While in Germany I had the privilege of speaking to many locals about their feelings regarding the refugee crisis. One of the most profound conversations I had was with a mother of four who took an entire day off to tour several of my friends and me around her home city of Stuttgart. I asked her about the refugee crisis and the influx of refugees in her city. She told me that after World War II the Germans have tried to be extremely open to the way that they help people who are need. I was surprised to hear her bring up the history of the country as no other citizen had ever mentioned that when talking to me about the refugee crisis. She mentioned that Germany had made mistakes in the past but were eagerly trying to correct those mistakes. There are certainly many people in the country who do not share these feelings but there are very few times where an entire country can all have the same feelings about something.
Refugee classes in Germany teach history, beginning with the post-World War II era. They do this so that the refugees are not re-traumatized with the information of the atrocities committed by Germans during the war. How scary would it be for a refugee to sit in a German class room and learn about how the country persecuted people who they considered different?
Yet that doesn’t mean they, the refugees, want to forget their story. In my meeting with a university psychologist I learned that many of the women that she works with wish to have their stories told or to remember what has happened to them. The psychologist compared their desire to share their stories to American soldiers who travel to schools and lecture halls to talk about the time that they have served. Many of these soldiers have experienced extreme evil while at war but that evil has made them who they are and they are not willing to bury it deep inside them. It is important to share the moments that have shaped your life regardless of if they are positive or negative.
Something that I will always remember is a story that the psychologist told me about one of the women that she works with. During her session this particular refugee woman asked the psychologist “Can you hear what has happened to me? Are you writing this all down? I don’t want it to be forgotten”.
This statement was so profound to me. The words “can you hear what has happened to me” will stick with me forever. Because I hear them. I hear their stories and their challenges. The world hears them but they are not always listening. We need to listen. We need to hear the story of the man I met who travelled through so many countries on his way to Germany that he couldn’t even name them all. The man who said that he got in a taxi in Serbia and feared that he would be killed. The man who slept in the streets of Croatia on his way here.
These are the stories that matter. The stories of the people who are fighting for their lives. I promise we will not forget you. We will not let you become a news story that gets passed over when something more recent and more dramatic occurs. We will help you be heard and we will listen.