Table of Contents Table of Contents
Previous Page  409 / 142 Next Page
Show Menu
Previous Page 409 / 142 Next Page
Page Background

The Unlikely Blessings of Living on Borrowed Time in a Leased Land 409

proposals, not once but twice, to tackle with the so-called “Jewish

problem,” but the solutions they propose are political ones, rather

than psychotheological ones. The first of these proposed solutions,

to save the European Jews from political persecution, was made by

Harold Ickes in 1938, offering Alaska as a “haven for Jewish

refugees from Germany and other areas in Europe where the Jews

are subjected to oppressive restrictions.”


In reality, the US

Department of the Interior did draft a report, commonly called the

Slattery Report, but the main focus of this report was to solve the

“Alaskan” problem. As a solution to the backwardness of Alaska’s

economic development, Ickes proposed importing European Jews to


not yet an American state at that time. The reasoning was

that Jews, given their educational and cultural capital, could help

boost Alaska’s social and economic development. In other words,

the plight faced by the European Jews only won Ickes’ attention

because the importation of Jewish refugees could have solved an

internal US problem. It was out of self-interest that Ickes found the

Jewish problem of interest to him. In actuality, Ickes’ proposal did

not even reach the floor of the Senate, and European Jews before

the Second World War were thus left to fend for their own lives, six

million of which were subsequently lost.

Chabon took up Ickes’ proposal and gave this historical event

a fatal twist by making Anthony Dimond, Alaska’s Delegate to the

House of Representatives, a victim of a car accident, and as a

consequence of his demise, the Alaskan Settlement Act was

introduced, passed, and put into practice in 1940 in Chabon’s

counterfactual novel. The first wave of immigrants from Eastern

Europe arrived, with great expectations, in 1940. Their hope was

met with a chilly reality, as life was hard and jobs nowhere to be

found. Eight years later, “In August the defense of Jerusalem

collapsed and the outnumbered Jews of the three-month-old


For an interesting account of Ickes’ “plan to save Europe’s Jews” from the points

of view of Jewish Americans, please see the opinion piece written by Raphael

Medoff (2007).