To the editor:
In a July 8 letter to the editor, a writer referred to President Obama as a “dictator.” However the writer’s meaning or context, his wording is totally wrong. The American political culture, which we celebrated only the week before on July Fourth, is in reality and principle a democracy.
That is why, in our society of laws, you can write your angry letter, this newspaper will print it and nothing at all will happen to you. A dictator, by my learned definition, is someone who has gained total power in a government to use its vast resources of armies and police to control every aspect of everyone’s life, killing off any and all who would dare oppose them or were suspected or even deemed undesirable.
My small family fled a dictator and dictatorship that formed in their homeland of Croatia, former Yugoslavia, during the Holocaust that swept Europe country by country during the 1930s and early 1940s, culminating in World War II.
That very dictator named Artukovich, who collaborated with the Nazi war machine that invaded and defeated Yugoslavia in 10 days and proceeded to murder close to a million Jews, gypsies and suspected Communists (including my mother’s parents and my maternal grandparents) went on in the 1950s to live out most of his wretched, evil life in our sunny California until at an old age, he was deported by the U.S. Department of Justice Office of Special Investigations. He was sick, blind and too demented to stand trial for his “crimes against humanity” and he died in jail.
My small family also faced a strong anti-Semitic resistance to allow Jewish people to immigrate into the United States, not to mention the anguish of leaving your homeland forever, losing loved ones who couldn’t get out at all or in time and losing all of your possessions you couldn’t pack in a bag. My father, once immigrated, joined the U.S. Army Air Corps and spent two tours of duty in North Africa and Italy, returning home to see me for the first time in 1945 when I was already 9 months old. He showed me how to love America.
A column in the July 12-13 Weekender by Robert Lee contained the following wording: “I see that same childlike naiveness (sic) in the faces of my own people, the naiveness of the Jews being led away to the Nazi ovens.”
It is not my purpose to address the writer’s assertion that his own people are naive — each can speak for him- or herself. But I will tell this writer point-blank that there is no Jewish person in history who is naive about their human condition on this planet or doesn’t learn in childhood from family, peers and personal experience what it means to be Jewish or how that affects your existence — or who has to find ways to deal with being Jewish.
My paternal grandfather explained all this to me one balmy December day long ago — how he barely got out behind my parents from Yugoslavia. My mother’s father, being head of his synagogue congregation, decided to stay with them and was forced along with his wife, my mother’s mother, separated and taken away to a Yugoslav concentration camp called Jasenovac in Croatia.
I never knew my maternal grandfather, but he is my hero and I am named after him, as I named one of my sons Theodore (his name was Teodore). I invite you to go on the Internet and Google “United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.” A Jewish prisoner is forced to remove his ring upon arrival in the Jasenovac concentration camp” and “Pictured is Teodore Grunfeld.”
Look carefully at this picture. Look at my grandfather’s face. He is surrounded by Croatian Ustasha (secret police), on his left is a guard holding a Luger automatic pistol n his side. As other police look on, he is forced to surrender his wedding band (my grandmother may have jumoped from her train). Then read the caption identifying our family who fled to America.
I was born into this family and grew up with them, and I have instilled this experience into my own family. It has come out in many a class I taught, too. I also think the world’s people — for the most part — love America and Americans, our political values, our lifestyles, our wealth-building, our music and our sports.
People all over the world love our military to come in and help them with their problems. I saw this in my Vietnam tour. And many people want to come here and live a better or a safer life. Good for them — and us, too. Thank God my family was allowed to.
President Obama was twice elected by popular vote and electoral college majorities to the American presidency. His Affordable Care Act is a major initiative that, over time, will probably become his legacy, much like Johnson’s Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Franklin Roosevelt’s Social Security Act of 1935. Can you imagine the resistance President Lincoln faced presiding over our Civil War? But before his untimely death, he was able to achieve an unsteady peace. Remember President Nixon, facing the anti-Vietnam war movements, finding a way to leave Vietnam in “peace with honor?”
The president and Congress have issues to contend with: Wars, national security, immigration, a declining middle-class economy, college loan debt, a roller-coaster job market and a continuing recession, not to mention midterm election politics and political jockeying for the next presidency. And then there are the scandals — how many can you name in the last year?
I am impressed with President Obama’s resilience, his willingness to endure, to take the insults without complaint and lead us toward the solutions to our collective problems. What I see is a good human being, endeared to his family, who is proud to be our president.