Josiah DuBois and the Creation of the War Refugee Board

On Christmas Day 1943, a young US Treasury Department employee wrote something that would change the lives of more than 100,000 Jews in Europe. Josiah DuBois worked on this document despite the fact that he was risking his job and had little time to spend with his family on the holiday.

US Treasury Department photo by Roman Boed

US Treasury Department photo by Roman Boed

The document was entitled The Acquiescence of This Government in the Murder of the Jews. It accused the US State Department “of gross procrastination and willful failure to act” and “willful attempts to prevent action from being taken to rescue Jews from Hitler.” DuBois’ report showed that State Department officials not only followed the United States strict immigration laws, but tried to prevent Jews from immigrating to the US altogether.

Visas for potential refugees were delayed because of State’s requirement that refugees produce two letters of reference from American citizens who could either help support the refugees or who could prove the refugees could take care of themselves. In addition, visa applicants were often turned away if they had close relatives in Europe. The theory, or excuse, for not admitting them was that the enemy might persuade immigrants to become Nazi spies.

As DuBois pointed out in his report, the new immigrants would not threaten national security.  If President Roosevelt was concerned about potential spies, refugees could be placed in internment camps “and released only after a satisfactory investigation… Even if we took these refugees and treated them as prisoners of war it would be better than letting them die.”

In DuBois’s mind all human beings worth saving. Sadly, from late 1941 to early 1945 only 10% of the small quotas from Axis controlled countries were filled.

Yet DuBois did accomplish something by turning his report into his boss Treasury Secretary Henry Morganthau. By outlining State’s lack of concern for people fleeing from the Holocaust, DuBois showed that immigration issues shouldn’t be handled by the State Department. A new agency was needed to help people in Europe who were trying to escape from Hitller. This new agency would become known as the War Refugee Board.

Kristallnacht: A Prelude to the Holocaust

After annexing Austria and the German-speaking portion of Czechoslovakia, Hitler decided to expel Jews living in Germany who were born in Poland. On October 27-8, 1938, 18,000 Jews were put on trains bound for the Polish border. Some were forced to enter Poland by the Nazis while some camped in a tiny Polish village.

Zindel Grynszpan was one of the Jews expelled from Germany. He described his ordeal as follows: “A Polish general and some officers arrived, and then examined the papers and saw that we were Polish citizens. It was decided to let us enter. They took us to a village of about 6,000 people, and we were 12,000. The rain was driving hard, people were fainting – some suffered heart attacks; on all sides one saw old men and women. Our suffering was great – there was no food.”

Zindel sent a postcard to his son Hirsch who was studying in Paris. Mad with rage, he went to the German Embassy in Paris and shot the first German official that he met, Ernest vom Rath. Ironically vom Rath was not a Nazi.

Cleaning the street after Kristallnacht

Cleaning the street after Kristallnacht

Hitler and the Nazis called the murder a Jewish conspiracy against Germany. In fact it was a convenient excuse to do what Hitler had wanted all along: to expel all the Jews from Germany. Eager to carry out Hitler’s orders, the Nazis decided on a plan of action which they put into place on November 9, 1938. Their plan is now known as Kristallnacht – the night of broken glass. On that night, Stormtroops and Nazi party members burned synagogues, destroyed Jewish shops, and beat up as many Jews as possible. Bonfires were lit to burn prayer books and Torah scrolls. In 24 hours 91 Jews were killed. Over 30,000 were arrested and sent to concentration camps.

The Nazi atrocities did not only happen in Germany’s large cities. Small Jewish villages in Germany were also affected. From inside his uncle’s house young Eric Lewis saw Stormtroops destroy a synagogue. “After a while, the Stormtroops were joined by people who were not in uniform; and suddenly, with one loud cry of, ‘Down with the Jews,’ the gathering outside produced axes and heavy sledgehammers. They advanced toward the little synagogue which stood in Michael’s [his uncle’s] own meadow, opposite his house. They burst the door open, and the whole crowd, by now shouting and laughing, stormed into the little House of God.”

After Kristallnacht Jews were fined 1 billion Reichsmarks for vom Rath’s death. Jews were also fined for the destruction of their own property. The Nazis were systematically pushing Jews out of the German economy. As of January 1, 1939, Jews could only be employed by other Jewish organizations. These conditions led to attempts of many Jews to emigrate to other countries such as the United States. The question was whether or not the other countries would welcome the Jews.


The Holocaust by Martin Gilbert

A History of the Holocaust by Yehuda Bauerh

My Book’s Back Cover Copy: Thoughts?

I’m looking for my readers’ opinions on my back cover copy for Passionate Crusaders: How Members of the U.S. War Refugee Board Saved Jews and Altered American Foreign Policy During World War II. Comments welcome!

