Customer Review

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A very important book, 5 Jun 2014
This review is from: Four Thousand Lives: The Rescue of German Jewish Men to Britain in 1939 (Hardcover)
This fascinating and inspiring story has a cast of thousands, from Stanley Baldwin and the Archbishop of Canterbury to the Jewish refugees themselves, the population of Sandwich, the British Union of Fascists, and even Adolf Eichmann. From it you really feel what Britain was like just before the Second World War, and especially what the moral standards of its politics were. It was an excellent idea of Clare Ungerson's to begin with actual refugees' accounts of Kristallnacht and internment afterwards in German camps like Dachau, because this sets the right chillingly realistic focus and it was these events that actually woke up British political figures to what was happening in Germany. Even so it comes as a shock to discover that the British Government never contributed a penny to the establishment and running of the Kitchener Camp (it only produced the visas), all the funds were raised by Jewish organisations, and no-one thought there was anything unusual about that. Moreover, it is terrible to read that the government never took the initiative to enable the wives and children of the refugees to join them before the Holocaust engulfed them. Almost every page of this book raises ethical issues or describes impossible decisions that had to be taken immediately, and you just want to turn the page to discover what happened next. It is hardly surprising that there was suicide, mental illness, and deep unhappiness some of the time in the Kitchener refugee camp at Sandwich, but these are offset by the book's extraordinary heroes: the May brothers who ran the camp, the supremely life-affirming and energetic Norman Bentwich, Sir Robert Waley Cohen, and others, who set it up, and indeed the people of Sandwich who took the Jewish refugees to their hearts rather than listening to the posh local Black Shirts who had other ideas. Although impeccably researched, this is not an 'academic' study, it is a gripping, fast-moving, deeply human narrative; so absorbing, in fact, that I have read it twice. It prompts you constantly to engage your own moral sense, and it leaves you wondering whether something as remarkable as this rescue could be achieved in Britain today. But it also leaves you hoping the answer is 'yes'.
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