Cel­e­brate Jew­ish Book Month with #30days30authors! JBC invit­ed an author to share thoughts on #Jew­Lit for each day of Jew­ish Book Month. Watch, read, enjoy, and dis­cov­er! 

Today, Bruce Hen­der­son, the author of the best­selling book Sons and Sol­diers: The Untold Sto­ry of the Jews Who Escaped the Nazis and Returned with the U.S. Army to Fight Hitler, on the the rel­e­vance of his most recent book to today’s news and the impor­tance of immi­grants to this country.

When I set out in Fall 2014 to write a book about the Ritchie Boys of World War II, I had no idea that this work of his­to­ry would become so rel­e­vant to what was about to take place dur­ing and after the 2016 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion. Yet, that is exact­ly what hap­pened when Sons and Sol­diers: The Untold Sto­ry of the Jews Who Escaped the Nazis and Returned to Fight Hitler was pub­lished in July 2017. The theme and con­tent of my non­fic­tion book walked right into today’s head­lines for more than one rea­son, and unfor­tu­nate­ly so.

I say unfor­tu­nate­ly because it is ter­ri­bly dis­heart­en­ing how some peo­ple deny his­to­ry and its hard­est lessons. Three weeks after my book’s release, the air­waves were filled with images of the hatred in Char­lottesville; pro­tes­tors wear­ing Nazi para­pher­na­lia, car­ry­ing flags with swastikas, wav­ing quo­ta­tions by Adolf Hitler, while shout­ing Nazi slo­gans and anti­se­mit­ic slurs such as Jews will not replace us.” Then, the one thing that could make these scenes even worse hap­pened: The leader of our coun­try refused to con­demn them.

Regret­ful­ly, I find it all too easy to make com­par­isons with the evil per­son I wrote about who rose to pow­er in 1933 by skill­ful­ly sub­vert­ing his nation’s democ­ra­cy and promis­ing to make Ger­many great again with the polit­i­cal neo­phyte of nar­cis­sis­tic ten­den­cies who broad­casts a sim­i­lar mes­sage while manip­u­lat­ing our own demo­c­ra­t­ic institutions.

The six indi­vid­u­als pro­filed in my book are Ger­man Jews, who as boys were able to get out of their home­land in the 1930s, most of them saved by Jew­ish relief orga­ni­za­tions. A num­ber of these boys had to leave their fam­i­lies behind, and they lived in this coun­try in fos­ter homes or with dis­tant rel­a­tives. Young men when war broke out, they went into the U.S. Army, which secret­ly trained them at Camp Ritchie, Mary­land, to inter­ro­gate Ger­man pris­on­ers of war and col­lect valu­able intel­li­gence. Before being sent over­seas, they went before a fed­er­al mag­is­trate and were sworn in as nat­u­ral­ized U.S. citizens.

Until the very moment when they num­bered among the newest Amer­i­cans, the Ritchie Boys were ene­my aliens” — immi­grants from a coun­try with which we were at war — and as such were open­ly dis­trust­ed in some quar­ters. Yet, they turned into enor­mous assets for our mil­i­tary in that they knew the lan­guage, cul­ture and psy­chol­o­gy of the ene­my we were fight­ing bet­ter than any­one and were high­ly moti­vat­ed to defeat them. (A post­war Army report found that near­ly 60% of the most valu­able intel­li­gence gath­ered in Europe came from the teams of Ger­man-speak­ing Ritchie Boys.)

The whole­sale demo­niza­tion of immi­grants is anoth­er of today’s head­lines that res­onates with the sto­ries in Sons and Sol­diers. With quo­tas being slashed and the res­i­dents of some coun­tries banned from enter­ing the U.S., there are inescapable par­al­lels with America’s back­ward immi­gra­tion poli­cies of the 1930s. Too few immi­grants from Nazi-occu­pied Europe were giv­en entry into the Unit­ed States, as our lead­ers refused to increase restric­tive quo­tas set in 1920s at a cost of count­less lives dur­ing those per­ilous times.

The cur­rent wave of anti-immi­gra­tion poli­cies, as well as efforts to paint all mem­bers of the world’s sec­ond largest reli­gion as equal­ly sus­pect, is not wor­thy of our his­to­ry as the world’s great melt­ing pot. After all, oth­er than Native Amer­i­cans, we are all from immi­grant stock that came from elsewhere.

Just as those young men who served as Ritchie Boys dur­ing an ear­li­er war, some of those indi­vid­u­als hop­ing to escape to our shores today could be assets in the new war we are fight­ing for which we need Mus­lim intel­li­gence offi­cers, inter­preters, spe­cial forces oper­a­tors, CIA offi­cers and FBI agents.

As for­mer Direc­tor of the CIA and Sec­re­tary of Defense Leon Panet­ta wrote to me after read­ing Sons and Sol­diers: The Ritchie Boys helped defeat the ene­my that per­se­cut­ed them and their fam­i­lies. The mes­sage of their courage and patri­o­tism should not be lost in today’s war on terrorism.”

Bruce Hen­der­son is the author of the nation­al best­seller Sons and Sol­diers: The Untold Sto­ry of the Jews Who Escaped the Nazis and Returned with the U.S. Army to Fight Hitler. He has writ­ten more than twen­ty non­fic­tion books, includ­ing the #1 New York Times best­seller And the Sea Will Tell, the nation­al best­seller Hero Found: The Great­est POW Escape of the Viet­nam War, and Res­cue at Los Baños: The Most Dar­ing Prison Camp Raid of World War II. Hen­der­son has taught writ­ing and report­ing at USC School of Jour­nal­ism and Stan­ford Uni­ver­si­ty. He lives in Men­lo Park, California.