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My Grandfathers Radio

My grandfather, Helmut, or as he prefers to be called, Herman, was born on

June 28th 1932 in Newark, New Jersey to Fredrick Herman and Emily Elizabeth

Heintz, both recent German immigrants. His parents came to the United States in

1930, to escape the changing political climate in Germany before WWII. While they

had no friends or family in Newark, they chose to move there because they had

been told about the job possibilities there. The neighborhood they moved to had

many immigrants in it, mostly German and Irish ones, with some other European

countries represented, mainly Catholic, but with some Protestant and Jewish

families there as well. The neighborhood they lived in was safe, and my grandfather

didnt feel discriminated against. Although his family spoke German at home, he

was sent to public school and learned English there. In school, he said that he was

accepted by the other students, but he was an athlete, and this aided his

acceptance. He said that the main barrier that his family faced was the language

barrier. Now, this isnt to say that there were no other issues. One day, the FBI paid

a visit to his familys house. They came there to confiscate the short-wave radio

that his family had. They feared that his family might be spying or gathering

information to relay to the Nazis. The family that had moved to the United States to

escape the politics, and the Nazis, and that had already had one child drafted was

suspected of being spies or anti-American purely because of their ethnicity and

where they were from. Its also important to address why his family had the radio.

They had it because they wanted to communicate and be connected. They wanted

to know what was going on in the world around them and be connected in it. They

wanted to know what was happening in Germany where their relatives were, and if

they were safe or alive.


His story is important to me because he is my Opa (German for

grandfather) and I spent many summers at his house in Maine, near the ocean. He

let me rummage in his shed, make creations to haul back to ND, and told me

stories. His stories were also told to me by my mother and there was, and is, a

sense of pride to be part of a family whose roots came from Germany in a tenuous

time. His family struggled to survive in a new country, and at age 16 Opa got a job

for a delivery company in New York City- as the pay was better in the city. In this

way, he contributed to the family finances. His parents told him that the two

children born in America MUST go to college-no matter how long it took. Part of

being an American was getting an education and education was a value instilled in

him, his children, and also in my family. Even so soon after moving to a different

country, my great-grandparents took pride in being an American, and instilled this

pride in their children as well.

My grandfathers situation wouldnt happen today, with the prevalence of cell

phones today, no one would care about someone having a radio, so why does it

matter? While unfair and unpleasant, what happened to my grandfathers family

was not cruel or unusual by any means. So why should we keep this story in mind

and why is it relevant today, so long after it happened? To answer that we should

think about the attitudes driving the actions. What caused this was a suspicion and

a mistrust of the German immigrants, a grouping of the Germans who had nothing

to do with the Nazis and the war into the same category as them. There is nothing

wrong with being cautious and on the lookout for those who might cause the United

States harm, but we should do so with discretion. Beyond the story of my family is

the common one of an immigrant coming to a new country. They are often met with

suspicion, distrust, shunning, and at times even worse treatment.


We should be careful when we blanket labels to groups, whether they are

geographic, religious, ethnic, or other types of groups, and we should be careful

about how we treat and respond to those groups. Im sure most of us would agree

with this statement, but what can we do? And I mean actually do. Changing your

way of thinking, and being aware of the issue are good things, and you should do

them if necessary, but they have little to no effect on anyone not yourself. So what

can you do? We need to not only be aware of or change your thoughts, but also

have your actions reflect this. We need to change our actions to be more

welcoming, supporting, and accepting of immigrants no matter where they are

from. Dont judge and condemn them based on your differences, but instead use

these differences to expand and learn more about the world you live in. Who knows

what we can learn and how we can grow by welcoming and learning from others.

Put yourself in their shoes, in an unfamiliar country, surrounded by strangers vastly

different than yourself. Treat them fairly and equally, like you would, or at least

should, treat any other person. Now, this isnt to say that just because someone is

an immigrant that they should be above reproach. In treating them equally, we

should hold them to the same standards we hold ourselves, but still understand that

they may be unfamiliar with our customs and ways of life. Whether in reproach, in

praise, or in any other attitude we should seek to make immigrants, and anyone

and everyone else welcome, no matter where they fall on any spectrum.

Remember, for the vast majority of this country, our descendants were immigrants

too. We cannot treat those who immigrate to our country now differently unless we

are truly comfortable in our hypocrisy.

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