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

Lau­rel Leff

January 13, 2020

A har­row­ing account of the pro­found­ly con­se­quen­tial deci­sions Amer­i­can uni­ver­si­ties made about refugee schol­ars from Nazi-dom­i­nat­ed Europe

The Unit­ed States’ role in sav­ing Europe’s intel­lec­tu­al elite from the Nazis is often told as a tale of tri­umph, which in many ways it was. Amer­i­ca wel­comed Albert Ein­stein and Enri­co Fer­mi, Han­nah Arendt and Her­bert Mar­cuse, Rudolf Car­nap and Richard Courant, among hun­dreds of oth­er physi­cists, philoso­phers, math­e­mati­cians, his­to­ri­ans, chemists, and lin­guists who trans­formed the Amer­i­can acad­e­my. Yet for every schol­ar who sur­vived and thrived, many, many more did not.
To be hired by an Amer­i­can uni­ver­si­ty, a refugee schol­ar had to be world-class and well con­nect­ed, not too old and not too young, not too right and not too left, and, most impor­tant, not too Jew­ish. Those who were unable to flee were left to face the hor­rors of the Holo­caust. In this rig­or­ous­ly researched book, Lau­rel Leff res­cues from obscu­ri­ty schol­ars who were deemed not worth sav­ing” and tells the riv­et­ing, full sto­ry of the hir­ing deci­sions uni­ver­si­ties made dur­ing the Nazi era.

Discussion Questions

Numer­ous books recount the hero­ic sto­ry of refugee schol­ars” res­cued by the Unit­ed States from the clutch­es of the Nazis, who sub­se­quent­ly trans­formed the sci­ences and social sci­ences at Amer­i­can uni­ver­si­ties. Lau­rel Leff’s Well Worth Sav­ing tells the oth­er side of this sto­ry. It recounts the heart­break­ing tale of those whom Amer­i­ca refused to res­cue, and who per­ished after fail­ing to obtain entry doc­u­ments. Pow­er­ful­ly writ­ten, well-researched, and admirably fair-mind­ed, Well Worth Sav­ing serves as a time­ly reminder of the ter­ri­ble price that nativism, anti­semitism, nar­row-mind­ed­ness, and bureau­crat­ic iner­tia exact­ed from some of Europe’s most learned women and men.