In her debut work of history, Bonelli uses a trove of letters to investigate the flight of Jews from Nazi Germany.
Very few German Jews were able to escape to America during the 1930s. The reasons for this included their own initial denial about the severity of their situation, indifference from the assimilated German-Jewish–American community, and, above all, the United States government’s highly restrictive immigration policy. One of the lucky few to get out was Luzie Hatch (originally “Hecht”), a young professional woman from Berlin who was able to make the journey in 1938 with the support of her successful, American-born cousin, Arnold. She settled in New York City and soon began a lifelong career with the American Jewish Committee. During the fraught years between 1938 and 1941, she maintained an active correspondence with a wide network of relatives and friends. Her immediate family fled to the open port of Shanghai, while much of her extended family immigrated to Palestine. Still others fled as far afield as England, Canada and throughout South America, but some never escaped and perished in the Holocaust. Luzie not only carefully saved all their incoming correspondence, but also saved copies of her outgoing letters. This archive forms the backbone of Bonelli’s book, and in addition to providing selections of Luzie’s English-language letters and translations (by Natascha Bodemann) of her German ones, she provides commentary that contextualizes them in the broader social and political situations of the time. There are a few moments where Bonelli overeditorializes, as when she speculates on Luzie’s state of mind, but she generally delivers detailed, well-researched and illuminating information. The book provides a rigorous look at the complexities, obstacles, frustrations and tragedies of the German-Jewish refugee situation in the ’30s, but just as importantly, it offers a personal, empathetic connection to people who might otherwise just be statistics in history books. For this reason, it has as much to teach readers about today’s world, which is filled with war and displacement, as it does about the world of the 1930s.
An intimate, engaging examination of the plight of German Jewish refugees.