Grasping at Straws: Letters from the Holocaust by Steven Wasserman

When Germany’s National Socialists came to power, hundreds of thousands of Jews were desperate to emigrate. As it became more and more difficult to obtain visas to leave, many Jews were willing to try anything and seized upon even the most tenuous and unlikely opportunities in their efforts to get out.

Here, Steven Wasserman introduces the Ichenhäusers, a thoroughly assimilated Jewish-German family with roots in the Cologne area dating back hundreds of years. They led rich lives there, enjoying the city’s urban lifestyle and vibrant cultural life. In the early 20th century, three sons even served in the German army during the first world war. But when the Nazis arrived, they spared no Jews regardless of how long their families had lived in Germany and notwithstanding their service in the German military.

Grasping at Straws recounts the lives of the Ichenhäusers as they sought to escape. Their story is told mainly through letters written by family members before and during the war, as well as letters which family friends wrote of their efforts to escape. These documents portray the tragic decisions that determined their fates. Follow these captivating, heart-rending first-person accounts to history, made even more compelling by the photographic record that has been carefully preserved and presented in over 100 images.

By compiling their stories in this readable volume, Wasserman has done a service for his family, historians, and all compassionate readers.

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