My Family’s Story: the Personal is Political
My twenty-one year-old father came to the United States as a refugee from Nazi Germany in August 1939. He was one of the few lucky ones to get out. He left Germany on the pretense of a temporary tourist visa in August 1939. He was allowed entry into England on the condition he that didn’t seek employment and he didn’t stay.
His case to come to the United States was championed by the American Friends Service Committee (Quakers). Archives and correspondence of their successful attempts to save our family are now housed in the National Holocaust Museum. He, his mother and little brother left England for the United States on October 1st, 1939 on the S.S. Washington.
He was drafted into the U.S. Army and served during the entirety of World War II, earning the Bronze Star, and became a U.S. citizen.
Née Liepe, 2017, is a very personal piece that explores the immigration story of my family. I have presented it in hopes of drawing out other people’s stories and finding a common emotional core that resonates with all.
It consists of handwritten narration on the wall of my father’s escape from Germany in 1939 and a bit of what happened to him; a shadow box containing his original Nazi passport and the Bronze Star he earned during World War II. Hanging from the ceiling and wafting in the air flow is a drawing of the ship’s manifest from the U.S.S. Washington dated October 1, 1939, on which my father, grandmother and uncle came to the U.S.
I have included a writing table, chair and notebook so that people can take a moment to write about what their own family may have gone through and share that with others.
At the writing table this question is raised:
Was it religious persecution, famine, economics, love, war, slavery– or perhaps your family is Native American? Please share with us the story of your people and why they came here.
This notebook was then filled by viewers with amazing, powerful stories of perseverance, love, tragedy and many family’s desperate desires for change. Many of these stories formed the start of The Owing to Circumstances Project and are represented in the hanging drawings in that installation in 2017.