Great-grandfather's passport

This is the passport of my great-grandfather, Hermann Fürst, who came to America from Nazi-occupied Austria after Kristallnacht. The passport was stamped with the Third Reich eagle insignia, and a red “J” for “jude” on the previous page. What strikes me most is the fear in his eyes – he is clearly trying to appear strong for his family, but is terrified that the Nazis would refuse to let him leave. In Vienna, he was a master tailor, but after emigrating to New York City, the only way he could apply his trade was to work in a sweatshop in the Bronx. For me and my family, this passport is a reminder of what our Jewish heritage means for us beyond religion, even though I never met him personally. The idea of Jewishness in America carries the memory of being stripped of our homelands. It echoes the loss of a homeland as strangers in Egypt, as Assyria exiled us from Israel, and as Israel was colonized by Rome. Having made a home here, we as American Jews have a special obligation to speak out for refugees around the world. It’s why our synagogue prays for the safety of those fleeing persecution. The passport reminds me of what happens when ordinary people do not stand up for justice, and reminds me, both in the religious and secular sense, to fight for human dignity.

Place(s): Austria
Year: 1938

– Ben Koch

Relationship:  Grandchild of im/migrant Grandchild of im/migrant