In some ways I am embarrassed to admit that until Thursday evening I had never been inside the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. I am a member of the museum and wrote about its dedication. My father's parents died in Auschwitz. I have visited Dachau and have been to Yad Vashem in Jerusalem. But something kept me from going to the museum.
That changed last Thursday evening with an invitation to a premiere of the HBO documentary 50 Children: The Rescue Mission of Mr. & Mrs. Kraus. To say it is an amazing film is an understatement. It is a film about love and hope and courage. It is a film about what two regular people can do if they believe they can make a difference and are willing to face the obstacles.
Gilbert and Eleanor Kraus were a well-off Jewish couple living in Philadelphia in 1939. Gilbert was an attorney and Eleanor a housewife. They had two children. They weren't particularly religious and sent their children to a Quaker school. One day Gilbert came home and told his wife that he had heard about the chance to save children from the Nazis in Vienna, Austria. Hitler had invaded Austria but for a short time the Nazi's were letting the Jews that could, leave. The problem as one of the children that Gilbert and Eleanor saved says so movingly in the film was that "there was nowhere for many of them to go because though they could leave no one wanted to take them". But the Kraus's decided that night that they would try to help 50 children escape to safety in America.
The film chronicles the difficulties they had in getting visas for the children, facing even the ire of Jewish organizations who told them not to try. While Gilbert dealt with the legal angles Eleanor worked hard and got 54 friends and acquaintances to file affidavits saying they would take in those children and guarantee their safety and had the finances to support them. One is awed by the courage it took for the Kraus's to make the voyage by boat and train through Nazi Germany to Vienna and to fight in Vienna and then Berlin for those children; first to get the Austrians to give them passports and then the American's to finally give them visas.
One of the most poignant moments in the film describes how they chose the children who they would save and the courage of those parents who were willing to send their children to a far-away land, on their own, with people they didn't know. Eleanor Kraus in her diaries says that one of the most moving things for her, and I get tears in my eyes even thinking about it, was that when the children finally boarded the train in Vienna, their parents couldn't even wave goodbye. Jews were not allowed to give the Nazi salute and were they to wave their arm in the air they could be arrested. So they stood there stoically as the train bearing their children left the station, knowing they may never see them again.
On Monday night at 9:00 pm EST HBO will be showing this film on-air. I think this film should be seen by everyone and watch it with your children so that future generations will never forget the horror of the Holocaust. But just as importantly they will see that one person's cruelty can beget another's love and heroism. As a first generation American I know that story well. My mother and her parents escaped the Nazis in Vienna by clandestine means. One of their friends got my mother and grandmother visas to go to London, and eventually they made it to America, where two years later my grandfather was able to join them.
On April 23 there will be an election in the District for the Council-at-large seat vacated when Phil Mendelson was elected Council Chair. It was filled on an interim basis by the D.C. Democratic State Committee which selected Anita Bonds, their Chairperson, to serve until this election.
Unfortunately there appears to be little interest in the election. Most don't know there is one no less who is running. The anticipated voter turn-out is less than 15% of those eligible to vote.
The reasons for low turnouts in special elections can be blamed on many things. People don't believe that one new person on the Council will make any difference; no one in the race has created any excitement; the local press haven't talked enough about the election; or general frustration that it doesn't matter who you elect they are all in it for themselves anyway. Some think the district is doing great so why bother and others just never get involved in politics and think it is ok to let someone else decide.
I always felt compelled to vote in any election even if there wasn't a candidate I could wholeheartedly support. All too often I and many others vote for the lesser of the evils. But I do vote because there are a myriad of issues that I care about; some impacting me personally and others impacting children, seniors, the disabled and people who can't always speak up for themselves.
I have worked for many candidates throughout my life. I am first generation American and while both my parents were Democrats and did vote, neither was actively involved in politics. They didn't always understand my passion for it. I began working with my local Democratic club after school in 1959 at the tender age of twelve running a local storefront in upper Manhattan for John F. Kennedy. I volunteered for Bill Ryan (D-NY) among others and helped start the Heights Reform Democrats. I worked for Abe Beame when he was Mayor of New York as Coordinator of Local Government for the City of New York. I worked for Bella Abzug (D-NY) and came to D.C. in 1978 to work in the Carter Administration. Since that time my political involvement has always been as a volunteer. I never worked for D.C. government or took a paid position with any campaign. I am just passionate about my politics.
In this current race for Council-at-large I have urged people not to vote for Republican Patrick Mara. The Washington Post recently endorsed him saying that his connection to the Republican Party shouldn't eliminate him from consideration. I agree with that. The issue with Mara is that he is a total hypocrite. He espouses pro-women, pro-LGBT and pro-minority views to potential constituents but actively supported the ultra-conservative Romney/Ryan ticket. Had they won they would have had the power to act on their stated goal of doing irreparable harm to the groups Mara claims to support. Many moderate Republicans like Colin Powell didn't support that ticket because it went against their strongly held beliefs. Mara clearly had no compunction in that regard.
I haven't endorsed a candidate yet. Those vying for your support aside from Republican Mara are: Elissa Silverman, Matthew Frumin, Paul Zuckerberg, Anita Bonds, Michael Brown, and Perry Redd.
I urge voters to take a good look at all the candidates, their positions and real accomplishments. Look at what they have done in the past and who they have supported to judge consistency on issues and moral questions. See whether they appear to be in this for personal gain or do they really want to fight for what's best for all the people of the District.
On April 23, the voters in the District of Columbia for the first time have the opportunity to speak out for budget autonomy. This is a vote for local control of the nearly $6 billion in funds we raise from taxes without Congress's pre-approval. Currently after our annual budget is approved by the Council and signed by the Mayor it goes to Capitol Hill for Congress's review before it becomes law.
While it would be nice to fight at the same time for legislative autonomy the thought is that Congress may actually give us the right to control our own local budget before they give up the right to second guess our laws.
This referendum was put on the ballot by the D.C. Council and it isn't the first time they spoke up for budget autonomy. The last time they did so they advocated for a bill which got hung up in the Senate when ultra-conservative Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) added amendments on guns, labor unions and abortion making the final bill untenable to the District. However this is the first time this issue has been put to a referendum where the people have a say.
If Referendum 8 passes it will amend the language in the 1973 Home Rule Charter to give the D.C. government autonomous control of local tax revenue. The change would go into effect unless Congress and the president block it. Under the new process Congress would still have a 35 day review period for the D.C. budget but it would have to vote retroactively to amend the funding proposal rather than voting to pass it outright. This is a more difficult scenario to get through the Congress.
While there are definitely issues with this referendum which were brought up by Attorney General Nathan and Mayor Gray, including the fact that this may not be legal under our Home Rule Charter, Mayor Gray has endorsed the measure.
Whatever the final result of this is there should be no doubt about the people's desire to have budget autonomy. For that to happen people need to come out and vote yes on Referendum 8. We need to say in a loud and clear voice to Congress that the time for 'taxation without representation' is over and that the people of the District of Columbia demand to be treated fairly.
As a means to attract attention to the cause and let people know that they should go out and vote, activists led by D.C. Vote have created the D.C. Budget Freedom Committee, through which they will accept donations, put up yard signs and otherwise run a normal campaign in favor of the referendum. The referendum has been endorsed by a wide variety of groups including the DC Association of Realtors; DC Democratic State Committee; DC Fiscal Policy Institute; DC NAACP; DC Republican Committee; Greater Washington Urban League; The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights; League of Women Voters; and the National Organization For Women; among countless others.
Join them and make your voice heard by voting YES on Referendum 8 on April 23.