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10 famous refugeesThe world has witnessed the severe effects of violence, poverty and injustice throughout the globe, and innocent people continue to suffer the consequences. The United States and several other countries have often offered refuge to those fleeing war and injustice. Below are 10 famous people who are actually refugees who made iconic contributions in various fields.

  1. Gloria Estefan
    Estefan is a singer, writer and actress who fled Cuba for the United States in the 1960s as a result of Castro’s communist revolution.
  2. Albert Einstein
    Einstein was a Nobel Prize-winning physicist who escaped Nazi Germany in 1938. Einstein took matters into his own hands, providing visa applications and vouching for other refugees also fleeing Nazi Germany.
  3. Madeleine Albright
    Albright fled Czechoslovakia with her family in 1938, settling in the U.K. before moving to the U.S. She became the first woman appointed to the position of U.S. Secretary of State in 1997.
  4. Alek Wek
    Wek was nine years old when she fled South Sudan for Britain with her family in the wake of a civil war. Wek was discovered by a modeling agent and rose to international fame.
  5. Elie Wiesel
    Writer, professor, political activist, Nobel laureate and Holocaust survivor, Wiesel wrote several books about the horrors of the Holocaust. Elie and his wife, Marion, started the Elie Wiesel Foundation in remembrance of the Holocaust and to combat intolerance and injustices.
  6. Freddie Mercury
    Singer, songwriter and producer, Freddie Mercury is best known as the frontman for the rock band Queen. Born in a British Protectorate of the Sultanate of Zanzibar, now Tanzania, Mercury and his family fled during the Zanzibar Revolution in 1964, settling in the U.K.
  7. Marlene Dietrich
    Dietrich was a German-born actress and singer whose career spanned decades. She applied for U.S. citizenship after being offered an acting contract by members of the Nazi Party. Dietrich was also known for her humanitarian efforts during WWII, housing exiles and advocating for their U.S. citizenship.
  8. Wyclef Jean
    Another of these 10 famous people who are actually refugees is Wyclef Jean, Haitian rapper, musician and actor. Jean immigrated to the U.S. as a child with his family during the Duvalier regime in Haiti.
  9. Andy Garcia
    Garcia and his family fled Cuba after the failed Bay of Pigs invasion when he was five years old. He is best known for his role in The Godfather Part III, receiving a Golden Globe for his portrayal of Vincent Santino Corleone. Garcia celebrates his roots and challenges Latino stereotypes in Hollywood.
  10. Theanvy Kuoch
    Kuoch was a slave of the Khmer Rouge between 1975 and 1979, before being found by the Red Cross. With her family, she relocated to the United Nations refugee camp and spent two years working as a nurse in various camps before moving to the U.S. In 1982, she founded Khmer Health Advocates with three American nurses to provide health services for survivors of the Cambodian genocide.

These 10 famous people who are actually refugees have paved the way for themselves and others. Refugees are simply people seeking out a better life in a new country; this is a humanitarian issue, and refugees need our help in rebuilding their lives.

– Jennifer Serrato

Photo: Pixabay

Elie_Wiesel
In 1986 when a committee in Oslo, Norway, awarded Elie Wiesel with the Nobel Peace Prize, they named him one of the “most important spiritual leaders and guides in an age when violence, repression and racism continue to characterize the world.” More than twenty years later, this sentiment still rings true. While the world continues to change, Wiesel’s testimony of peace, atonement, and human dignity holds; the opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference.

Born on September 30, 1928, in Sighte, Romania, Wiesel was raised in a devout Jewish family. When Elie was fourteen years old, the deportation of Hungarian Jews began. Subsequently, Elie and his three sisters and parents were packed into wagons and transported to Auschwitz.

The screams of a madwoman and the smell of burning human flesh greeted the Wiesels. This would be the last time Wiesel saw his mother and youngest sister, who were sent into gas chambers after “selection.” This moment would haunt Wiesel for the rest of his life.

“Never shall I forget that night . . . which has turned my life into one long night. . . . Never shall I forget those flames which consumed my faith forever.” He described in his semi-autobiographical novel Night, “Never shall I forget that nocturnal silence which deprived me, for all eternity, of the desire to live.”

His father later died while being transported to Buchenwald. Despite the horrors endured by Wiesel during his time in Auschwitz, Wiesel remains startlingly altruistic. His main concern was never to seek revenge, but to prevent the recurrence of the events. His books give an eyewitness account of the horrors undertaken by the Nazi Regime while analyzing the reasons behind the events.

Wiesel aims to awaken the consciousness. It is not the number of the victims, nor the human slaughter factories that Elie Wisel wants us to address. It is the ease in which people so quickly adopted a philosophy in which being a Jew was a crime.

He does not want to gain sympathy from the world, because what has happened, happened. Rather he wants an answer to the question: what are we doing now to prevent it from happening again?

Elie Wiesel was released from Buchenwald in the spring of 1945. With other Jewish children, he was sent to France and studied at the Sorbonne until he left for the U.S. to become a journalist.

Tormented by his time in Auschwitz, it took Wiesel ten years to finally put his experience on paper. His first novel, Night, was written in Yiddish with the simple intention of being a coping mechanism; it has now sold over 6 million copies and has been translated in over 30 languages.

Wiesel’s story, which initially would not be published because many deemed it too depressing, is now one that inspires people from all backgrounds. His message has attained a universal degree. It is the communication of human to humankind. The fight for freedom and human dignity is not an isolated case that we have now overcome, but is an ongoing lesson to never forget the past.

Elie Wiesel is an honorary professor at City College in New York and also holds a professorship in humanities at Boston University. He is the leader of the American Holocaust Commission, and has written 26 full-length books.

Wiesel at one point had been reduced to a number on his wrist, prisoner A 7713. Today, rather than embarking on a mission of revenge, he says, “I will conquer our murderers by attempting to reconstruct what they destroyed.”

No description of the death camps could ever accurately portray what unfolded within them, and any attempts would seem to shame the dead. Remaining silent, however, would be an even greater betrayal. With that, Wiesel took pen to paper and spoke to the world. The dead, ultimately, should not have to die in vain.

Elie Wiesel, when finally released, stared at his skeletal figure reflected in the mirror, and could only ask, “why me?” The only answer to that question was to speak of the horrors that occurred. As a seventeen-year-old boy with little education, his voice was not loud, and his words were not complex. Nevertheless, they were said, and more importantly, they were heard.

The power and tenacity of the human spirit was tested during the dark years of 1939 to 1945. Though many may be tempted to believe that the unthinkable shall never repeat, compliance and silence cause us to quickly forget. But we must remember, as Wiesel teaches us, that those who do not remember the past are doomed to repeat it.

– Chloe Nevitt
Feature Writer

Sources: SparkNotes, Nobel Prize
Photo: Clive Davis