This Is What Greece’s Refugee Crisis Really Looks Like

“Thanks to God I have made it here. I am free, I am alive!”

 Refugees arriving on the isle of Lesbos in a dinghy from Turkey. (Lazar Simeonov)
Refugees arriving on the isle of Lesbos in a dinghy from Turkey. (Lazar Simeonov)

By Jesse Rosenfeld

Lesbos, Athens, and northern Greece—In the baking midday August heat on the Greek island of Lesbos, Ziad Mouatash bounces out of an overcrowded inflatable raft and touches EU soil for the first time. The 22-year-old from Yarmouk—the Palestinian refugee camp on the edge of Damascus that has been besieged and bombed since 2012 by Bashar al-Assad’s forces and recently invaded by ISIS and the Al Qaeda–affiliated Nusra Front—hugs everyone around him, ecstatic to be alive.

From the Greek shore, activists and locals had looked on helplessly as the boat’s motor broke down two miles away, water pouring into the barely floating rubber dinghy. Children and adults alike cried desperately for help, until they were towed to Greece by another boat of refugees coming from Turkey.

Mouatash paid human traffickers in Turkey over 1,000 euros for this near-death experience, but as far as he’s concerned, it was a far less risky choice than continuing to hide out in deteriorating Damascus, which he’d abandoned for Turkey two weeks before. As a Palestinian who grew up in Syria’s refugee camps, he is stateless, but he has a brother in Paris and hopes to start a new life in France.

He paces up and down the shoreline, unsure of which direction to go, while local activists try to bring the new arrivals together to tell them that they need to start a 40-mile walk to a registration center on the other side of the island.

 Although he has escaped the horrors of Syria’s grinding civil war, Mouatash is just beginning the difficult journey through Europe. He will have to cross more borders illegally; rest in filthy, makeshift camps; pay traffickers to help him cross those borders; dodge border police; and sleep in parks and fields, before he can reunite with his brother. Still, Mouatash is one of the lucky ones. Four days after his arrival, a raft off the Greek island of Kos capsized and six Syrians—including a baby—drowned.

Read more at The Nation

Bearing Witness To Nazis’ Life-Shattering Kristallnacht

View of a destroyed Jewish shop in Berlin on Nov. 11, 1938, after the anti-Semitic violence of Kristallnacht. The pogrom unleashed Nazi-coordinated attacks on thousands of synagogues and Jewish businesses.

On a busy street in Berlin’s shabby-chic district of Kreuzberg, the gray and dirty pavement glistens with little brass cobblestones. Millions of these stones are embedded in sidewalks all over Europe. They commemorate the last address the city’s Jewish residents called home before the war.

Etched into each stone is the name of an individual, a date of deportation, the name of a concentration camp and, more often than not, a date of death.

But some stones are inscribed with the word ueberlebt, meaning “survived.” The name on one such stone is Margot Bendheim, the maiden name of Margot Friedlander. For the past three years, this stone is no longer a valid record of her most recent Berlin address — which lies across town.

“As a survivor, I feel that I do something for the people who cannot speak for themselves anymore,” says Friedlander, who just turned 92.

After 64 years of exile in New York, Friedlander made the decision to return to her native Berlin for good. City officials welcomed her with open arms, and Friedlander was promptly given back her German citizenship.

“When I received my German citizenship, I said: ‘You expect me to say thank you for it? I will not do it. Because you only give me back what you took away from me,'” she says.

Read more at NPR: National Public Radio