(courtesy Andrew Silton)
When they arrive in America, some Afghan refugees will be directly aided by the legacy of Jewish refugees of another era.
HIAS has of course helped resettle thousands of people in previous generations, many of them Jews fleeing Europe during WWII. Now through the generosity of two families who have endowed funds in honor of four individuals resettled by HIAS, a new generation of refugees will be helped in their names.
The timing was, sadly, auspicious. “We did not envision that a refugee crisis would be underway in Afghanistan when we first began working on this project,” said Andrew Silton, who together with his wife, Maggie, created the Peter and Lore Silton Endowment fund for emergency response in his parents’ memory. “However, we knew that at any given moment, there will be refugees displaced by war, natural disaster, or political upheaval.”
Peter and Lore Silton were both Holocaust survivors who received support from HIAS after World War II. Lore Rosenberg and her family, facing deportation in Vichy France, illegally crossed the Swiss border as stateless Jews in September 1942. Lore worked for HIAS in Zurich before emigrating to the United States. Peter and his family slipped through German lines in Yugoslavia in 1941, were captured by the Italian Army, and were interned in camps in Albania and Italy. After their liberation, Peter and his family worked for the British Army and an international relief agency to provide services and support for refugees.
“My parents believed that America should always be open to refugees in general, and talked about our obligation to protect Afghans,” Silton said. “If they were with us here now, I imagine they would be driving to Kennedy Airport to welcome the new arrivals to the United States.”
Both families endowed funds to commemorate beloved parents, but also to continue their families’ commitment to refugee rights for the present and future. Jim Hamos, who created the Agnes and Gary Hamos Fund for general operating costs, is a member of Temple Micah in Washington, D.C., and has been active in their work with HIAS over the last few years.
Watching the situation in Afghanistan, Hamos thought about his own resettlement as a 3-year-old to the United States, with HIAS’ help, during the Hungarian Revolution of 1956.
"As Russian tanks rolled down the streets of Budapest, my grandmother — a woman who hid from the Nazis in 1944-45 and lost her husband during the Holocaust — told my parents to leave immediately, during a short window of opportunity, as she had arranged for a smuggler to meet us at the border. My parents quickly took my sister and me by train where we were brought across the border into Austria under searchlights, in the mud and in the dark," he said.
The Hamos family made it to Vienna where they were among only 38,000 Hungarian refugees who were allowed to come to America. With the help of HIAS, they were flown to Camp Kilmer in New Jersey. From there, uncles picked them up and drove them to Cleveland where they resettled with the support of the local Jewish Family Services agency.
“That’s how our American success story began, and now I want to give back.” Hamos said. “I hope this fund helps HIAS give Afghan and other families the same kind of chance my family got.”
If you’re interested in establishing a named endowment fund at HIAS, please contact Development@hias.org