THE UNWANTED by Michael Dobbs


America, Auschwitz, and a Village Caught in Between
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Dobbs (Six Months in 1945: FDR, Stalin, Churchill, and Truman—from World War to Cold War, 2012, etc.) follows the trail and the trials of the Jewish population of Kippenheim, a small village near the Black Forest.

For decades in this rural area, there was little friction with the locals, and anti-Semitism seemed to be confined to cities and towns. As the author writes, “for many Christian Kippenheimers, antisemitism was more a matter of class resentment than racial hatred….A cultural and psychological gulf developed between the Christian farmers and the Jewish tradesmen.” Despite the gulf, there wasn’t much violence. However, everything changed with Kristallnacht, a supposed “spontaneous protest” against “murderous” Jews. The senseless roundup and destruction of Jewish men was the signal, to those who were paying attention, that Germany was not safe. In this potent, focused history, Dobbs tells the alternately heart-wrenching and uplifting story of the Kippenheim Jews who entered the tangle of bureaucracy involved in the efforts to obtain visas and flee Germany. Most wished to go to the United States, but there were immigration quotas, and those quotas were filled in 1938, with little hope of expansion. Thankfully, there were those who eventually made it to America, but they were often greeted with xenophobia. In his thorough research, the author discovered many instances of those who bent the rules to help—e.g., tireless organizations like the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee and the Rescue Board as well as many brave individuals—and he generously shares those stories with readers in the hopes that we will never forget what happened to the thousands of “unwanted” refugees who fled the Nazi killing machine. In her foreword, Sara Bloomfield, the director of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, encapsulates the author’s project: No amount of studying or writing or memorializing can bring back those who were murdered….But it can help us remember them as people who lived, not just victims who died.”

A welcome addition to Holocaust literature that remains relevant to our current isolationist times.

Pub Date: April 2nd, 2019
ISBN: 978-1-5247-3319-3
Page count: 372pp
Publisher: Knopf
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15th, 2019


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