Passionate Crusaders tells the gripping story of a few righteous Americans who sought to do what many thought impossible in 1944—save Jews who had not yet been murdered in the Holocaust.

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 and maintained that 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.

In addition to saving more than 100,000 lives, Board members also made a lasting impact on international law. They pressured the War Crimes Commission to broaden its definition of war crimes by including the murder of civilians by their own countrymen. This definition of war crimes was applied to genocides committed many decades later in Bosnia and Rwanda, and continues to be used today.

“[Passionate Crusaders] shows that the efforts of an honorable and courageous few can create small steps to change history. This detailed, well-told, and inspiring story will be of value to students of the Holocaust, American history, and human rights.” –From the Foreword by Dr. Leon Stein, Professor Emeritus of History and Education Director Emeritus, Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center.

Heather Voight is a successful freelance writer and history blogger. Since 2009, she has published articles on a variety of topics including the Gibson Girl, healthcare, and the writings of C.S. Lewis. She has a B.A. in History and English.

How I Decided on a Cover Designer for My Self-Published Book

My book cover design is here! I can’t use the word “finally” since my designer Jane Dixon-Smith works pretty quickly, but when you’ve been writing and researching for what seems like ages, seeing your final cover is a great feeling. I didn’t know exactly how my cover would look, but I was looking for a few specific things in a designer.


My book cover!


What I Wanted in a Cover Designer

  • Someone who was experienced and recommended by at least one other self-published author that I liked.
  • A price that was lower than what most women state is their budget for a wedding dress on Say Yes to the Dress. If you haven’t looked for a cover designer yet, please just trust that I’m not exaggerating.
  • A choice of covers, but not a ton of choices since I’m indecisive. Jane gave me three great options and I had trouble picking one!

After deciding on a designer, I felt my cover also needed certain qualities.

What I Wanted in a Book Cover 

  • A design that made the subject of my book on America and the Holocaust clear, even on the small image that would pop up on Amazon. Despite Jane’s request for examples of 6-10 covers, I could only find one book cover on a similar topic that I really liked. Instead, I put together some images in a Word document that I found on Pinterest and asked Jane if she could include the American flag in her design.
  • No photos, since I needed to also hire an editor, have money to feed my dog, etc.
  • Something that didn’t look like I designed it, since I have no artistic skills other than writing. After seeing samples of Jane’s work, I wasn’t worried about this.

The designer and the design I chose met all of my requirements. The combination of the American flag and the Jewish star helps set the tone for my book on a small U.S. government agency whose members tried to save Jews during the Holocaust.

If you’ve self-published a book or are considering the idea, what are you looking for in a designer/book cover?

Why I Wrote A Book about The War Refugee Board

Picture it: Chicago, December 2001. I was looking for a topic for my honors thesis. I knew I wanted to work with my history advisor, who was a Holocaust historian. Since I spent most of my time studying U.S. history, I decided to dig for information on America and the Holocaust. My advisor told me that America and the Holocaust was too broad for my thesis. He also suggested that I look for a topic that hadn’t received much attention. I asked if I could write about Eleanor Roosevelt’s response to the Holocaust. He said yes, if I found enough information on it. A couple of hours at the library told me that my new idea was too narrow.

While sifting through books on U.S. and the Holocaust, I discovered a chapter here and there in several books about a government agency created in 1944 called the War Refugee Board. At first I thought, a thesis about a government agency? BORING. Once I started reading about the people behind the agency, though, things got interesting. These men were not household names (anyone familiar with John Pehle, and if so, how to pronounce his name?), but they were working their tails off trying to save the few Jews who hadn’t been murdered yet in the Holocaust. 

I started to ask myself questions like why wasn’t the War Refugee Board created sooner? What drove these men, who were mostly from Protestant backgrounds, to risk their jobs by going to the president and criticizing the administration’s lack of response to the Holocaust? So I wrote my thesis, and put it on my bookshelf. I always thought the topic would make a great book and that a well-known historian would write it.

FDR Library

Fast forward several years, and no one else had written a book about the WRB. I contacted my former professor, who encouraged me to do more research on my old topic. Ironically, shortly after I wrote my thesis, a major project to collect the papers of the War Refugee Board was completed. I discovered that I could borrow microfilm from the Library of Congress and read the actual memos that FDR and Board representatives wrote. I spent at least a year of my life looking through those documents, and then I visited the FDR library in Hyde Park because I couldn’t borrow everything I needed. (The picture on the top of my blog and in this post is of me outside the library. I was one relieved researcher)!

My book wasn’t going to rehash my thesis, however. After studying the memos and other government documents related to the Board, I made an interesting discovery. Not only did the members of the War Refugee Board save Jews, but they also made an impact on American foreign policy that continues today. As I mentioned in a previous post, I hoped for a publishing contract, but decided to self-publish when that didn’t happen. Hopefully self-publishing will make my work available to the largest possible number of people, since that always was my main goal.

