By The Hannah Arendt Center for Politics and Humanities at Bard College in Annandale-on-Hudson, NY
“A refugee used to be a person driven to seek refuge because of some act committed or some political opinion held. Well, it is true we have had to seek refuge; but we committed no acts and most of us never dreamt of having any radical opinion. With us the meaning of the term “refugee” has changed. Now “refugees” are those of us who have been so unfortunate as to arrive in a new country without means and have to be helped by refugee committees.”
And her description of “we refugees” begins with the familiar.
“The story of our struggle has finally become known. We lost our home, which means the familiarity of daily life. We lost our occupation, which means the confidence that we are of some use in this world. We lost our language, which means the naturalness of reactions, the simplicity of gestures, the unaffected expression of feelings. We left our relatives in the Polish ghettos and our best friends have been killed in concentration camps, and that means the rupture of our private lives. Nevertheless, as soon as we were saved -- and most of us had to be saved several times -- we started our new lives and tried to follow as closely as possible all the good advice our saviors passed on to us.”