Conditional Liberation: Immigration Past and Present in “The New Colossus” and The German Girl

The liberation of immigrants from the chains of their home countries, and the welcoming integration of these individuals into American life is the main message expressed by Emma Lazarus in her poem “The New Colossus”. This theme of liberation of an afflicted and vulnerable group of individuals relates to the events in the novel The German Girl by Armando Lucas Correa in the sense that the protagonist, Hannah, and her family were the victims of the racially-charged displacement implemented by the Nazi Party in World War II. The immigration of Hannah and her family into a welcoming country un-afflicted by the chains of oppression was necessary to their livelihood. In contrast to the idea of America existing as the “Mother of Exiles”(6) as described in “The New Colossus”, America has existed primarily as a contradiction to this title both historically and in the present, with the implementation of certain regulations that have, in turn, limited the rights of various groups of individuals.

The Nazi regime brought with it radical change and the chilling marginalization of the Jewish community within the regions affected by the regime’s influence. Many Jewish members of German society emigrated out of the country within the first few years of the rise of Nazi Party, and thousands of other Jewish individuals were confined to concentration camps as the dictatorship progressed. For many of the Jewish, immigration to another country was a matter of life or death. In “The New Colossus” the lines “Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!” (13) serve as an accurate representation of the redemption that the displaced Jewish community craved and required for survival in light of the atrocities inflicted on the community by the Nazi Party.

In the novel The German Girl, Hannah describes the transition she experiences from the life she knew, and beginning of her immigration process as “We were a wretched mass of fleeing people who had been kicked out of our homes. In just a few seconds, we had become immigrants. . .” Although the novel is a work of fiction, the displacement of these individuals could be both swift and unpredictable. In the novel, Hannah and her family were a part of the luckier group of Jewish individuals able to obtain the means needed to flee Germany.

Although some members of the Jewish community were able to secure passage on a boat, this did not guarantee their safe arrival. An example of this is the ill-fated voyage of the transatlantic liner the St. Louis, in which the majority of the passengers were denied entry to Cuba. The American Government was well-informed in regard to the crisis, yet did not allow passengers aboard the St. Louis entry to the United States. A large portion of the passengers required to return to Germany perished in concentration camps.

In “The New Colossus” Lazarus uses the line “. . .The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.” (12) This line is referencing the countries in which the individuals immigrating to America are traveling from. The idea of this refusal and intolerance of displaced people can be compared to the discrimination seen in the crisis that affected the Jewish community in World War II, and how these individuals were expelled from their own soil. However, it can also be said that the idea of a shore that refuses to accept individuals on the basis of ethnicity, nationality, and other factors is a representation of the true nature of America with the rejection of certain groups of desperate individuals seen during World War II, and in present-day America with restrictions placed on certain travelers and the displacement of those in need of the refuge described in “The New Colossus”.

The idea of the liberation of marginalized individuals is the main theme present in Lazarus’s “The New Colossus”. The idea of liberation relates to the events that took place in The German Girl in the sense that Hannah and her family represented a small number of the homeless immigrants seeking refuge on a welcoming shore during the Nazi regime. However, America contradicts the depiction of the United States as a safe haven for exiles described in “The New Colossus” both historically and in the present with the rejection of certain groups of individuals remaining a prevalent issue.

Works Cited

Correa, Armando Lucas, and Nick Caistor. The German Girl. Atria Books, 2016. Lazarus, Emily. “The New Colossus”. Mays, Kelly J. The Norton Introduction to Literature. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2017. 1354. Book.