In 1938, on the eve of World War II, the American journalist Dorothy Thompson wrote that “a piece of paper with a stamp on it” was “the difference between life and death.”
For the Jewish villagers of Kippenheim, no challenge was as urgent or formidable as escaping Nazi Germany, often by acquiring American visas. Deported to unoccupied France in 1940, then interned in concentration camps, they became entangled in bureaucratic red tape, some perishing in Auschwitz with their applications still “pending.” Those who survived by reaching the U.S. understood all too well that an American immigration visa often meant the difference between life and death.
In his book The Unwanted: America, Auschwitz, and a Village Caught in Between, Michael Dobbs painstakingly documents how several members of this small community struggled to find refuge and what obstacles stood in their way. Drawing on previously unpublished letters, diaries, interviews and visa records, Dobbs provides an illuminating account of America’s response to the refugee crisis of the 1930s and 1940s. He describes the deportation of German Jews to France in October 1940, along with their continuing quest for American visas. And he re-creates the heated debates among U.S. officials over whether or not to admit refugees amid growing concerns about “fifth columnists,” at a time when the American public was deeply isolationist, xenophobic and antisemitic.
Join Dobbs and Sonja Geismar, a Holocaust survivor whose mother lived in Kippenheim, in conversation with NBC 4 New York journalist Adam Kuperstein. Together, they will explore these individual stories of escape and tragedy, conveying the human impact of Americans’ response to the refugee crisis in the 1930s and 1940s.
Published in partnership with the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, The Unwanted is part of a groundbreaking educational initiative, Americans and the Holocaust.
A book signing follows the event.