Antony Blinken's stepfather survived the Holocaust and was rescued by Americans from a Nazi concentration camp.
President-elect Joe Biden on Tuesday introduced his picks for key Cabinet positions, including Antony Blinken, who he has chosen as secretary of state and whose beliefs about the need to help refugees comes from a very personal place.
Biden introduced Blinken, saying that Blinken's upbringing as the child of a refugee "taught him to never take for granted the very idea of America as a place of possibilities."
Blinken went on to tell the story of his stepfather, Samuel Pisar, who came to the United States after surviving the Holocaust.
He was one of 900 children in his school in Bialystok, Poland, but the only one to survive the Holocaust after four years in concentration camps. At the end of the war, he made a break from a death march into the woods in Bavaria. From his hiding place he heard a deep, rumbling sound. It was a tank. But instead of the iron cross, he saw painted on its side a five-pointed white star. He ran to the tank, the hatch opened, an African-American GI looked down at him, he got down on his knees and said the only three words that he knew in English that his mother taught him before the war: God bless America. That's who we are, that's what America represents to the world, however imperfectly.
Blinken's support of refugees is in stark contrast to the Trump administration, which has been extremely hostile toward those fleeing violence and oppression in their home countries, including by dramatically cutting the number of refugees allowed into the United States.
Just one week after he was sworn in, Trump indefinitely suspended Syrian refugees from the United States, paused the acceptance of other refugees for 120 days, and put a 90-day ban on travelers from predominantly Muslim countries from entering the United States.
Biden's selection of someone like Blinken is part of his signal to the world that he is going to take a different approach than Trump toward refugees.
Blinken isn't the only Biden pick with a refugee past.
Ali Mayorkas, Biden's pick to head the Department of Homeland Security, comes from a Jewish family that fled religious persecution in Russia and then Communist Cuba before making it to the United States.
After Biden announced Mayorkas as his nominee to head Homeland Security, Mayorkas expressed his belief in accepting refugees.
"When I was very young, the United States provided my family and me a place of refuge," Mayorkas tweeted. "Now, I have been nominated to be the DHS Secretary and oversee the protection of all Americans and those who flee persecution in search of a better life for themselves and their loved ones."
Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.