Well Worth Saving: American Universities’ Life-and-Death Decisions on Refugees from Nazi Europe

Laurel Leff. Yale, $26 (320p) ISBN 978-0-300-24387-1
Northeastern University journalism professor Leff (Buried by the Times) unsettles the prevailing narrative of American higher education as a refuge for European scholars fleeing the Holocaust in this harrowing, deeply researched account. Leff explains that, though professors with university job offers weren’t subject to immigration quotas, fewer than 1,000 individuals received special “non-quota” visas from 1933 to 1941. Successful applicants had to be world-class, well-connected scholars, Leff writes, who weren’t “too old or too young, too right or too left, or, most important, too Jewish. Having money helped; being a woman did not.” Leff details the fates of eight academics, including Polish-German musicologist Mieczyslaw Kolinski, who was forced to go into hiding in Belgium despite having an offer to teach at Northwestern University, and Austrian zoologist Leonore Brecher, who was deported from Vienna to the Maly Trostinec extermination camp in Belarus and was never heard from again. While some Americans worked to save colleagues and friends through individual channels or in coordination with such groups as the Emergency Committee in Aid of Displaced Foreign Scholars, others made a bad situation worse: anti-Semitic university officials and an obstructionist U.S. state department, Leff convincingly argues, required paperwork that was impossible to complete in a war zone. The book’s loose narrative structure sometimes makes it difficult to keep names and details straight, but scholars of the Holocaust, immigration policy, and higher education will find Leff’s exhaustive account enlightening. (Dec.)
Reviewed on : 10/09/2019
Release date: 12/01/2019
Genre: Nonfiction
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