Review by Booklist Review
It is the rare historian who can present a tale about the Holocaust that most readers have never heard. Yet that is precisely what Moorhouse (Berlin at War, 2010) has done. His latest tells the story of Aleksander Lados, the Polish ambassador to Switzerland, and his group of supporters, who saved nearly 1,000 Jews from death by giving them forged Latin American passports, thus keeping them out of the Nazi death camps. It was an audacious effort not only due to its scope (the group produced as many as 10,000 documents) but also because, as Moorhouse sadly points out, the "indifference to Jewish suffering" exhibited by most foreign governments meant that they did little to help. Fans of Schindler's List and similar stories will appreciate how thoroughly Moorhouse evokes this horrible era ("Treblinka was the archetype of a death factory, with no facilities except those required for the swift killing and disposal of large numbers of people."), while poli-sci types will be drawn to the intrigue that gave rise to the Lados Group's history-making efforts.
From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review
Historian Moorhouse (Poland 1939) recounts in this immersive chronicle the story of Polish diplomat Aleksander Lados and his colleagues in Bern, Switzerland, who provided fake travel documents to more than eight thousand Jewish people attempting to escape Nazi-occupied Europe during WWII. By 1941, a black market in forged travel documents had emerged in Europe, and Rudolf Hugli, a notary and honorary consul for Paraguay in Switzerland, began issuing and selling fake Paraguayan passports. Working with Hugli, Lados and his staff, who represented Poland's government in exile, became the center of a network of Polish and Jewish activists distributing the documents. The scheme lasted until 1943, when international diplomatic pressure put an end to the operation. (American diplomats were one of the leading voices urging Swiss authorities to shut down the passport pipeline, citing wartime espionage risks.) Lados and his band died in postwar obscurity; the story only became publicly known in 2017, when a Jewish guest of the Polish ambassador in Switzerland described the site as a "holy place," prompting an inquiry into the forgotten history. Moorhouse expertly places the exploits of the Lados Group in the context of both the horrific Nazi violence against Jewish people and foreign governments' callous indifference. The result is a captivating narrative of heroism and an illuminating account of the international diplomatic response to the Holocaust. (Oct.)
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Review by Kirkus Book Review
Historical study of an overlooked hero of the Holocaust. When Poland was occupied during World War II, its legitimate government went into exile. That government posted diplomats who were sometimes recognized, sometimes not, with the Reich momentarily placated by the naming of one, Aleksander Ładoś (1891-1963), not as ambassador but as a temporary chargé d'affaires to Switzerland. "A former journalist and diplomat," writes Moorhouse, author of Poland 1939 and Berlin at War, "Ładoś had served in a number of significant diplomatic posts through the 1920s and '30s." Ładoś had a widespread network of contacts who pulled together, once it became clear that Poland's Jews would be in the vanguard of victims of the rapidly developing Shoah, to find ways to deliver at least some of them to safety. They did so by securing doctored passports and visas, most from Latin American countries and then delivering them to a lucky few. On that note, Moorhouse estimates that the "Ładoś Group" issued passports and other identity documents to somewhere between 8,300 and 11,400 people (the discrepancy comes from the fact that passports sometimes covered whole families and not just individuals). Less than half are known to have survived, since passport holders were often transferred from death camps to "internment camps" where they were subject to starvation and disease. Moorhouse writes circumspectly of sensitive subjects such as how choices were made as to who would receive the forged papers. He also notes that corruption figured in the larger enterprise of document forgery, with some characters outside the group selling documents at a premium. While Moorhouse allows that other groups were active along the same lines--one Polish underground organization "produced some fifty thousand forged documents, on average around one hundred every day"--he makes clear that the forgotten Ładoś deserves to be remembered, as do his lieutenants. A capable investigation of a little-known aspect of World War II history. Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.