The powerfully told story of a group of German Jews desperately seeking American visas to escape Nazi Germany, and an illuminating account of America’s response to the refugee crisis of the 1930’s and 40’s. This book complements the exhibition The Americans and the Holocaust that is now on view at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC
In October 1940 the Gestapo expelled 6,504 Jews from southwest Germany, creating the first official “Jewish free zone” in the Third Reich. Interned in concentration camps in Vichy France, the deportees set out on a multi-year quest to acquire American visas. One in four eventually managed to gain entry to the U.S. or to other foreign countries; the remainder perished in French camps or, later, in Auschwitz.
Among these “unwanted” refugees were Jews from the village of Kippenheim, whose stories are at the heart of this book. Drawing on previously unpublished letters, diaries, and visa records, Michael Dobbs provides a vivid picture of what it was like to live among increasingly hostile neighbors, waiting for “the piece of paper with a stamp” that meant the difference between life and death. And he recounts the debates over the fate of these refugees occurring simultaneously at the highest levels of the American government at a time when the public was deeply isolationist, xenophobic and antisemitic. Here is the riveting narrative of a small community struggling to survive amid tumultuous events and reach a safe haven despite the odds stacked against them.
Michael Dobbs was born and educated in Britain, but is now a U.S. citizen. He was a long-time reporter for The Washington Post, covering the collapse of communism as a foreign correspondent. He has taught at leading American universities, including Princeton, the University of Michigan, and Georgetown. He is currently on the staff of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. His previous books include the bestselling One Minute to Midnight on the Cuban missile crisis, which was part of an acclaimed Cold War trilogy. He lives outside Washington, D.C.