Why I Decided to Self-Publish My History Book

After sending my manuscript to both academic and small presses, I have decided to self-publish my book on America and the Holocaust. (Specifically, it’s about the War Refugee Board—a government agency created by President Franklin Roosevelt whose members tried to save Jews who were still alive in Europe in 1944). While all of these publishers said “no,” they did not say, “this book is badly written” or “the topic is boring.” Instead, I got objections that I believe I can overcome with self-publishing. I listed a handful of them below.

Objection One: This is not a good fit for our list.

As a self-publisher, the only list I have is for books written by me. Some editors were nice enough to recommend other places where I might send my manuscript, though those presses had other objections.

Objection Two: Investing in a new author is risky.

As my uncle would say, a bus could hit any one of us tomorrow. His point? Life is inherently risky. I’ve read that self-publishing is risky, too, but I decided to defer to my uncle.

Objection Three: The book is too short.

My book and I prefer to be called vertically challenged…I’m kidding. Still, if I self-publish, length doesn’t matter. Having a shorter book will probably make the process a bit more affordable. As someone who also reads books, I appreciate writers who use as much space as they need to tell their stories–no more, no less.

Objection Four: People who do not have PhDs in History could understand this book.

I know some really wonderful people with PhDs, but I don’t want to limit my book’s audience to people who a. have PhDs in History and b. are interested in the Holocaust and/or President Roosevelt’s administration. Since most people don’t know much about what the members of the War Refugee Board accomplished, I want as many people as possible to understand it.

So, that tells you why I’m self-publishing my book. How I’m going to self-publish is still a work in progress. I’ll have more on that topic later on, as well as more general history posts.

If you’ve self-published or are working on a self-published project, what made you decide to do it?

The Importance of Teaching the Holocaust

Though by middle school I knew about the murder of Jewish people and others in the Holocaust during World War II, the topic was not emphasized in my history classes. As a teenager, I watched the movie Schindler’s List at a friend’s house. Seeing this movie was an emotional experience for me, particularly at the end when the main character regrets that he could not save more Jews.

After watching Schindler’s List, I came to the conclusion that the Germans were bad people. The movie’s characters are portrayed as either good or evil. If I had only watched the movie, I would have held on to these assumptions. When I finally took a course on the Holocaust in college, however, I realized that the film stereotyped the behavior of Germans and Jews during the Holocaust. For example, Nazis were not simply fanatical murderers. Many of them were well educated, loved their families, and enjoyed classical music. In fact, classical music helped some Nazis relax after the day’s brutalities. They were not terrible people but rather people who did terrible things. Also, not all Jews were helpless victims. Holocaust survivor Primo Levi said that the history of the concentration camps could not be divided into simple groups of victims and persecutors. He talked about a “gray zone” in which corrupt Jews in positions of authority abused fellow prisoners while some Nazis showed they were human by weeping as they killed people.

In addition to the gray boundaries between victims and persecutors, I learned that the German population as a whole was not made up of monsters. Instead, they were mainly worried about their own well being in wartime. Busy with their own concerns, average Germans reacted with indifference when Jews were excluded from certain professions and public places.

While the German indifference towards the Jews is inexcusable, the amount of knowledge that the German population had about the extermination of the Jews is still debatable. Although their indifference to milder forms of prejudice made it possible for others to contemplate extermination, the majority of Germans had little information about the death camps. As one historian suggested, “the very secrecy of the ‘Final Solution’ [the Nazis’ plan to kill the Jews] demonstrates more clearly than anything else the fact that the Nazi leadership felt it could not rely on popular backing for its extermination policy.”

In fact, if faced with enough problems of our own, Americans might act with indifference toward a persecuted group. This is one of the most important reasons that young adults should study the Holocaust. Although the Holocaust happened years ago, prejudice against others who are different can still lead to serious consequences. The underlying dislike of Jews in the minds of Europeans laid the foundation for a catastrophe, particularly when the Great Depression in the 1930s came and people could not find work. Many European countries were also beaten down after losing World War I.  The majority of Europeans blamed the Jews for their sufferings and looked for a leader who would tell them how great their country would be again.

Of course, some Americans might say that we are not prejudiced against Jews, did not elect Adolf Hitler, and our economy is not as bad as it was in the 1930s. Yet some of the same ingredients for another Holocaust exist in America today. Murders of homosexuals, the isolation of some African-Americans and others in ghettos, as well as racial hate groups are all present in American society. Like the majority of the German population during World War II, most people in America do not condone killing minorities, but some feel uncomfortable helping them or associating with them. If this prejudice spreads and other factors like an economic depression and a persuasive leader are added, the world could witness another Holocaust. Teaching the Holocaust is important because it shows students that we must learn from history so the same event cannot happen again.