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The Unwanted: America, Auschwitz, and a Village Caught in Between Paperback – March 10, 2020
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“A heartbreaking and timely read. . . . [Dobbs has] a reporter's eye for narrative and a historian's attention to detail and context. . . . He follows these Jewish families through harrowing cycles of deportation and desperation as they attempt to flee to safety.” —The Washington Post
“[W]eaves a devastating tapestry of too many hopes wrecked and too few lives saved. . . . [Dobbs] chronicles in meticulous, suspenseful detail the desperate perseverance of one Kippenheim family after another to find an escape from Nazi Europe.” —The Wall Street Journal
“Too often when we speak of atrocities, mass murder, crimes against humanity, or genocide we think in terms of hundreds of thousands, if not millions. The Unwanted reminds us that the victims of each atrocity are individuals with their own story and their own particular tragedy. Michael Dobbs has written a compelling history of the Jewish community of one town. We come to know these individuals in a deeply personal way. He brings us into their lives and we experience their desperate struggle to survive at a time when they were abandoned by the world.” —Deborah E. Lipstadt, Ph.D., author of Antisemitism Here and Now
“Michael Dobbs has written a moving and powerful book that delves into detailed historical records of a single German town to offer a vivid portrait of the human costs of Nazi antisemitism and the tragic consequences of an unresponsive refugee policy. A compelling read for anyone concerned about the effects of refugee policy in the face of contemporary episodes of persecution and ethnic violence.” —Michael Chertoff, U.S. Secretary for Homeland Security, 2005–2009
About the Author
- Publisher : Vintage; Reprint edition (March 10, 2020)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 384 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0525434836
- ISBN-13 : 978-0525434832
- Item Weight : 12.8 ounces
- Dimensions : 5.12 x 0.78 x 7.98 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #154,833 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
About the author
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Kippenheim is located in the German area of Baden. It's not far from the French/German border of the Rhine River. (Dobbs helpfully puts maps of both the village and it's location in Germany). Jews and Christians lived peacefully with each other for generations. The town's synagogue was right down the street from the Catholic Church. However, by the mid-1930's, as the Nazis consolidated their hold on the government and the people, Kippenheim's Jews began to feel the regime's oppression. Some residents - perhaps more omniscient than others - left Kippenheim for safer places. But by 1938 and the Kristallnacht pogrom, Jews all over Germany woke up to the deep threat of the Nazis. Plans were made to leave Germany, but those plans entailed getting approvals from nations to emigrate to and approvals to leave Germany. (It was still the official German policy to encourage Jewish emigration rather than extermination. That came later.)
Dobbs details three or four families from the village and the attempts they made to "get out". Many were successful and were able to leave before and slightly after the breakout of war on September 3, 1939. But most of the remaining Jews were sent to Gurs - a holding camp in the southwest part of France. From there, attempts by United States charities and government entities to save these few thousands of German Jews ( including Kippenheim's contingent) and send them to safety in the US or Mexico or Martinique.
By concentrating on the fates of a hundred or so German Jews in the morass of Gurs and Marseilles, and interspersing the activities being carried on by the US to both save them from being "sent East" OR foil that attempt because of prejudice by some American officials, Michael Dobbs has delivered a dandy of a book. He's an incredibly smooth writer and he seems to know that readers appreciate maps and pictures and charts because he includes them in the text. His story of the village of Kippenheim is complete when he looks at the village today.
(By the way, I have always thought that this Michael Dobbs was the same author who wrote "House of Cards" and other works of fiction. I just thought he was a very prolific writer. But they're not the same guy though they may be cousins.)
Dobbs's subject is the immigration policy of the United States, focusing on the years 1938 to 1943. These years spanned the period between Kristallnacht (November 9-10, 1938) and October 23, 1941, when Reichsführer "Heinrich Himmler issued a decree banning Jewish emigration from the Reich." The official Nazi practice from that date onward was systematic annihilation rather than expulsion.
Did FDR betray the Jews of Europe?
