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Who’s Afraid? I Was Also a Refugee


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Alvaro Real - published on 09/16/15

5 Famous Exiles Whose Stories Say "Do Not Be Afraid..."

The Syrian drama has focused the attention of the whole world on refugees. According 2014 data from the UN agency for refugees, UNHCR, there are more than 51 million refugees in the world, a number that surpasses the number of refugees during the Second World War. Europe is making an effort to welcome refugees and is demonstrating a solidarity never seen before.

But some voices have warned of the possibility of ISIS and jihadist infiltration among the refugees, that the Islamic State could use the situation as a Trojan Horse.

Must we look at these refugees with fear or can we look at them as an opportunity? I prefer to “sin” on the side of innocence and observe history and the good that has been offered by forced migratory waves.

Did you know that some of the most illustrious personalities in history were refugees?

Robert Capa

The great war photographer was first exiled from Hungary and then Germany, when Hitler came to power. His images allowed us to see the horrors of the Spanish Civil War, the Sino-Japanese War, the Second Wolrd War, the Arab-Israeli War of 1948, and the First Indochina War. His work became an icon of battle, resistance and human dignity. His status as a refugee and an expatriate gave him a special sensibility for the conflicts of the 20th century.

Edith Stein (St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross)

A daughter of a practicing Jewish family who fell victim to the Nazi barbarity. She converted to Catholicism and following the escalation of persecution of the Jews, she requested a transfer from her Carmel in Cologne, Germany, to the Carmel in Echt, Holland. She became a refugee and, accompanied by a doctor friend, she crossed the border. Here, she wrote “The Science of the Cross.” Following the German occupation, she was detained and taken to different concentration camps where she was killed.

She wrote about her condition of being a refugee and the Nazi brutality. A little before she was arrested by the Gestapo, she wrote her spiritual testament in which she offered her death as a testimony of salvation, not only for the Jewish people but for all mankind and for a true peace.

Frederic Chopin

He was the son of a migrant French teacher in Poland and had to return to France after the defeat of the Polish Revolution in 1830 against Russia. In France he would be recognized as a composer and pianist and coincidentally, thanks to this forced exile, connected with major musicians such as as Berlioz, Rossini, Cherubini, and Bellini.

He always held his head high and was never ashamed of being a refugee. He dreamt of liberty for Poland. He wrote mazurkas, nocturnes, and Polonaises to make people aware of the conflict in his native land.

Pablo Neruda

He suffered the Autumn 1949 political persecution in Chile and lived clandestinely in Santiago, Valdivia and Futrono. He crossed into Argentina by horse and almost drowned in the Curringue River. He went to Paris along with other refugees such as Picasso and tried to regularize his situation. He was named a member of the World Council for Peace and traveled throughout Europe. He also lived in exile in Italy until 1952, when he was able to return to Chile.

But his refugee status would follow him even after his death. His house in Chile was robbed after the 1973 coup and many who attended his funeral ended up disappearing under the dictatorship.

Albert Einstein

One of the most universally recognized refugees, a German physicist of Jewish origin, he became Swiss and US citizen. The most popular scientist of the times had to abandon Germany in 1932 due to the Jewish persecution. In the US he devoted himself to teaching and science as well as a search for peace. He wrote about federalism, internationalism, Zionism, individual liberty and freedom of expression.

These are not the only ones. Many more famous personalities were refugees, such as Isabel Allende, Milan Kundera, and Marlene Dietrich. They had to pack their bags and flee their homelands. They are examples of why the word refugee is not synonymous with fear and danger but can mean opportunity and progress.

This article originally appeared on Aleteia’s Spanish edition.

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