Named one of Book Riot's BEST BIOGRAPHIES OF 2022
The extraordinary true story of a courageous school principal who saw the dangers of Nazi Germany and took drastic steps to save those in harm’s way.
In 1933, the same year Hitler came to power, schoolteacher Anna Essinger saved her small, progressive school from Nazi Germany. Anna had read Mein Kampf and knew the terrible danger that Hitler’s hate-fueled ideologies posed to her pupils, so she hatched a courageous and daring plan: to smuggle her school to the safety of England.
As the school she established in Kent, England, flourished despite the many challenges it faced, the news from her home country continued to darken. Anna watched as Europe slid toward war, with devastating consequences for the Jewish children left behind. In time, Anna would take in orphans who had given up all hope: the survivors of unimaginable horrors. Anna’s school offered these scarred children the love and security they needed to rebuild their lives.
Featuring moving firsthand testimony from surviving pupils, and drawing from letters, diaries, and present-day interviews, The School that Escaped the Nazis is a dramatic human tale that offers a unique perspective on Nazi persecution and the Holocaust. It is also the story of one woman’s refusal to allow her belief in a better world to be overtaken by hatred and violence.
About the Author
Deborah Cadbury is the author of eight acclaimed books, including Chocolate Wars; The Dinosaur Hunters; The Lost King of France and Seven Wonders of the Industrial World, for which her accompanying BBC series received a BAFTA nomination; and Princes at War. As a BBC TV producer and executive producer, she has won numerous international awards, including an Emmy. She lives in London.
“What gives this book its immediacy and freshness is the fact that Deborah Cadbury has spoken to so many of the witnesses to a phenomenal story. The woman who brought an entire school to Kent from Germany, and saved so many children from the Nazis, was a completely heroic figure. This story is an uplifting reminder of how courage, high virtue, and intelligence can overcome even the most appalling odds. At many points, with tearful eyes, I cheered—it is a book which stirs up deep emotion, and high admiration, for the author as well as its subject.”—A. N. Wilson, author of The Mystery of Charles Dickens
“Anna Essinger’s wartime school for Jewish refugees reminds us of the lifelong impact which one person’s compassion and imagination can make on others—even in the darkest of times. Cadbury’s story packs a real emotional punch.”—Caroline Shenton, author of National Treasures
“A stirring account of a German schoolteacher’s efforts to build an oasis for children fleeing the Nazi advance across Europe. . . . Impressively researched and vividly told, this is a captivating portrait of courage and resilience in the face of unspeakable horror.”—Publishers Weekly
“An inspiring, well-researched life portrait of a spectacularly heroic teacher.”—Kirkus Reviews
“Cadbury (Princes at War, 2015) tells the story of this remarkable school and its courageous leader as she details the lives of many of the children who made their way out of horror to a safe haven.”—Booklist
“[F]ascinating and moving.”—The Guardian
“[A] devastatingly affecting and moving book.”—The Times UK
“Deborah Cadbury tells the story of Anna Essinger and her extraordinary school very well. To one pupil, who had witnessed shocking violence in Germany, Bunce Court seemed like ‘paradise’. Cadbury’s book shows just why he thought that.”—The Daily Mail
"In The School that Escaped the Nazis, the British author and BBC television producer, Deborah Cadbury, provides a persuasive portrait of Anna Essinger as a lesser known heroine of the Holocaust and someone who deserves broader recognition…With her mix of idealism, pragmatism, determination and hesed – the Hebrew word for loving kindness – Essinger continues to set a compassionate example as we go about healing the newest generation of traumatised youths…"—Wall Street Journal
“This is an atmospheric portrait of an inspiring moment in dark times.”—The Sydney Morning Herald
“[S]he does justice to this moving tale, whose narrative twists and turns and colorful characters would make a great movie.”—Forward
“This is a thrilling and fascinating biography readers will no doubt find inspirational.”—BookRiot, “Best Biographies of 2022”
“Quaker educators will value this historic account of Anna Essinger and colleagues who met the crisis during a dark moment in history and kept the lights on. The School That Escaped the Nazis illumines how a prepared group of adults transformed the hearts and minds of traumatized children.” —Friends Journal
“An astonishing book. It is a both a granular catalogue of unbelievable cruelty and at the same time a testament to the determination of hundreds of thousands of kind, compassionate people of every nationality who stood up to the evils of Nazism in defence of children. But the book is not just that. It describes a woman of great guile and incredible organizational talent who outwitted Eichmann, Himmler and that whole shower of bandits whose talents for murder knew no bounds.”—Sir John Carr, author
"I just loved this book. It’s full of hope in terrible times, a recognition of how children develop, and how they experience pain and anxiety, and it tells the story of a remarkable woman who made hope possible and nurtured every child in her school. It’s a celebration of what the human spirit can achieve,"—Baroness Julia Neuberger
"Intensively researched and powerfully written, The School That Escaped The Nazis reveals the moving true story of how one courageous German teacher rescued an entire school and so very many young students, from the very clutches of the Nazi regime, smuggling all to Britain. In the process she and her team endeavoured to show how peace, goodwill and enlightened learning and justice might prevail, as a powerful antidote to the dark evil emanating from Berlin. This is a brave book and there is much learn and marvel at. It is also a story for our times. I was deeply moved and will no doubt return to it again and again."—Damien Lewis, author of Agent Josephine
"By turns heart-breaking and inspiring, I could not stop reading Deborah Cadbury’s remarkable book."—Josh Ireland, author of Churchill and Son
"A moving and meticulously documented account of how one woman first rescued and then educated hundreds of Jewish children from the horrors of Nazi Europe. A powerful story of hope at a time of tragedy and one which even though set more than eighty years ago sadly has a resonance today."—Alex Gerlis, author of Best of Our Spies and Agent in Berlin
"In The School that Escaped the Nazis, Deborah Cadbury skilfully evokes another more heart-warming emotion surrounding those years, and her book confirms that amid the bloodshed of that era, there were indeed instances of profound goodness and human decency…To describe reading about this time in history as a joyful experience sounds oxymoronic. Yet Deborah Cadbury has delivered an uplifting and inspiring story."—Washington Independent Review of Books
"Of course, some of the innumerable memoirs and novels relate the story of the Holocaust through the eyes of children. But I’ve never come across a book that more poignantly tells the tale from their perspective than Deborah Cadbury’s The School that Escaped the Nazis…It’s a deeply affecting account told with great skill and compassion."—Berkeleyside
"In this powerful and moving account, Deborah Cadbury (prolific historian and former BBC TV producer) writes about Bunce Court, the school set up in Kent in the 1930s to house and educates young refugees from Hitler’s Third Reich…Above all, she trains her microscope on the visionary and courageous woman who created and ran Bunce Court, Anna Essinger, or Tante Anna as she became affectionately known…"—The Jewish Chronicle
"Emotionally compelling…Cadbury has constructed a lively and compelling narrative."—The Observer