(THE NATION) – My first encounter with America was in 1942. That's when my parents, my five siblings, and I landed in New York following a four-week trans-Atlantic voyage during which our boat, the Serpa Pinto, was boarded by the captain and crew of a German U-boat. We survived that encounter (the captain said he would sink our ship, but either his crew misfired or he changed his mind), as we had somehow survived the previous two years of running and hiding through much of Nazi-occupied Europe and North Africa, always a step ahead of the Gestapo.
Upon arrival in New York, immigration officials confined us to Ellis Island. Because the United States was already at war with Germany, the facility was jammed with Americans of German descent who were being expelled because of their pro-Nazi political activities. All we were aware of was that, at the miraculous moment of our long-hoped-for freedom, we were surrounded by the people we had gone through hell to escape. They spoke in German and greeted each other with shouts of "Heil Hitler!"
I had completely forgotten that brief but nightmarish episode. Seventy-eight years later, Trump's America brought it back to me, but with a difference. The shouting is now in English; the leader who wants to be heiled is the president of the United States, and his sycophantic heilers this time constitute an entire political party, called the Republican Party.
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