Res­cue Board: The Untold Sto­ry of Amer­i­ca’s Efforts to Save the Jews of Europe

March 29, 2018

Amer­i­ca has long been crit­i­cized for refus­ing to give har­bor to the Jews dur­ing World War II as Hitler and the Nazis closed in. RES­CUE BOARD tells the extra­or­di­nary unknown sto­ry of the War Refugee Board, FDR’s unpub­li­cized effort late in the war to save the remain­ing Jews.

In Jan­u­ary 1944, a young Trea­sury lawyer named John Pehle went to a meet­ing with the pres­i­dent to argue for the relief funds need­ed to help Jews escape Nazi ter­ri­to­ry. Pehle pre­vailed, and with­in days, FDR cre­at­ed the War Refugee Board, empow­er­ing it to res­cue the vic­tims of Nazi per­se­cu­tion, and put Pehle in charge.

Over the next twen­ty months, Pehle pulled togeth­er D.C. pen­cil push­ers, inter­na­tion­al relief work­ers, smug­glers, diplo­mats, mil­lion­aires, and rab­ble-rousers to run oper­a­tions across four con­ti­nents and a dozen coun­tries. They tricked 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. Alto­geth­er, the War Refugee Board saved tens of thou­sands of lives.

Discussion Questions

Rebec­ca Erbelding’s Res­cue Board is the first sys­tem­at­ic his­tor­i­cal treat­ment of the War Refugee Board, the only offi­cial Amer­i­can response to the Nazi mas­sacre of the Jews. Metic­u­lous­ly researched uti­liz­ing almost exclu­sive­ly archival resources, Erbeld­ing has writ­ten a dra­mat­ic, poignant, and high­ly read­able book that will reach a broad audi­ence. In the process of her research, Erbeld­ing cre­at­ed a dig­i­tal archive of the War Refugee Board’s records, mak­ing these mate­ri­als avail­able to future gen­er­a­tions of his­to­ri­ans. The book makes a crit­i­cal and invalu­able con­tri­bu­tion to the his­to­ri­og­ra­phy of World War II and the Holo­caust, while fur­ther com­pli­cat­ing our under­stand­ing of Amer­i­can respons­es to the mur­der of Europe’s Jews.