Comprehensive, well-argued investigation into why more Jews didn’t flee Europe during the Holocaust.
Dwork (director, Strassler Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies/Clark Univ.) and van Pelt (Cultural History and Architecture/Waterloo Univ.) use archival and oral histories to explain this aspect of the period’s history, which is sometimes eclipsed by the political and military components. Setting the stage by describing different perceptions of conditions in the Weimar Republic, the frequent co-authors (Holocaust: A History, 2002, etc.) note that “where Nazis saw perdition and ruin, German Jews experienced progress toward political emancipation and cultural equality.” Dwork and van Pelt take both a macro- and a micro-historical look at the issues, avoiding the twin traps of esotericism and sentimentality. They explore the behind-the-scenes debates in several countries—including Britain, Switzerland and the United States—about whether to accept refugees. They also chronicle the efforts of humanitarian volunteers to help Jews, going far beyond the well-known tale of Raoul Wallenberg. The authors extensively detail the sacrifices and risks that Jews faced as they decided whether to attempt to escape. Many experienced serious professional setbacks in their new home countries, but the problems often originated from an unlikely source. “The rejection operated on a social level,” write Dwork and van Pelt. “If it had been a question of marginalization by the government alone, the asylum seekers would not have experienced such profound isolation. But they were spurned by their professional peers whose attitude was: I didn’t want you to come here to practice.”
While their prose is sometimes dry, the details the authors uncover and the broad sweep of their narrative make the book an invaluable addition to the literature on the Holocaust.