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Rescue and Flight

American Relief Workers Who Defied the Nazis

Susan Elisabeth Subak, Afterword by William F. Schulz

Publication Year: 2010

When Susan Elisabeth Subak discovered that members of the Unitarian Church had helped her Jewish father immigrate to the United States, she was unaware of the impact the organization had made during World War II. After years of research, Subak uncovers the little-known story of the Unitarian Service Committee, which rescued European refugees during World War II, and the remarkable individuals who made it happen. The Unitarian Service Committee was among the few American organizations committed to helping refugees during World War II. The staff who ran the committee assisted those endangered by the Nazi regime, from famous writers and artists to the average citizen. Part of a larger network of American relief workers, the Unitarian Committee helped refugees negotiate the official and legal channels of escape and, when those methods failed, the more complex underground channels. From their offices in Portugal and southern France they created escape routes through Europe to the United States, South America, and England, and rescued thousands, often at great personal risk.

Published by: University of Nebraska Press

Title Page

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Copyright Page

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Table of Contents

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List of Illustrations

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pp. ix-x

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pp. xi-xvi

When I was growing up, my father had regular visits from a long-haired academic from New England named Lewis Dexter. The era was the 1960s, but the way he wore his hair, his small rectangular glasses, and the woolen coats chosen from rummage sales reminded me more of an eighteenth-century scholar. He was plain spoken and given to talking a ...

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pp. xvii-xxix

In August of 1937 Robert and Elisabeth Dexter and their daughter, Harriet, traveled to England on a trip that began as a family vacation. Robert Dexter was an officer of the American Unitarian Association and was heading to Oxford for a meeting of liberal Christian congregations and then to Prague. The Dexters had traveled to similar meetings in ...

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1. Prague, 1939

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pp. 1-24

On the morning of March 15, 1939, Martha and Waitstill Sharp hurried out of the door of the Hotel Atlantic in central Prague. This self-described first-class family hotel had given the American couple the red-carpet treatment on their arrival three weeks earlier. With some foreknowledge of their mission, the entire hotel staff had lined ...

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2. Marseille and Lisbon, 1940

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pp. 25-53

The summer of 1939 had passed pleasantly for Elisabeth and Robert Dexter on the south shore of Boston. Robert was the visiting minister at the Unitarian church at the seaside community of South Duxbury, Massachusetts. They had a comfortable house for their own use and a large garden, which they had set up for their favorite ...

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3. Lisbon and Marseille, 1940

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pp. 54-83

Charles Joy arrived in Lisbon in mid-September. The voyage was his first trans-Atlantic flight experience, but he went directly to Lisbon’s old square, where the Sharps had set up their offices in the Hotel Metropole. His first adjustment was to the noise of “the Rossio,” where the circling traffic and constant honking reminded him of New...

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4. Marseille, 1941

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pp. 84-118

Charles Joy remained alone in Lisbon and France through the 1940 holiday season. He spent some of his time visiting the French internment camps where thousands of refugees suffered through their first winter there without adequate clothing or nourishment. For instance, the barracks at the largest camp, Gurs, were never designed ...

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5. Marseille, 1942

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pp. 119-152

An American reader of the Unitarian’s publicity during the first half of 1942 might have noticed that a great deal was being written about the Unitarian Service Committee’s medical program, but far less was being said about the committee’s kindergartens. The kindergartens had been set up at the Rivesaltes internment camp, which had by far ...

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6. Geneva, Lisbon, and Marseille, 1943

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pp. 153-186

After their late-night escape from Marseille, the Fields were back in Geneva appreciating the view from their office balcony overlooking the Jet d’Eau on Lake Geneva, and enjoying their first good meals in years. Their new office on the Quai Wilson shared a building with other relief organizations, including the World YMCA, and so the ...

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7. New York, Lisbon, Paris and Prague, 1944-45

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pp. 187-216

On February 26, 1944, a dozen men gathered in a meeting room in Greenwich Village. A surviving transcript of the meeting revealed that most of the comments were brief, there were few disagreements, and no one attempted to make a joke. Charles Joy, Varian Fry, and Robert Dexter and others sympathetic to the rescue mission were...

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pp. 217-232

One day in the spring of 1955, [Hans] Karl Subak, now “Carl,” received a note from Elisabeth Dexter. Elisabeth hinted that Robert was not well, and that it would be a good idea if Carl visited them. It had been a long time since he had last seen them, sometime before the summer of 1942 when the Dexters had left Boston for another stay in Lisbon. ...

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pp. 233-238

In many ways the story you have just read is a familiar one. Not familiar in its details, for they have never been collected before — and no one who cares anything about the history of the Holocaust, or indeed of human rights, can feel anything but deep gratitude to Susan Elisabeth Subak for retrieving them for us and weaving them into such a compelling ...

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pp. 239-240

I am grateful to many people who lent their time to the research and writing of Rescue and Flight, and especially to Charlie Clements, president of the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee (UUSC). Several years ago in a small town in New Mexico, Charlie picked up a biography of Varian Fry in the discount bin of a bookstore and became intrigued ...


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pp. 241-274


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pp. 275-280


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pp. 281-310

E-ISBN-13: 9780803230170
E-ISBN-10: 0803230176
Print-ISBN-13: 9780803225251
Print-ISBN-10: 0803225253

Page Count: 342
Publication Year: 2010

OCLC Number: 664274755
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Rescue and Flight

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Subject Headings

  • World War, 1939-1945 -- Religious aspects -- Unitarians.
  • World War, 1939-1945 -- Civilian relief -- Europe.
  • World War, 1939-1945 -- Refugees -- Europe.
  • Unitarian Service Committee -- History.
  • Unitarians -- Europe -- History -- 20th century.
  • War relief -- Europe -- History -- 20th century.
  • War relief -- United States -- History -- 20th century.
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