(JNi.media) As Syrian refugees risk their lives to immigrate to other countries, many are reminded of the attempts of Jews to escape Nazi persecution in the 1930s and 1940s. In 1944, the US government created the War Refugee Board, in an effort to save Jews from the raging European Holocaust. Heather Voight’s new book, “Passionate Crusaders: How Members of the US War Refugee Board Saved Jews and Altered American Foreign Policy during World War II,” her debut work, is the first book ever to focus exclusively on the War Refugee Board and its accomplishments. A well-researched work, it will be of interest to anyone interested in immigration issues in America, today and yesterday.
By January 1944, Treasury Department officials Henry Morgenthau, John Pehle, and Josiah DuBois had already convinced President Franklin Roosevelt to create the War Refugee Board, an agency with the authority to provide rescue and relief for Jews and other groups persecuted by the Nazis. Scholars have criticized the Board for its inability to save more Jews, insisting the agency should have been created sooner. Heather Voight’s research shows that despite its shortcomings, the War Refugee Board changed history and forever altered American foreign policy. Its creation ended the cycle of indifference that the government and the American public had shown to victims of the Holocaust. In the words of Henry Morgenthau, from 1944-1945 “crusaders, passionately persuaded of the need for speed and action” risked their reputations and sometimes their lives to save Jews.
Voight’s book doesn’t merely tell readers the War Refugee Board was important—it shows how it was created, the actions it took to save lives, and the determination of its members to combat anti-Semitic and anti-immigration attitudes. “Passionate Crusaders” shines a light on the agency that President Franklin Roosevelt created in the midst of a State Department scandal, was staffed by mostly non-Jews who risked their reputations and sometimes their lives working for the Board, saved more than 100,000 Jews using a combination of diplomatic and clandestine methods, and pressured the War Crimes Commission to change its definition of war crimes–the same definition used today.
“I first read about the War Refugee Board while working on my college thesis,” Voight told an interviewer. “When I started to talk about the Board to other people, I got a lot of blank stares. Despite the number of people aided by the War Refugee Board and its lasting impact on American foreign policy, few Americans have ever heard of it. I wrote this book to tell the story of the Board’s members who tried to do so much in so little time.”