I am the daughter of an immigrant mother who barely survived the siege of Budapest and who came here in 1949. She never wanted to leave Hungary.

In 1980, her first time back there, she took me with her. It was well before the Iron Curtain crumbled. I learned how hard life was for my relatives living under a repressive regime.

During that trip, we also went to Germany and, along with beautiful tourist spots, she made sure we went to Dachau Prison Camp.

On a later trip in the 1990s, while in Prague, I spent a day in the Jewish ghetto and cemetery and the children’s Holocaust museum. The silent echo of unimaginable pain and anguish pervade those places. They are sacred ground.

In 1969, the first two students of color — two African Americans — were admitted at my all-white southern girls boarding school. I was there on financial aid, as were those girls. We came to love and respect each other as people. The school went to great lengths to make it work. At some point, the series “Roots” aired on television and we were blessed with a visit from Alex Haley, the author. I still remember the power of the conversations with that man and his great dignity, and I will never forget my two classmates.

I am also a woman who came of age in the feminist movement and who now leads a small non-profit that is a safe and sacred place for the support and empowerment of women in the inner city of Lewiston. Every day, I am with women who have had all the decks stacked against them, who have suffered the scars of violence since childhood and who are marginalized by society. We come together in solidarity as a community of women helping women make our lives better.

History matters. If we don’t face and learn from it, we are condemned to repeat it. Maine’s Gov. Paul LePage and the new president of this United States, Donald Trump, are my age, or a bit older. I would hope that they would remember how this country was when we were young. Are they not conscious of what happened to the native peoples of this land when Europeans invaded? Are they ignorant of the Holocaust, slavery and Jim Crow and the impact those systems had on the victims? Can they not understand that their descendents continue to suffer repercussions from the injustices perpetrated by our ancestors, some of which we continue to repeat?

Our democratic republic — and note that this is a republic, not a democracy (and anybody who doesn’t know the difference, should) — is a very fragile thing. If this country is to survive and thrive, elected representatives need to right the wrongs of the past or the wounds will fester and hurt everyone. And if this nation repeats past behaviors and continues to treat women, immigrants and people of color, LGBT people and others as lesser citizens, it will haunt this country for generations forward.

So, I challenge Gov. LePage and President Trump to visit one of the Nazi prison camps in Europe and to go on one of the pilgrimage trips that are organized by U.S. Rep. John Lewis, D-Georgia, to Selma, Alabama. After that trip, I doubt they will be able to look Rep. Lewis in the eye and say the things they have said about him recently.

While they are at it, they might visit the National Holocaust Museum, the Smithsonian’s Native American Museum and new African American Museum, the Women’s Rights National Historic Park in Seneca Falls, New York, and Ellis Island. I hope they take time to feel the burden of what happened to millions of people just like us. I hope the experiences have the same impact on them as they have had on me, make them think more deeply and impact their decisions, actions and words going forward.

For me, I will strive to live up to the model set by my mother and my two high school classmates — to love my country, albeit critically, and work to right any wrongs that are within my power to change. I pledge to speak out and work for justice while following the pacifist road of John Lewis and others, such as Ghandi and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. And I will try to live a life of service, like Dorothy Day and the Jesus that I know — one of loving kindness and compassionate response to all fellow human beings, no matter their gender, skin color, religion or country of origin.

That includes honoring everyone’s dignity by not stooping to name calling or belittling anyone, including the governor and president, as they have done to others; and continuing to pray for this great state and country, and for Gov. LePage and President Trump, by name, as they lead us.

May God bless us, everyone. Every one.

Klara Tammany is the executive director of The Center for Wisdom’s Women, Lewiston.

Klara Tammany

Klara Tammany

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