If not for these and the table covered with various modern utensils, it could have been my hiding place during my time of darkness.
What I couldn't stop thinking about was that the same nationals that were hiding today were victims again as if time stood still. Roma and Jews were the two groups chosen by Hitler for total annihilation back in the days of my darkness. Yet today I am safe, happy but this family today in 2014 is hiding from deportation; their lives if they were found would change forever.
I was telling the other guests that there is no equivalence, that in years past, if found, they and their hosts would be shot on the spot or deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau. I know for I was there with them during my time of darkness. At that time in Auschwitz we were separated by a barbed wire fence but their fate and mine were inextricably connected and only a series of miracles allowed me to escape that fate.
You see, in spite of time and distance the victims are the same. This family I was visiting today is Roma, the father is patrilineally a Jew. And while there is no equivalence to my time of darkness, I cannot help but be haunted today with the nightmares. Should the family be deported the child's life will change forever. Her father a human rights activist was brutally assaulted in front of his wife and their two-year-old daughter. Should he be deported back to Hungary a country that Canada considers a "safe country" he would be most likely killed or maimed for life. He cannot go back and live in a safe environment.
The five visitors looked at each other in pain, we are helpless to resolve the mental anguish that this family is experiencing. My background and my past darkness have conditioned my heart to break when I see an injustice that can be easily solved. Anger wells up in my bosom, when I think a bureaucratic blunder is responsible for this family's circumstance.
I appeal to all people of good conscience to continue your latter writing and calls to the Ministry of Immigration. Evil happens when good people do nothing. I appeal to the Minister of Immigration to allow the family to present their case at a proper and fair hearing and state their situation as soon as possible.
The Pusumas have been granted sanctuary for the last 27 months in two different churches. They are hoping to make Canada their home and continue to fight for their freedom. Lulu is celebrating her birthday in April, her third one since skipping freely outside.