Rescue board The untold story of America's efforts to save the Jews of Europe

Rebecca Erbelding

Book - 2018

"America has long been criticized for refusing to give harbor to the Jews of Europe as Hitler and the Nazis closed in. Now a U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum scholar tells the extraordinary story of the War Refugee Board, President Franklin D. Roosevelt's little-known effort late in the war to save the Jews who remained. In January 1944, a young Treasury lawyer named John Pehle accompanied his boss to a meeting with the president. For more than a decade, the Jews of Germany had sought re...fuge in the United States and had been stymied by Congress's harsh immigration policy. Now the State Department was refusing to authorize relief funds Pehle wanted to use to help Jews escape Nazi territory. At the meeting, Pehle made his best case--and prevailed. Within days, FDR created the War Refugee Board, empowering it to rescue the victims of Nazi persecution, and put John Pehle in charge. Over the next twenty months, Pehle pulled together a team of D.C. pencil pushers, international relief workers, pirates, diplomats, millionaires, confidence men, and rabble-rousers to run operations across four continents and a dozen countries. Together, they tricked the Nazis, forged identity papers, smuggled food into concentration camps, recruited spies, leaked news stories, negotiated ransoms, and funneled millions of dollars into Europe. They bought weapons for the French Resistance and ships to transport Romanian refugees to Palestine. Altogether, they saved tens of thousands of lives. In Rescue Board, U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum scholar Rebecca Erbelding uses unrivaled access to archival materials and fresh interviews with survivors to tell the dramatic unknown story of America's last-ditch effort to save the Jews of Europe"--

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Subjects
Published
New York : Doubleday [2018]
Edition
First edition
Language
English
Physical Description
368 pages, 8 leaves of plates : illustrations ; 25 cm
Bibliography
Includes bibliographical references (pages 289-346) and index.
ISBN
9780385542517
0385542518
Main Author
Rebecca Erbelding (author)
  • Two wars
  • Revelation
  • John Pehle
  • State Department hubris
  • On the acquiescence of this government
  • A War Refugee Board
  • Getting started
  • Hirschmann in Turkey
  • Warnings
  • Protective papers
  • Blood for goods
  • Free ports
  • Whether to bomb, whether to ransom
  • The Horthy offer
  • Adrift
  • Midnight sun
  • What kind of peace
  • A coup in Hungary
  • McClelland's report
  • War at Christmas
  • Prisoner exchanges
  • Packages
  • Liberation
  • Afterword.
Review by Booklist Reviews

Erbelding, archivist and curator at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, conveys the mostly forgotten story of dedicated U.S. Treasury agents who ran covert operations to save European Jews from mass murder at the end of WWII. Under increasing domestic pressure to save Jewish victims of the Nazis and with countries reluctant to accept sufficient numbers as refugees, President Roosevelt funded the War Refugee Board in 1944. Erbelding writes vividly of intrigue and espionage, secret negotiations, money laundering, ransoming of victims, and rescue ships. She describes WRB director John Pehle's international network and how one agent, Raoul Wallenberg of Sweden, became a martyr to the cause. After the Allied liberation, the board helped coordinate relief efforts before dissolving. Criticism of the U.S. responses as "too little, too late" may be valid, but 100,000-plus lives were saved through the WRB's efforts, and Erbelding's history is an important and timely contribution to understanding America's humanitarian efforts during and after WWII, given questions about today's world crises. Copyright 2018 Booklist Reviews.

Review by Library Journal Reviews

In January 1944, with Treasury Department staff having discovered that the State Department was blocking dissemination of information about the Holocaust even as it refused to grant relief funds that could help save Europe's remaining Jews, Treasury Secretary Henry Morgenthau Jr. met with President Franklin Roosevelt, who immediately created the War Refugee Board. Ultimately, tens of thousands of lives were saved. From a scholar associated with the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC, which will open a major exhibit on the subject in April 2018. Copyright 2017 Library Journal.

Review by Library Journal Reviews

Erbelding, a historian, archivist, and curator at the U.S. Holocaust Museum, tells the largely forgotten story of the War Refugee Board (WRB), America's effort to save the remaining European Jews toward the end of World War II. Initially, the United States was slow to respond to the Nazis' genocide as the country was primarily focused on winning the war militarily. Moreover, Congress' strict immigration policy made it extremely difficult for Jews to immigrate. In January 1944, John Pehle, an assistant to the secretary of the treasury, initiated a plan. Franklin D. Roosevelt accepted Pehle's proposal and soon created the WRB by executive order. Under Pehle's leadership, the WRB assembled a team to run operations in several countries and rescued a number of European Jews through creative methods. Erbelding argues against the narrative that the United States was negligent in helping victims of the Holocaust yet agrees that more could have been done (particularly, a less restrictive immigration policy), making the case that the WRB saved thousands. VERDICT Erbelding researched this book for more than ten years, discovering a great deal of lost archival materials in the process. For all interested in untold stories from history.—Dave Pugl, Ela Area P.L., Lake Zurich, IL Copyright 2018 Library Journal.