Americans tend to seek simple answers to complex questions. But that's not possible in evaluating the response of the United States government to the plight of Jewish refugees from Nazi Germany. Many believe that FDR deliberately and callously rejected efforts to admit thousands of refugees on the St. Louis and other ships and that he repeatedly refused to increase immigration quotas that would permit many more to be saved. But did FDR betray the Jews? Dobbs makes it abundantly clear that the President had little or no choice in these matters. Four out of five Americans opposed increased immigration; many were especially hostile to Jewish refugees. And Congress was dominated by isolationists, many of them overtly anti-Semitic. FDR was convinced that any effort to circumvent the immigration quotas laid down in decades of restrictive policies would trigger an effort by Congress to restrict the inflow of immigrants even more harshly.
For FDR, the priority was to steer the United States toward its inevitable place among the Allies before Pearl Harbor and, after that, to keep Congress from shrinking the immigration quotas. Despite often intense pressure from his wife, the organized American Jewish community, and sympathetic allies such as the Quakers, he did in fact decline to open the rolls wider. But that practice must be seen in the wider context of the times. FDR believed the country was doing the most it possibly could to accommodate Jewish refugees.
The United States admitted more Jewish refugees than any other country except Palestine
As Dobbs reports, from 1933 to 1942, "162,575 'Hebrew immigrants' had been admitted to the United States since Hitler's rise to power in Germany. A hundred thousand had arrived in the three years following Kristallnacht. Adding visitor visas, the total number of self-identified Hebrew admissions for the decade came to 204,085." This number was far greater than that of any other country. "The only territory that accepted more Jews than the United States during the same decade was British-administered Palestine."
It's well known that the US State Department under Cordell Hull (1933-1944) was riddled with anti-Semitism. Clearly, some of the consular officials who served on the front lines in Europe in vetting visa applicants were themselves deeply prejudiced and dragged their feet when Jews appeared before them. But Dobbs reports that others played key roles in facilitating the escape of German Jews. Similarly, some officials based in Washington used every bureaucratic trick in the book to slow down or halt the admission of refugees from the Nazis. But others weighed in in support of the Jews, and often with success, sometimes with strong support from the President himself. It's clear that, whatever else might be said of FDR's actions, he was not acting dishonorably or in any way that might be termed prejudiced. To the question, Did FDR betray the Jews?, the direct answer is No.
Forty-one individual human beings caught up in the Holocaust
To bring his subject down to human scale, Dobbs illustrates the impact of the rapidly shifting currents of US immigration policy on the tiny Jewish community of a village called Kippenheim, near the French border in western Germany. In 1933, 144 Jews lived there among a total population of about 1,800. By the end of the decade, only forty-one remained in the village. And Dobbs keeps them all squarely in his sights as he traces American policy through those years.
A teenage girl survived. Millions didn't.
The Unwanted opens and closes through the eyes of Hedy Wachenheimer. Fourteen years old, she witnessed the madness unleashed throughout Germany by Kristallnacht. Although "she was used to being treated like a pariah," that event proved to be a watershed. Her life and that of her family and friends was never the same afterward. Yet through good fortune and the resolute action of loving parents, Hedy not only survived but, six years after fleeing Germany, she returned in an American military uniform as a translator for the Occupation.
Because her parents had forced her to leave on a Kindertransport to England (May 18, 1939), Hedy was among the survivors of Kippenheim's Jewish community. One hundred had left the village before her, although many simply moved to larger towns and cities and were later sent to the death camps. But most of those who remained after that event were not so lucky. Thirty-one were gassed at Auschwitz. They were among the 6,500 Jews deported from the state of Baden to concentration camps in unoccupied France in October 1940. "Roughly one in four of the deportees died [there] . . ., many from typhus or malnutrition. Four out of ten were deported to Auschwitz. Eleven percent found refuge overseas, mostly in the United States. A further 12 percent, mainly children and elderly women, succeeded in hiding out in France until the end of the war."
About the author
Michael Dobbs is best known on both sides of the Atlantic as the author of a book called House of Cards, on which both the British and American hit TV shows were based. At various times he has been involved in politics, journalism, advertising, and public speaking. He holds a doctorate from Harvard and Tufts Universities and sits in Britain's House of Lords.