Boat with Jews sailing from Falster, Denmark to Ystad in Sweden, taken between September 1943 and October 1943.

A boat with Jewish passengers sails from Falster in Denmark to Ystad in Sweden. The photo was taken between September and October 1943.

Credit:

Photographer unknown/Wikimedia Commons

Leo Goldberger escaped Nazi-occupied Denmark at the last possible moment: in the dead of night, on a fishing boat to Sweden.

He remembers his time in Sweden with fear and uncertainty, but the Swedes made a home for him for the duration of the war. When the war ended, his family was welcomed back to Denmark. Yet, nothing felt the same. His family made its way to Canada, and Goldberger eventually migrated to the US to pursue a doctorate in psychology. But he still carries the night of his escape with him.

In his mid-80s now, Goldberger has watched the refugee crisis with empathy and profound sadness. He says he remembers what it felt like to be running for your life. In a piece reported by journalist Daniel Gross (and in another version which aired on PRI), Goldberger discussed his journey, on that boat and beyond.

At the time, he was concerned about new anti-immigrant policies being put in place in his native Denmark. Now, following the implementation of immigration and refugee restrictions imposed by President Donald Trump on citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries, Goldberger is profoundly concerned for the United States' own future as a place of sanctuary.

He calls Trump's ban "unimaginable."

"I'm happy that there are protests," he says. This is a moment that calls for Americans to evaluate their own democracy, he adds, and what it really stands for.

Goldberger is quick to draw comparisons between Trump's populist rise, and that of other fascists, including Adolf Hitler. The comparisons, he says, are obvious. But he cautions that those comparisons only go so far. 

"The similarities are there, but the context is very different," he says.

Europe in the 1920s and 1930s faced dramatically different concerns, and the world was much less globalized and information-driven.

Trump's election and this immigration order, in particular, represent important moments that could deconstruct America's very genetic code, Goldberger says. But the executive order also presents an opportunity for US citizens to live up to the values he feels are inherent in the Constitution and the democracy itself.

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