A message from historic Cuban exiles to the next generation

“Somewhere not Here” — Painting by Cuban-American artist, Mano. 

By Dr. Jose Azel in the Azel Perspective:

The Historic Cuban Exiles

To the next generation

We are the generation of the aging heroes of the Cuban urban resistance of the 1960’s, of the Bay of Pigs invasion, of the uprising in the Escambray mountains, of the Pedro Pan exodus, and of the Vietnam War. We are a generation of Cuban-Americans that has fought valiantly defending freedom in both our adopted homeland and our place of birth. The youngest of our generation are now in their 70s, and we are necessarily passing the responsibility and the honor of defending freedom to a new generation.

We are a generation who stood alone against the tide and refused to salute the emerging totalitarian regime in our homeland. And yet, nowadays we are sometimes derided as intransigent old men and women who refuse to see a new reality that, according to some, requires accommodating the Cuban regime. We persist in a lonely intransigence reminiscent of that notorious 1936 image of the one man in the crowd who refused the Nazi salute to Hitler.

I urge the reader to look up this iconic photograph. It is a picture of hundreds of shipyard workers in Hamburg, Germany pledging alliance to the Führer with their right arms outstretched in the Nazi salute. If you look closely, you can see a man (just right of center) who keeps his arms folded to his chest even though he is surrounded by fellow countrymen entranced in the spell of Nazi fanaticism. He alone is refusing to salute, and, in retrospect, he is the only one on the right side of history. We, historic Cuban exiles, were also on the right side of history.

The identity of the man who refuses to salute Hitler is not known with certainty but is believed to be August Landmesser. Landmesser had actually joined the Nazi Party in 1931, but four years later, when he became engaged to a Jewish woman (Irma Eckler), he was expelled from the party. Unwilling to renounce his relationship, Landmesser was imprisoned and eventually drafted into penal military service. In 1944 he was killed in action fighting in Croatia. His wife Irma was arrested by the Gestapo and held at several concentration camps. It is believed she was among the 14,000 murdered in the Bernburg Euthanasia Center in 1942. Theirs was a love story without a Hollywood ending.

I bring up the image of the man who refused to salute to spotlight the daring and courage of historic Cuban exiles who saw what others failed to see. Like those surrounding Landmesser in the picture, those surrounding us in the early days of the Cuban Revolution were tragically wrong. The historic Cuban exiles rejected the Cuban regime when others embraced it. Like the man who refused to salute, we resisted totalitarianism in the face of mass hysteria.

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