Review by Publishers Weekly Reviews

Erbelding, an archivist, curator, and historian at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, sifted through almost 19,000 archival documents to tell the story of the War Refugee Board, created by F.D.R. in January 1944 to help save European Jews. She describes how Treasury Secretary Henry Morgenthau Jr. pushed for the WRB's creation after a long battle against the State Department's anti-refugee policies. Led by Treasury official John Pehle, the WRB placed officials in neutral countries, including Switzerland and Turkey. The board's activities included working to save Jewish Hungarians (who formed by far the largest remaining European Jewish community), paying for thousands of fake French identity cards, and supporting the Czech underground, thus contributing to the partisan liberation of camps in that country. Erbelding's book would benefit from a final summary of the WRB's strengths and weaknesses. Still, this first book-length history of the board marks an important contribution to the history of the Holocaust, particularly as it relates to America's belated but vital efforts to stop it. Agent: Anna Sproul-Latimer, Ross Yoon Agency. (Apr.) Copyright 2018 Publishers Weekly.

Review by Publisher Summary 1

A U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum scholar responds to criticism of America for its alleged refusal to give harbor to Jewish victims of Nazism, tracing the extraordinary story of the War Refugee Board and FDR's lesser-known, last-ditch effort to save Europe's Jewish survivors.

Review by Publisher Summary 2

Tells the story of the 1944 War Refugee Board, established by Franklin D. Roosevelt, whose mission was to rescue the victims of Nazi persecution, and their last-ditch operations across four continents efforts to save who they could.

Review by Publisher Summary 3

"America has long been criticized for refusing to give harbor to the Jews of Europe as Hitler and the Nazis closed in. Now a U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum scholar tells the extraordinary story of the War Refugee Board, President Franklin D. Roosevelt's little-known effort late in the war to save the Jews who remained. In January 1944, a young Treasury lawyer named John Pehle accompanied his boss to a meeting with the president. For more than a decade, the Jews of Germany had sought refuge in the UnitedStates and had been stymied by Congress's harsh immigration policy. Now the State Department was refusing to authorize relief funds Pehle wanted to use to help Jews escape Nazi territory. At the meeting, Pehle made his best case--and prevailed. Within days, FDR created the War Refugee Board, empowering it to rescue the victims of Nazi persecution, and put John Pehle in charge. Over the next twenty months, Pehle pulled together a team of D.C. pencil pushers, international relief workers, pirates, diplomats, millionaires, confidence men, and rabble-rousers to run operations across four continents and a dozen countries. Together, they tricked the Nazis, forged identity papers, smuggled food into concentration camps, recruited spies, leaked news stories, negotiated ransoms, and funneled millions of dollars into Europe. They bought weapons for the French Resistance and ships to transport Romanian refugees to Palestine. Altogether, they saved tens of thousands of lives. In Rescue Board, U.S. Holocaust MemorialMuseum scholar Rebecca Erbelding uses unrivaled access to archival materials and fresh interviews with survivors to tell the dramatic unknown story of America's last-ditch effort to save the Jews of Europe"--

Review by Publisher Summary 4

WINNER OF THE NATIONAL JEWISH BOOK AWARDFor more than a decade, a harsh Congressional immigration policy kept most Jewish refugees out of America, even as Hitler and the Nazis closed in. In 1944, the United States finally acted. That year, Franklin D. Roosevelt created the War Refugee Board, and put a young Treasury lawyer named John Pehle in charge.  Over the next twenty months, Pehle pulled together a team of D.C. pencil pushers, international relief workers, smugglers, diplomats, millionaires, and rabble-rousers to run operations across four continents and a dozen countries. Together, they tricked the Nazis, forged identity papers, maneuvered food and medicine into concentration camps, recruited spies, leaked news stories, laundered money, negotiated ransoms, and funneled millions of dollars into Europe. They bought weapons for the French Resistance and sliced red tape to allow Jewish refugees to escape to Palestine. In this remarkable work of historical reclamation, Holocaust historian Rebecca Erbelding pieces together years of research and newly uncovered archival materials to tell the dramatic story of America's little-known efforts to save the Jews of Europe.