The Holocaust Remembered
Recent events such as the fire-bombing of a synagogue in Ukriane and Iran’s constant tirades about wiping Israel off the face of the earth show how important it is to observe Holocaust Remembrance Day on April 28th. Two recently published books contain inspiring messages of hope, making life choices, and how individuals can make a difference. Steven Pressman, the author of 50 Children: One Ordinary American Couple’s Extraordinary Rescue Mission into the Heart of Nazi Germany and Joel C. Rosenberg, the author of The Auschwitz Escape discussed with American Thinker how their books exemplify those messages.
50 Children: One Ordinary American Couple’s Extraordinary Rescue Mission into the Heart of Nazi Germany superbly intertwines the events of the Nazi tyranny towards the Jews with the 1939 rescue planned and implemented by two Jewish Americans, Gil and Eleanor Krause. The first part of the book discusses the events in Germany and America that led to the desire by Gil and Eleanor to initiate a plan of rescue. The second part of the book goes into a fascinating account of the rescue itself and how the children were chosen. The author explains that in 1939 Jews were encouraged to leave after all their possessions were seized. The last part of the book allows the readers to gain a glimpse of the children’s lives from their adjustment in America to the present day.
Where 50 Children leaves off, The Auschwitz Escape picks up. It is a riveting and realistic novel with the Holocaust as a backdrop. Readers are taken on a journey with the main character, Jacob, having to endure the German anti-Semitic laws to entering and surviving Auschwitz. It is based on the April 7, 1944, true escape by Rudolf Vrba, aka Rudolf Rosenberg, and Alfred Wetzler followed by the May 27th, 1944 escape of Arnost Rosin and Czeslaw Mordowicz. As with the real escapees, Jacob writes an eyewitness report, “The Auschwitz Protocol,” detailing the extermination camps and the threat to the Hungarian Jews. Although 300,000 Hungarian Jews were killed it is believed that 120,000 were saved.
Both authors hope that their books, written seventy-five years after the Holocaust, will serve as reminders of what happened and a warning of what can still happen, as is demonstrated by resurgent anti-Semitism in Ukraine. Pressman told American Thinker, “My first reaction was how could this be happening in the 21st Century? How is this possible? It’s chilling to read about these reports and they took me back to 1939 Vienna, the setting for my book.”
Rosenberg noted, “In the 1930s, Winston Churchill warned the world that Adolf Hitler and the Nazis represented a gathering storm that had to be stopped early and decisively lest disaster ensue. A new gathering storm is brewing, as dangerous as the last, if not more so. I see darkness falling in the world again. It reminds me of the dark times during the 1930s and 1940s and how evil was confronted. If Iran is allowed to get the bomb I do think we could have a second Holocaust. People who forget history are doomed to repeat it.”
Both books offer informative insights into the obstacles Jews faced in entering the U.S. during that period. Pressman offers an in depth description of how America’s immigration laws, leaders, and different administrative departments prevented many Jews from being rescued. The State Department actively thwarted Jews from legally entering America. The author gives a very detailed account on how the number of visas in the 1930s actually exceeded the number of immigrants actually entering the U.S. This was due to the State Department’s employees who had no sympathy for the plight of the Jews and were openly anti-Semitic, such as Breckinridge Long. As a powerful quote from one of those who were rescued puts it, “This was a time when everybody could get out but nobody would let us in.”
Pressman explained, “Gil’s toughest obstacle was not the Gestapo in Berlin or Vienna, but was the U.S. State Department. It was tougher for Gil to get the children into the U.S. than it was to get them out of Nazi Germany. It is a minor miracle that Gil Kraus was able to work within the system and figure out a way to get the visas for those fifty children. He had to overcome frustration and high level State Department officials, like Breckinridge Long, who were openly anti-Semitic, had no sympathy for the plight of the Jews, and put up brick walls. I discuss the arguments coming out of the depression about immigrants taking away American jobs. What about the children? A ten year old is not going to take away a job. FDR was not going to go to war to save Jews. He knew that public opinion polls showed that 95% of the American public were against liberalizing the immigration laws. I think in reading this story Americans should be reminded that this country fell short. People should remember that during this period the Nazis wanted the Jews to leave, although they were only able to leave with the shirts on their back.”
Rosenberg also discusses the obstacles faced in his book. “The Auschwitz Protocols” is a collection of eyewitness reports about the mass murders taking place in the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp. Rosenberg does not blame the allies for not immediately taking action. He told American Thinker, “Unfortunately it took time for the “Auschwitz Protocol” to be translated, printed, and distributed in a world without the Internet. At the time it was arriving the various allied capitals were finishing the final plans for the D-Day invasion of Normandy on June 6th, 1944. There was not any extra emotional, mental, or physical resources. However, there were opportunities, as evidence shows, where they could have bombed the railroad tracks or the camp itself. Some Jews were begging the allies to destroy the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp even though the prisoners there might have died. There was aerial photography of the camps so the question remains how come there was no attempt to liberate or at least bomb these camps?”
These books are important reads because they show that even with all the obstacles these individuals were able to succeed. Rosenberg told the story of how the escapees accomplished their task through extraordinary wit, perseverance, and rational thought. In these camps the average life expectancy was 6 to 7 weeks, yet those who escaped to warn the world amazingly lived under those horrific conditions for over two years. In reality, there were approximately 800 attempts with about one hundred successes. Besides the four true heroes there were several Polish intelligence officers who escaped, but unfortunately the West did not believe their warnings, seeing it as Polish propaganda. Rosenberg believes that “The Auschwitz Protocols” did help some Jews to survive, noting that approximately 120, 000 Hungarian Jews were saved because the Nazis felt the Jewish deportations in late 1944 were causing the allied bombing reprisals.
Pressman also sees his book as a success story since the fifty children saved by the Krauses turned out to be the single largest group of unaccompanied children brought to America. Yet, the number is actually much larger than fifty if people take into account those children who lived to have children and grandchildren. He also feels that the book emphasizes how two ordinary individuals were able to do an extraordinary deed, including knowing as Jews “they were in the belly of the beast. They literally had to sit across the desk from a Gestapo officer explaining how they planned on taking the fifty Jewish children to America.”
Both authors are hoping that these books will remind people of the broader picture regarding the Holocaust. There is a need to recognize that within about ten years there will be no living eyewitnesses left. As Holocaust Remembrance Day on April 28th is observed, readers can reflect on these powerful stories about the choices made in the course of one’s life. People should think about what is happening today and ask themselves would they have the strength and courage to take action as the heroic characters in these two books did. Every generation should hold themselves responsible for keeping the victims’ stories alive.
The author writes for American Thinker. She has done book reviews, author interviews, and has written a number of national security, political, and foreign policy articles.