Segments in this Video

Introduction: Episode 2: Yearning to Breathe Free (1938-1942) (03:57)


Daniel Mendelsohn resembles his uncle who was killed by the Nazis. Adolph Hitler advances his army and persecutes German and Austrian Jews. Hundreds of thousands of Jews seek entry into European countries or the United States.

Night of Broken Glass (05:25)

Newspapers report on Kristallnacht; the violence draws American criticism. President Roosevelt withdraws his ambassador from Berlin and allows all Jews on a tourist visa to stay; only Congress can change the quota system. Anti-Semites in government work to ensure Jewish refugees receive as little help as possible.

"Atonement" (05:30)

Nazi leaders increase Jewish persecution. By 1938, 50% of Jews remaining in Germany apply for U.S. visas. In January 1939, Hitler threatens Jewish annihilation. Susan and Joseph Hilsenrath's parents smuggle them into France.

Jewish Sponsorship (04:20)

Three things help Gunther Stern feel more American. He repeatedly tries to get a sponsor for his family in Germany; a lawyer ultimately refuses to help.

Jewish Refugee Bill (06:59)

Britain allows 10,000 children into the country. Robert Wagner and Edith Nourse Rogers introduce a similar bill in Congress. Despite Eleanor Roosevelt's support, the bill faces strong opposition. Wagner and Nourse withdraw the bill.

Polish Jews (04:18)

Abraham and Schmiel Jaeger emigrate from Poland; Abraham loves America, but Schmiel returns to Bolechow. Antisemitism intensifies in Poland. German troops march into Prague in March 1939; Poland is his next target.

American Hamburg Liner, St. Louis (08:49)

Sol Messinger's family obtains visas to Cuba; nearly all 937 passengers are Jewish. Cuba admits 28 people and orders the ship out of Havana Harbor. The St. Louis is forced to turn back toward Europe. Private organizations convince four European governments to accept the passengers.

Treaty of Non-Aggression (04:56)

The Nazi and Soviet governments sign a ten-year pact that allows them to conquer and divide Poland. Hitler launches a Blitzkrieg in September 1939. Roosevelt declares the U.S. government will do everything it can to remain out of the war.

Charles Lindbergh (04:03)

Lindbergh admires the Nazi regime, but questions Kristallnacht. He believes too many Jews creates chaos and the U.S. may need to fight for the preservation of the white race. Roosevelt believes Lindbergh is a Nazi.

Polish Invasion (03:24)

Within weeks, Hitler's troops kill 3,000 P.O.W.s, destroy over 530 villages, and murder 45,000 people. The Soviets draft 150,000 Poles into the Red Army, ship 200,000 civilians to Kazakhstan and Siberia, and kill 22,000 officers and intellectuals. Nazi officials hatch schemes to rid the region of Jews.

Polish Ghettos (04:29)

The Germans force Jews into fenced off, squalid neighborhoods; Warsaw has the largest. Over 80,000 people die in the Warsaw ghetto. Schmiel writes to relatives in America and President Roosevelt; he hopes to get his family out of Poland.

Netherlands (02:49)

Erich Geiringer gets his family to Amsterdam by 1940; they live near Otto Frank and his family. Eva Geiringer recalls meeting Anne Frank. Otto's cousin in London offers to care for his children but he declines.

German Assault (04:50)

After a seven-month lull, 40,000 German troops surge across the Danish border, paratroopers drop into Norway, and various military units storm into France, Belgium, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands; millions flee their homes. Roosevelt increases aircraft production, angering isolationists like Lindbergh. The United Kingdom stands alone.

Paris to Versailles (03:17)

Susan recalls German troops marching into Paris and fleeing with others to Versailles. She acts as an interpreter when Germans arrive at the palace.

Nazi Spies? (07:06)

Roosevelt and the public begin viewing would be immigrants as threats. The FBI hires agents to locate "fifth columnists." The fear of spies intersects with anti-Semitism and anti-immigration. Congress passes the Alien Registration Act in 1940.

Relief and Rescue Operations (08:22)

Individual Americans working for various organizations help Jewish refugees. They focus efforts on southern France and send Varian Fry to rescue artists and intellectuals in immediate danger; Hiram Bingham also helps refugees. The State Department issues a limited number of emergency visas.

U.S. Support and Opposition (05:51)

Roosevelt runs for a third term, signs into law the first peacetime draft, and vows to help Britain. Germany, Italy, and Japan are allies. Isolationists form the America First Committee. Roosevelt wins another term and proposes a Lend-Lease bill; it passes despite opposition.

Refugee Struggles (06:43)

The Messingers flee to Vichy, but French authorities place them in an internment camp; they escape. In Amsterdam, Otto turns to Charley Straus for help. The State Department changes visa rules and Robert Reynolds establishes a group to hunt down illegal immigrants. Axis powers close American consulates.

Soviet Invasion (09:41)

In June 1941, Hitler invades the Soviet Union and mass murder occurs; Jews, partisans, hostile, and "inferior" groups are targets. The Germans start killing Jewish women and children, along with men, and capture activities on photographs and video. The Einsatzgruppen reaches Bolechow.

Genocide (03:53)

British intelligence decodes German communications and discovers Jewish death tolls; Winston Churchill cannot make the information public. Herman Goering asks Reinhard Heydrich to develop a "noiseless" solution to the Jewish problem.

Young Jewish Refugees (07:50)

Susan and Joseph live with several children at the Château des Morelles. Their father works to bring them to the U.S. and they board the Serpa Pinto. Susan and Joseph recall arriving in America and reuniting with their parents; their mother is mentally ill.

Provocation and Antisemitism (04:37)

A German submarine engages the USS Kearny and Roosevelt orders the Navy to attack on sight. Lindbergh's speech at a rally draws severe criticism. Anti-Jewish gangs terrorize neighborhoods; newspapers report on European ghettos. The Nazis develop an efficient way to eliminate Jews.

Death by Gas (07:57)

Nazi doctors use commercial carbon monoxide to kill tens of thousands. Japan attacks Pearl Harbor, drawing the U.S. into war. Heydrich reveals his plan for Jewish extermination. The Nazis create four killing centers in Poland and transform war camps in Majdanek and Auschwitz into additional centers.

Guy Stern (04:18)

Young men, including Stern, volunteer for the U.S. armed forces. His family remains trapped in Hildesheim, Germany and occasionally sends letters; they get deported to the Warsaw Ghetto. Stern reflects on fighting two wars.

Credits: Episode 2: Yearning to Breathe Free (1938-1942) (The U.S. and the Holocaust: A Film by Ken Burns) (02:45)

Credits: Episode 2: Yearning to Breathe Free (1938-1942) (The U.S. and the Holocaust: A Film by Ken Burns)

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Episode 2: Yearning to Breathe Free (1938-1942) (The U.S. and the Holocaust: A Film by Ken Burns)

Part of the Series : The U.S. and the Holocaust: A Film by Ken Burns, Lynn Novick and Sarah Botstein
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After Kristallnacht, Jews are desperate to escape Hitler’s expanding reach. Americans are united in their disapproval of Nazi brutality but divided on whether or how to act even as World War II begins. Charles Lindbergh speaks for isolationists while FDR tries to support the European democracies. The Nazis invade the Soviet Union, and the Holocaust begins in secret.

Length: 137 minutes

Item#: BVL282623

Copyright date: ©2022

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