‘Luck, timing and links’

Stephanie Mathias

Expert shares stories of Jews who lived in Nazi Europe

Holocaust educator and author Deborah Dwork signs a copy of her new book, “Flight from the Reich,” after her speech last night in the Kiva. She told stories about Jewish refugees in Nazi Europe. In one story, she described how two young Jewish sisters nam

Credit: DKS Editors

VIEW a sound slide from the event.

Simon and Leah Sonabend and their children were Jews on their way to freedom from the Nazis when they were arrested by police wearing civilian clothes.

That’s just one story of failed escape that Deborah Dwork mentioned in her presentation last night, “Fleeing for Their Lives: Jewish Refugees from Nazi Europe During World War II” in the Kiva.

“The most important things the refugees had to rely on were luck, timing and links,” Dwork said.

Dwork, author of “Flight from the Reich: Refugee Jews, 1933-1946,” is the Rose professor of Holocaust history and the director of the Strassler Family Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies at Clark University.

“Tonight we are ending on a very high note with such a noted scholar,” said Richard Steigmann-Gall, director of Kent State’s Jewish Studies Program, which sponsored the event. It was the last speaker of its series this year.

Dwork addressed two common myths about refugees during the Holocaust.

She said the first misconception is that the movement of Jews was a small movement. The second misconception, Dwork said, is that Jews only sought refuge until the war started.

The Sonbends attempted their escape in 1942.

The family had money, but did not have luck and timing on its side. As family members crossed into Switzerland, the borders were closed by the police chief the next day. They were arrested when they went to register for citizenship and were taken to prison.

The adults were taken to Auschwitz and killed on arrival. The children were taken to an orphanage and survived.

Dwork also told the story of Jenny and Max Hans and their successful journey to Switzerland from Amsterdam. This couple crossed three countries’ borders to arrive in Switzerland.

They escaped capture by taking the most dangerous route to Switzerland during a storm. The other couple that traveled with them took the safest route and got caught the next day.

Eventually, Switzerland opened its borders to children up to age 16, elderly, pregnant women and others.

A group in France then helped children in groups of 20 over the border through helpers called “passers.” Once the stakes became too high toward the middle and end of the war, the volunteers took the children themselves.

One man would even doctor the papers for children over 16 so they could go to Switzerland.

Dwork said it was difficult to research this because most of the acts were illegal, and most of the passers are not alive. Most of her research was done through interviews.

Contact religion reporter Stephanie Mathias at [email protected].