EssaysFeature

We Refugees

In 1943 Hannah Arendt published a short essay in the Jewish periodical “The Menorah Journal” entitled We Refugees. She described in it a widespread refusal among Jews who had escaped the Nazis to call themselves “refugees.” Having lost everything — their occupation, their language, their family — they were eager to adapt to their new country as quickly as possible and to become “normal” citizens. Arendt thought that this assimilation strategy was doomed to failure, because it ignored the fact that the European model of the nation state is structurally dependent upon the fabrication of stateless and displaced persons. Instead, Jews should remember what made them special precisely as refugees. Refugees, she wrote, are “the vanguard of their peoples,” since for them history was no longer “a sealed book.” They have already experienced and recognized what to others has only become obvious today, in the era of globalization: the violence, fragility, and historical obsolescence of a territorial understanding of citizenship. …

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