Dear Ohio: Just Close Your Eyes

by on July 1, 2019 · 3 comments

in California, Civil Rights

By Joni Halpern

Since 1896, Ohio voters have picked the winning candidate in all but two presidential elections – 1944 and 1960 – giving rise to the state’s renown as a “bellwether” to which candidates cannot afford to turn a deaf ear.  If Ohioans are going to be so influential, maybe we could help inform their future choices by sharing some concerns from the Golden State.

Dear Ohio,

We’ve come a long way toward a bold new future of disregard for people who are not like us.  We plod ahead like refugees in the barren desert, our feet bare and crusted, cutting a path to who knows where, steadily shedding the baggage of our country’s values in order to lighten our own burdens.

Like all refugees on the run, Dear Ohio, we might be missing some signs along the way that should have warned us of danger.  But some of our fellow travelers claim the wording is inaccurate, so we are about to pass them by and move on to greater danger.

One of those signs says “Concentration Camps – This Way.”  “Ridiculous,” our fellow travelers contend.  “Concentration camps were death camps where they sent Jews to die.  They are not chainlink cages that enclose kids on concrete floors, with no soap, no tooth brushes, no beds, no heat, no school, no affection, no fun.”

Still, perception is everything.  It might be impossible for kids who have already suffered so much just getting here to comprehend how privileged they are compared to the average holocaust victim of World War II.  And then there’s the problem of time.  Kids just don’t have a very clear concept of time.  We adults might call a place a “temporary” detention area, but it still might feel like a prison to a kid.

I remember when it was my turn to sit by my mother’s bedside when I was five years old.  Thirty minutes was my shift.  There wasn’t any home care back then for working families.  When my dad was at work, all of us kids took part in caregiving.  My mom couldn’t move a muscle, couldn’t even speak.  But I was not concerned with her anguish at my age.  I was concerned with the slowness of time.  Thirty minutes seemed like it would take all afternoon, maybe even into the night, maybe douse all my hopes of playing with my sisters.  So I complained loudly that my time must be up, that thirty minutes must be gone by now.  When I pleaded my case one afternoon from the little stool beside my mother’s bed, I looked up at her and saw tears rolling softly down her cheek.

Not long after she died, I was on the way to an orphanage with one of my sisters, our family having been broken up by the catastrophe of loss.  As my Dad said goodbye, I was frozen with fear, filled with dread, swallowed by loneliness, suffocating with anger and numb with fatigue.  Everything I had tried – arguing, begging, pleading, praying – nothing had worked to save me from this fate of being separated from my family.  My sister was silent and broken.  When night came, she fell into her assigned dormitory bed across the way, crushed and exhausted.  I tiptoed to her bed and tried to wake her, but she shook me off.  She was finished.

I walked to the big dorm window and stared through the rain at the lights shimmering along the chainlink fence topped with barbed wire that surrounded the orphanage.  I finally stopped crying.  This is it, I told myself as I climbed into bed, the first bed I ever slept in without a sibling.  This is how you die.  You just lay your head on a pillow and you give up.  I lay down, closed my eyes, and something inside me died.  I thought it would never live again until years later, when the sacrifice of a loving person resurrected it.

You see, Dear Ohio, it’s not always a physical death that kills you.  It’s the death of hope.  In that sense, we have indeed created death camps for children right here in America.  Children who came to us for help.  For hope.  All we are arguing about now is the proper signage.



{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Chris July 1, 2019 at 7:05 pm

I gotta say, as horrible at the detention centers are, comparing them to the Nazi concentration camps is just purely unacceptable. Anyone activist who does this just loses all credibility and flame helps the hatred us liberals already have to deal with .


Chris July 1, 2019 at 7:07 pm

Not to mention the fact that doing so is an insult and slap in the face to actual remaining survivors and their family members. Quite simply, not OK.


Joni Halpern July 1, 2019 at 8:11 pm

Perhaps not all feel as you do, Chris, yet still care deeply about holocaust survivors and the truth about that terrible wrong. My father-in-law left Lithuania at 15. The next time he saw his father’s face was in a photo rescued from the death camp at Auschwitz. His father was standing at the gate, after having been sorted along with old men and children into a group headed for the gas chambers. Evil does not just burst onto a scene. It does not just afflict a particular population. It starts with smaller decisions, unopposed, normalized, and then grows into something only a monumental amount of sacrifice can stop. I prefer to call out evil in its incipient stages, lest it grow. But I thank you for the passionate defense of your views, for it is important for it to be heard.


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