7 decades ago, blonde haired Europeans were fleeing to the Middle East
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7 decades ago, blonde haired Europeans were fleeing to the Middle East

Orient Net - R. Sikora
Date: 2016-07-03 15:33
As Europe continues to struggle with its response to a historic flood of migrants and refugees during the past few years, Europeans would do well to remember that not so long ago many of their relatives were making the reverse journey towards Syria and the Middle East in search of safety.

In the mid-1940s -- while the boots of Hitler’s army were stomping their way across the continent -- more than 60 million Europeans were forced to leave their homes as they fled persecution. 

Ironically, many of them wound up living in refugee camps in Syria, Egypt and Palestine.

The provocative images we have seen of Syrian refugees walking from Greece to Serbia, Croatia, Hungary and Germany have been reminiscent of old black and white photos of those European refugees that were taken during and after World War II.

Some of these iconic photos have been given a contemporary face lift by freelance photo editor Sanna Dullaway who was commissioned to colorize them by TIME magazine.

Dullaway, who lives in Sweden, is the host of a column on colorized photography that is a monthly feature on TIME LightBox.

The vintage photos depict people of all ages and classes in the mid-1940s at various stages of the long reverse journey through southern Europe and into the safety being offered by MERRA, the Middle East Relief and Refugee Administration, which had established camps in Egypt, Palestine and Syria -- including the now devastated city of Aleppo -- for the purpose of housing those fleeing from the brutal war sweeping across Europe. 

Tens of thousands of Europeans responded to MERRA’s promise of a safe place to wait out the war and escape the bloody conflict.

The MERRA initiative was just a part of what turned into a large network of refugee camps around the world that were made possible through a collaboration of national governments, military officials and domestic and international aid organizations. 

Although archival records provide only limited information on the demographics of World War II refugee camps in the Middle East, we do know that social welfare groups including the International Migration Service, the Red Cross, the Near East Foundation and Save the Children all pitched in to help MERRA and, later, the United Nations to run the camps.

At a time when prejudice against Syrian refugees continues to grow worldwide, we would all do well to remember that just 70 years ago, blonde haired Europeans were fleeing to the Middle East. 

Now that the situation has been reversed, will their descendants continue to close their borders, their minds and their hearts to Syria’s desperate refugees -- or will they choose to return that long ago kindness that was shown to their own ancestors?


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