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Distributed for Brandeis University Press

The Road to September 1939

Polish Jews, Zionists, and the Yishuv on the Eve of World War II

Distributed for Brandeis University Press

The Road to September 1939

Polish Jews, Zionists, and the Yishuv on the Eve of World War II

In European and Holocaust historiography, it is generally believed that neither the Zionist movement nor the Yishuv were mindful of the plight of European Jews in the face of the Nazi threat during the 1930s. Drawing on a wide variety of memoirs, letters, and institutional reports by people from all walks of life, this volume sheds new light on a troubled period in Jewish history. Jehuda Reinharz and Yaacov Shavit trace Jewish responses to developments in Eastern and Central Europe, as well as reactions to British policy on the question of a Jewish homeland, to show that Zionists in the Yishuv worked tirelessly on the international stage on behalf of their coreligionists in Europe. Nevertheless, their efforts were all too often shattered by the realities of their powerlessness and lack of resources. Piercing to the heart of conversations about how or whether to save Jews in an increasingly hostile Europe, this volume provides a nuanced assessment of what could and could not be achieved in the years just prior to World War II and Holocaust.

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“Meticulously researched . . . This valuable book is a corrective to simplistic views of strategies of the Zionist leaders of European Jewry in general just before the Holocaust.”


“Wide-ranging, multilayered, and riveting.”

Jewish Review of Books

“Contains a treasure trove of information about this critical period in terms of the contemporaneous understandings and interpretations of some of the most important figures in modern Jewish history.”

Israel Journal of Foreign Affairs

“This book offers an opportunity for critical reflection on what was, and was not, possible before the storm clouds of war fell on Europe.”


"Jehuda Reinharz and Yaacov Shavit have provided us with a window into these last years before the catastrophe with a narrative that is historically sophisticated, well written, and full of insights and juxtapositions that will enhance every reader’s comprehension of interwar Poland and prewar Zionism. Anyone interested in this turbulent period of European history or in Polish-Jewish relations will find much of interest here."

The Polish Review

Table of Contents

Preface: “The Birds Left Early” • “A Million Superfluous Jews”—and More • “The Dream of a Jewish State” • “The Wailing Wall in Évian” and Kristallnacht • Funeral March at St. James’s Palace: “They Betrayed Czechoslovakia, Why Should They Not Betray Us as Well?” • A Bridge Over the White Paper? • The Forgotten Congress (Geneva, August 16–25, 1939) • Will War Break Out? • “So early, no one has seen death yet” • Epilogue • Acknowledgments • Notes • Bibliography • Index

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