Review: ‘The Unwanted’ by Michael Dobbs

In October 1940, the Gestapo (German secret police under the Nazis) expelled around 6000 Jews from a region in Germany, establishing the first “Jewish free zone”. The Jews suddenly found themselves stripped of all assets and living in concentration camps in Occupied France. Racing against time to not be sent eastwards (the camps in Auschwitz), they attempted everything to escape to safe havens in the West. The Jews of one particular village – Kippenheim – are at the heart of this book.

Michael Dobbs is a tenured journalist, who developed this book during his association at the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. (one of the most impactful museums I have been to). Having access to unpublished records, archives and letters from the museum helped the author develop an image of the time and struggle of the Jewish refugees. The book also covers in great detail the politics, especially in America, and how President Franklin D. Roosevelt navigated the refugee crisis in the middle of a World War.

What this book does is gives stories to stats. It’s easy to summarize the number of people displaced by a regime, but it takes a moment to think about the young girl who was separated from her parents because only England was only admitting child refugees. The parents put on a brave front on their weekly correspondence to their daughter, even though they were toiling in camps, struggling to secure refuge in America.

What the book also did was give some perspective of how some things in the world are still the same, whether it be anti-immigration stance of the populace, or the rhetoric (Hitler declaring war on USA calling it ‘Anglo-Saxon-Jewish-Capitalist’, like what?) and disinformation used to sway public opinion.

The Jews of Kippenheim, once a tightly knit community, were expelled from their homes, stripped of their belongings and thrown in camps. Some managed to secure passages to America, England and Israel. Others were not so lucky. The book ends with a cold epilogue where the survivors return to their village to find it familiar yet alien. Their properties now occupied by their neighbors, their places of business and worship destroyed. (Ironically, we see similar incidents in Palestine by the Israelites)

If you’re a history buff, or slightly curious, or even like a good impactful read, I highly recommend this book.

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