Watch Jared Kushner’s grandmother talk of refugee plight, warn against another Hitler.

Watch Jared Kushner’s Grandmother Talk of Refugee Plight, Warn Against Another Hitler

Watch Jared Kushner’s Grandmother Talk of Refugee Plight, Warn Against Another Hitler

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Jan. 29 2017 10:42 AM

Watch Jared Kushner’s Grandmother Talk of Refugee Plight, Warn Against Another Hitler

Screenshot of Rae Kushner talking to Sidney Langer during an oral history interview in 1982.

Kean College of New Jersey Holocaust Resource Center

As protesters gathered in airports around the country to express their support for refugees who were being detained and turned back at airports due to President Donald Trump’s executive order, it seems the president’s daughter and her husband had something else in their minds: a black-tie affair. Shortly after midnight on Saturday, Ivanka Trump posted a photo on her Instagram and Twitter accounts of her dressed in a silver metallic gown alongside her tuxedoed husband, Jared Kushner.

The picture was swiftly criticized across social media and New York Times Magazine contributor Jody Rosen took the opportunity to rewatch some harrowing video of Kushner’s grandmother, Rae Kushner, talking about the horrors of being a Jewish refugee in World War II. At a time when President Donald Trump has barred Syrian refugees from the United States indefinitely and suspended the entire refugee program from around the world for at least four months, Rae Kushner’s testimony is particularly powerful.


“For the Jews the doors were closed,” Kushner says in the 1982 interview with the Kean College of New Jersey Holocaust Resource Center. “I can never understand this. Even our good president, Roosevelt. How come he kept the doors so closed for us for such a long time?” (The full interview is available here.)

In another portion of the interview, Rae Kushner warns of the real dangers that another political leader like Hitler could rise to power.

Kushner says survivors of the Holocaust need “to warn the rest of the world to be careful. Who is coming up on top of your government?” In the interview she specifically cautions about the rise of another “crazy guy like this, like Hitler. A racist.” Rae Kushner says that while she always tells her kids “let’s hope it’s not gonna happen again,” the possibilities of another Hitler-like leader coming to power are real. “It can happen if you don’t watch who comes up,” she says.

Rosen credits the Nation’s Lizzy Ratner for mentioning the interview in a recent piece about the Jewish refugees who were prevented from entering the United States during the Nazi era. One of those people was Rae Kushner, who ended up enduring horrific circumstances in large part due to her family’s inability to flee to the United States or elsewhere.


Ratner writes:

Kushner’s description of her family’s years under Nazi occupation is harrowing, and the full scope of what she experienced deserves to be heard in her own words, not simply mediated through a journalist. What can be said, however, is that during several years of unremitting horror, she lost her mother, her older sister, and her younger brother, along with thousands upon thousands of neighbors, friends, and extended family, as the Novogrudok ghetto was whittled from roughly 30,000 Jews to 350. The only way she, her father, and her younger sister managed to survive was by escaping from the ghetto in 1943 through a hand-dug tunnel—one through which all the remaining Jews attempted to crawl to freedom. Many didn’t survive once they made it to the other side, but, miraculously, Kushner, her father, and her sister did—and were eventually rescued by the legendary Jewish partisan Tuvia Bielski. For a year, they lived in the forest with Bielski’s brigade of more than 1,000 Jews until, in the spring of 1944, “he brought us out from the woods.” Novogrudok had been liberated by the Soviets.

Significantly though, that’s not where the troubles end for Kushner. Despite the horror they had endured, people often forget that the world still didn’t want to open its doors to the Jewish survivors of the Holocaust. Rae Kushner and her family ended up living in a displaced-persons camp in Italy for three-and-a-half years, and that’s where she gave birth to her first child.

Seven decades later, Rae Kushner’s grandson is one of the most important senior advisers—even sometimes described as the “final decision-maker”—to a president who has literally shut the country’s doors to refugees once again. Rae Kushner died in 2004.

Daniel Politi has been contributing to Slate since 2004 and wrote the Today’s Papers column from 2006 to 2009. Follow him on Twitter.