View the H-German Discussion Logs by month
View the Prior Message in H-German's February 2008 logs by: [date] [author] [thread]
View the Next Message in H-German's February 2008 logs by: [date] [author] [thread]
Visit the H-German home page.
H-NET BOOK REVIEW Published by H-German@h-net.msu.edu (February 2008) Gerhard Sonnert and Gerald Holton. _What Happened to the Children Who Fled Nazi Persecution?_. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006. Table of contents. $69.95 (cloth), ISBN 1-4039-7625-2. Reviewed for H-German by Deborah Vietor-Engländer, Technische Universität Darmstadt Under Pressure This book aims to create a collective biography of Jewish young people who were born in Germany or Austria between 1918 and 1935 and fled to the United States. It endeavors to present a representative statistical picture as well as to capture personal experiences based on a five-year, in-depth study using three methods: examination of large existing data sets, an extensive questionnaire, and 100 semi-structured interviews. The subjects of this study comprised the so-called "second wave," 28,000 children who came to the United States from 1938 onwards. The "first wave" consisted of adult refugees during the 1930s and 1940s who arrived in the United States after having already embarked on a career. This second group of young people faced completely different challenges and, in many cases, its members were separated from one or both parents. Many of them never saw their families of origin again. One of the most extraordinary facts to emerge from the study is that almost one-third of the survey respondents (31 percent) had written some kind of autobiography, published or unpublished, a figure that serves to demonstrate this group's particularly articulate quality. The study does not cover this literature exhaustively. Indeed, one of the most moving autobiographical studies, not specifically mentioned in this book, is Guy Stern's "The Americanization of Günther"; Stern left Germany at the age of 15 in 1937, his parents and siblings perished, and he became one of the "Ritchie boys," many of whom were refugee children. Trained in psychological warfare at Camp Ritchie, they used their skills to help as interrogators in Europe during and after the war. The Ritchie Boys were typical, like many of the cases discussed in the sample, of refugees who used their cultural capital to help their new country. It is also notable that in this sample of "second wave" refugees from Germany and Austria, 52 percent of the men and 2 percent of the women performed military service in World War II. The United States was not a welcoming country for most of these young people, and the first day at an American school proved a shock for many. Those who arrived alone tended to develop a stronger American identity than those who came with their parents. Many felt that they became adults much faster and took on great responsibility as children than their American peers. They faced two options, either to become completely American, or to join the ethnic landscape and become Jewish-American. The book provides a trenchant analysis of the different elements that made up American Jewry, since the roots of many American-born Jews lay in eastern Europe, not Germany and Austria. These earlier immigrants were far more likely to know Yiddish than the "second wave" group, who at most had only limited knowledge of Hebrew. Many of these later migrants had been completely assimilated in Germany or Austria and found the problems of discrimination and the somewhat contradictory epithets applied to them as Germans (for example, "dirty Nazi Jew" [p. 128]) hard to deal with. The study analyzes the factors that a large number of these children had in common: the idea of continuing to strive throughout life was very prevalent, along with interest in learning, a pronounced work ethic with orientation towards high achievement, a preference for classical music, good table manners, and respect for elderly people, among other things. Some refugees changed or anglicized their names in order to assimilate or avoid antisemitism in the United States, or simply to make things easier. The majority saw themselves as people of European origin growing up in America, which became their home. The result was a group of unusually high achieving and unusually successful people, including many outstanding students with cultural information a huge cultural capital. The price they paid for their success was high. Under tremendous pressure to achieve academically and socially, the children in this group with families in the United States were obliged to live up to considerable family expectations. Parents who had belonged to the upper middle classes in Europe pressured their children to recover their family's lost standing and maintain connections to European culture. The psychological cost of the separation from Europe and the need to accommodate to the new situation was also high, as was the level of trauma; the narratives reveal a dichotomous connection between these children's achievements and their anguish. The "second wave" group learned very young to take absolutely nothing about their lives for granted, and many tried very hard to suppress their memories of what they had experienced. Although a number of the members of this group thought in retrospect that they had achieved more than they would have had they not been faced with the challenges of exile, a large number suffered from survivors' guilt when they thought of Holocaust victims. One of the book's aims is to provide readers with information to influence the view of immigrant newcomers in the United States today. It shows very clearly what enormous benefits the United States reaped from the "second wave" group. It thus confirms the picture drawn from of surveys done on the life paths of _Kindertransport_ children and other groups of young people on the benefits that accrued to the host countries. Notes . Guy Stern, "The Americanization of Günther," in _The Legacy of Exile: Lives, Letters, Literature_, ed. Deborah Vietor-Engländer (Oxford: Blackwell, 1998), 3-14. . Christian Bauer and Rebekka Göpfert, _Die Ritchie Boys. Deutsche Emigranten beim US-Geheimdienst_ (Munich: Hoffmann und Campe, 2005). Copyright (c) 2008 by H-Net, all rights reserved. H-Net permits the redistribution and reprinting of this work for nonprofit, educational purposes, with full and accurate attribution to the author, web location, date of publication, originating list, and H-Net: Humanities & Social Sciences Online. For other uses contact the Reviews editorial staff: firstname.lastname@example.org.