Don’t Wave Good­bye: The Chil­dren’s Flight From Nazi Per­se­cu­tion to Amer­i­can Freedom

Philip K. Jason; Iris Pos­ner, eds.
  • Review
By – August 27, 2012

On the premise that the near­ly uni­ver­sal wave” resem­bles the Nazi salute, which was for­bid­den to Jews, Jew­ish chil­dren sent away by their par­ents (often nev­er to see them again) were enjoined not to wave to them. Don’t Wave Good­bye chron­i­cles the res­cue efforts of One Thou­sand Chil­dren, the orga­ni­za­tion whose archives form much of the source mate­r­i­al for this unusu­al book. 

As ear­ly as 1934, and extend­ing to 1945, Amer­i­can Jews, ini­tial­ly through the Amer­i­can Jew­ish Con­gress, then the Amer­i­can Jew­ish Com­mit­tee and B’nai B’rith, began bring­ing Euro­pean Jew­ish chil­dren to the Unit­ed States. In the intro­duc­tion, Judith Tydor Baumel, of Bar-Ilan Uni­ver­si­ty, details the bureau­cra­cy — Amer­i­can law insist­ed on Jew­ish fos­ter homes for the chil­dren — iso­la­tion­ism and prej­u­dice abound­ing in the US, which restrict­ed the immigration. 

The young­sters were 14 months to 16 years old. In the jit­tery Depres­sion atmos­phere in 1934, the spon­sor­ing groups could not even sug­gest that 17-year-olds, a threat to the labor mar­ket, should be included. 

There are sto­ries of 34 indi­vid­u­als, 14 girls and 20 boys. Their ear­li­est mem­o­ries are some­what even­ly told, and are sim­i­lar in describ­ing the cau­tion­ary pro­tec­tive­ness of their Ger­man-Jew­ish par­ents, sharp­ened by Kristall­nacht.

In mem­oirs, diaries, and let­ters from par­ents, we feel the children’s house­hold, school and lan­guage strug­gles, adjust­ing to the US world, rur­al and city. Halfway through the book, the reader’s psy­che is punched by an aged woman’s rec­ol­lec­tion of an episode of deper­son­al­iza­tion (feel­ing detached, as if you are an out­side observ­er of your­self, while oth­er aspects of real­i­ty con­tin­ue to exist), when she was pres­sured to decide for her­self to leave her fam­i­ly. For 60 years, she had nev­er spo­ken of the aber­rant image, and still won­ders that her mind has nev­er been able to recast it into a less trau­mat­ic memory. 

Anoth­er entry, this one by Bill Gra­ham, the rock impre­sario, describes how with an unfor­tu­nate child­hood and undoubt­ed­ly vis­i­ble burrs in his demeanor he lan­guished for nine weeks in an army bar­racks in Pleas­antville, NY. Oth­ers were cho­sen imme­di­ate­ly. At this point his mem­o­ry sharp­ens. His is a dif­fer­ent Amer­i­can suc­cess sto­ry with­in this group. 

Also of note are some side­lights on the British Kinder­trans­port, which res­cued 10,000 young­sters. Dr. Baumel ends her analy­sis with a cau­tion­ary what would hap­pen today” if Jew­ish chil­dren were again so threatened. 

Ado­les­cents through ear­ly col­lege age are tar­get­ed read­ers of these first-per­son rec­ol­lec­tions. Appar­ent­ly, noth­ing has been writ­ten about this children’s res­cue oper­a­tion. Researchers and gen­er­al read­ers cer­tain­ly will find it absorb­ing and use­ful, despite the absence of an index. Acknowl­edge­ments, intro­duc­tion, pref­ace, 20 b/​w illustrations.

Arlene B. Soifer earned degrees in Eng­lish, and has had many years of expe­ri­ence as a free­lance writer, edi­tor, and pub­lic rela­tions professional.

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