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Lessons from Jewish refugees; Book examines lives of those who fled.

Byline: Bronislaus B. Kush

Millions of European Jews escaped the deadly clutches of Hitler's extermination machine yet their lives, nonetheless, were still hauntingly touched by suffering.

"Flight From the Reich," a new book co-authored by Deborah Dwork, the Rose Professor of Holocaust history and the director of the Strassler Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies at Clark University, chronicles the lives of some of the 1 million Jews who fled, either clandestinely or legally, from Nazi-occupied Europe.

The 496-page history, which was recently published by W.W. Norton & Co., also examines the plight of the two million displaced Jews, who after the war never really found another home.

Ms. Dwork and her academic colleague, Robert Van Pelt, a University of Waterloo professor who is a recognized authority on the planning and construction of Nazi concentration camps, intersperse personal stories with archival research in following the odyssey of those Jews who fled countries occupied by the Third Reich.

They also examine the policies that nations employed in dealing with the Jewish exodus.

Ms. Dwork and Mr. Van Pelt collaborated on two other books - "Holocaust: A History," which is used in college courses across the country, and "Auschwitz," which won the National Jewish Book Award.

Ms. Dwork, the author of four other books, said that writing about the refugees stemmed from the vast amount of research information she had collected over the years but had never used.

She said that many historical scholars, in chronicling Jewish society in World War II Europe, have focused on the Holocaust and have never fully grasped the enormity of the Jewish flight from the Nazi wrath and its worldwide implications.

Ms. Dwork added that few histories of Jews living in the World War II era discuss and analyze the refugee experience.

"We're not talking about a marginalized group," said Ms. Dwork, who will lecture about her book at 7:30 p.m. Thursday at Clark University's Tilton Hall. "This flight was a phenomena."

She said the Jews who escaped said their ordeals and post-war life were difficult, but they never equated themselves as victims, in large part because of the suffering endured by the 6 million Jews who died at the hands of the Germans and their collaborators.

"They would say that they didn't suffer like those in the concentration camps, so they shouldn't be considered victims," she said. "They would say, `I'm lucky because I got away.' The horror of the camps loomed so large that it overshadowed their plight."

Ms. Dwork said "Flight" is important because the journeys of the refugee Jews in many ways mirror the huge movements of refugees displaced around the globe today, including those from Darfur and Iraq.

The refugee stories, she said, may also hold lessons for the United States, where many Americans have become displaced in their own country because of job losses brought about by the poor economy.

"An examination of what happened to the Jews can help us understand our current world," said Ms. Dwork. "The past is not a blueprint for the future, but it can serve as a compass."

Ms. Dwork said her work on the book was immensely aided by a cache of 3,000 letters exchanged between Jewish parents and children who had become separated.

Elizabeth Luz, a woman who lived in Switzerland, acted as a mediator and dressed up the missives so Nazi censors and authorities did not know they were written by Jews.

The letters were turned over to Ms. Dwork by Mrs. Luz's son, Ulrich, a professor of theology in Switzerland.

"The letters gave me a feel about what these people experienced," she said.

Ms. Dwork said it's a myth that only wealthy Jews got away.

In fact, many of those in the upper strata, including doctors, lawyers and other professionals, were caught up in the Nazi web because they couldn't believe their society would persecute them.

"Many bright people stayed behind despite the warning signs," she said. "They believed they were protected because they felt they were assimilated into the culture. They believed they were part of the social contract. There was a sense that reason would prevail. It obviously didn't."

What is clear, Ms. Dwork said, is that the majority of those who escaped were 25 years old or younger.

"There was an effort by the Jewish community to get the young out," she explained. "They were the future and, in practical terms, they could be re-trained for different jobs in other countries."

The book examines specific incidents that the Jews encountered in trying to make their escape, such as a ship filled with refugees that was refused permission to land.

It also looks at the difficulty many faced in trying to reconstruct their lives, such as a Jewish lawyer who ends up getting a job as a door-to-door salesman.

ART: PHOTO

CUTLINE: Deborah Dwork, director of the Strassler Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies at Clark University, will lecture about her book "Flight From the Reich" at 7:30 p.m. Thursday at Clark's Tilton Hall

PHOTOG: T&G Staff/CHRISTINE PETERSON
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Title Annotation:ENTERTAINMENT & LIFESTYLE
Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Sep 9, 2009
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