The Unwant­ed: Amer­i­ca, Auschwitz, and a Vil­lage Caught In Between

January 1, 2013

An inti­mate account of a small vil­lage on the edge of the Black For­est whose Jew­ish fam­i­lies des­per­ate­ly pur­sued Amer­i­can visas to flee the Nazis.

Discussion Questions

Cour­tesy of Michael Dobbs

  1. The author opens his book with a quote from the Amer­i­can jour­nal­ist, Dorothy Thomp­son, claim­ing that a piece of paper with a stamp” rep­re­sent­ed the dif­fer­ence between life and death” for peo­ple flee­ing Nazi per­se­cu­tion. Dis­cuss the per­ti­nence of this quote to the sit­u­a­tion con­fronting the Jew­ish fam­i­lies cit­ed in the book.

  2. From the evi­dence pre­sent­ed in the book, what were the main fac­tors deter­min­ing whether or not Ger­man Jews flee­ing Hitler were grant­ed Amer­i­can visas? Did luck play a role?

  3. The author jux­ta­pos­es the strug­gles of indi­vid­ual Jew­ish fam­i­lies to escape Nazi per­se­cu­tion with a detailed account of political/​bureaucratic in-fight­ing in Wash­ing­ton over U.S. immi­gra­tion pol­i­cy. Dis­cuss ways in which the twin sto­ry lines are linked.

  4. What role did Amer­i­can pub­lic opin­ion play in shap­ing the atti­tude of the U.S. gov­ern­ment toward refugees? What about the media?

  5. In ear­ly 1939, Hugo Wachen­heimer com­pared him­self to the cap­tain of a sink­ing ship flash­ing the sig­nal Save our Souls” to the out­side world (Page 115). How did the world respond?

  6. Pres­i­dent Roo­sevelt endorsed calls for tighter screen­ing of refugees to pre­vent Fifth colum­nists and Nazi agents from enter­ing the Unit­ed States fol­low­ing the fall of France in June 1940 (page 129). To what extent should nation­al secu­ri­ty con­cerns play a role in the admis­sion of refugees flee­ing per­se­cu­tion, both then and today?

  7. A promi­nent Jew­ish leader, Rab­bi Steven Wise, is quot­ed as say­ing that FDR’s re-elec­tion in Novem­ber 1940 was much more important…than the admis­sion [to the U.S.] of a few peo­ple, how­ev­er immi­nent be their per­il.” (Page 145). See page 38 for a sim­i­lar quote from senior State Depart­ment offi­cial George Messer­smith play­ing down the impor­tance of indi­vid­ual suf­fer­ing” in shap­ing for­eign pol­i­cy. Do you agree or dis­agree with Wise/​Messersmith?

  8. The State Depart­ment advised FDR to reject a French request to facil­i­tate the onward migra­tion of 6,500 Jews deport­ed to France from Ger­many in Octo­ber 1940 on the grounds that such a step would only encour­age the Nazi régime to deport more Jews (Pages 162 – 163). Was the State Depart­ment posi­tion justified?

  9. Were there any scenes in the book that sur­prised you or gave you a deep­er under­stand­ing of the chal­lenges faced by Jew­ish refugees flee­ing Hitler or the dilem­mas con­fronting the FDR administration?

  10. To what extent was Kip­pen­heim rep­re­sen­ta­tive of Jew­ish com­mu­ni­ties in (a) oth­er parts of Ger­many and (b) Nazi-occu­pied Europe?

  11. Do you see any par­al­lels between the immigration/​national secu­ri­ty debate dur­ing the peri­od lead­ing up to the Holo­caust and respons­es to more recent refugee crises? Dis­cuss the sim­i­lar­i­ties and differences.

  12. Accord­ing to the Viet­namese author, Viet Thanh Nguyen, all wars are fought twice, the first time on the bat­tle­field, the sec­ond time in mem­o­ry.” To what extent is this true of the Holo­caust and World War II, as reflect­ed in the expe­ri­ences of Kip­pen­heim Jews? (Epi­logue)