War rouses mankind to extraordinary acts, both noble and ignoble -- and this book shows them all in sharpest juxtaposition. It details the monumental efforts expended to save some 40,000 European Jews from Nazi extermination by shipping them to Palestine.
Although most of the action (in which author William Perl played a leading part) took place before World War II and had actually broken out, for the Jews involved this war had begun in 1938 with Hitler's seizure of Austria in March and the Kristallnacht anti-Semitic riots in November. It was then that the deportations started to what would eventually be death camps.
The resulting rescue operation, carried out against mammoth difficulties on every side, consisted of obtaining exit visas, finding train transportation, hiring leaky, wheezy old steamers, and, at the end, evading the British patrols determined to end illegal immigration, however, great the need. The four fronts on which "The Four-Front War" had to be fought were: (1) Nazi efficiency, (2) British diplomatic and military opposition, (3) the doubts of the Jewish Establishment, and (4) the physical elements. That each was overcomes testifies to the heights to which men can rise, and the ingenuity that can be summoned when the need is great.
As a book of adventure this volume is exciting. As a vignette of history it is valuable. As a reminder of man's inhumanity to man it is saddening. And as a record of what can occur when passion and prejudice sweep aside conscience and concern, it is necessary.
When a book such as this is written with the white-hot memories of injustice, distortions sometimes appear. Thus the author, referring to the British role in Palestine, quotes the famous Balfour Declaration of 1917 as follows: "his Majesty's Government views with favour the reestablishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people . . . and will use their best endeavors to facilitate the achievement of this object."
There are two things radically wrong with this. First, Britain said "establishment," not "reestablishment." Second, author Perl omits what followed the quoted statement, namely, "it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine. . . ."
The trouble with such a patent slanting of facts is that it puts so much else in the book in doubt, a result most regrettable in a volume dealing with so noble a cause.