A little more than 100 years ago, my Austrian grandparents sought a new homeland in the progressive United States of Theodore Roosevelt, leaving behind a stultifying, conservative country riven by the hatred of many of its Slavic minorities against a dominant German-speaking plurality that, itself, was fearful and aggressively defensive of its privileged position. The old Austro-Hungarian Empire ultimately splintered along national lines and the politics of nationalistic hatred led its successor state into sympathy for Nazism.
Today’s Austria is resisting narrow national-chauvinist opposition and is offering sanctuary to as many as 100,000 refugees from the violence in Syria. This represents roughly 1 percent of the country’s total population. Neighboring Germany, remembering its own racist nationalism, is doing the same.
In contrast, in the country my grandparents sought out as a land of progress and humanity, politicians pander to fear and take pride in proposing measures to bar the entry of Syrians seeking safety. My grandparents would be ashamed.
Max Riedlsperger, San Luis Obispo