US Constitution

Grandpa Werner, the only immigrant relative I ever knew was a refugee, a veteran, and a pacifist.  While packing up the home that he died in in 2016, I sorted through his desk drawers still full of photographic mementoes and business files in Werner’s basement.  The thin top drawer revealed Werner’s neatness and his tastes.  He had just a few pens, some change (including a novelty penny inside a horseshoe inscribed “keep this, and you’ll never go broke!”), and a thin blue constitution of the United States.  This was the free copy given out by the ACLU at their events.  The freedoms it enshrines must have been entirely foreign to Werner when, as a child, his Jewish family fled their German home mere months before Kristallnacht, one of history’s worst pogroms.  He was a refugee, and his identity was the suspect class of the 1940s.  Today’s unwelcomed refugees, Muslims, found a constitutional champion in 2016 as Khizr Khan lifted his own pocket constitution in front of the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia.  As appalled as he would have been by contemporary political xenophobia, Werner would have empathized with Mr. Khan’s constitutionalism.  Thirty-eight little pages bound in faded blue paperback created the nation that took in Werner and safeguarded his life and freedom when it was most at risk.  That protector found its permanent home in his desk.  I slipped into my coat pocket carried it with me back across America as I left Werner’s home for the final time.

Year: 1939

– Max

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