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To W&M, via World War II and Dunkirk

As strange as it sounds, without the Battle of Dunkirk, now the subject of a bestselling book and major movie, and the successful evacuation of the British Expeditionary Force and other Allied forces from France to Britain during the World War II, there wouldn’t be a Reves Center of International Studies at the College of William and Mary

The reason is that Emery Reves, whose widow, Wendy, endowed the Reves Center for International Studies, would have been captured and likely executed by the Nazis. .

After all, he was the founder and president of the Cooperation Press Service, an international news agency. Through it, Reves provided outlets to 120 of Europe’s leading democratic statesmen, enabling them to do battle with Nazi propaganda in 400 newspapers around the world. It provided Winston Churchill with a major platform during his “wilderness years.”

Later, as a collaborator and close personal friend of Churchill, Reves was so successful in handling the publishing rights to the works of the great British statesman that the Times of London called Reves “the idealist who sold Churchill to the world.”

The Churchill-Reves collaboration was well known to the Nazis. After invading France, on their way to Paris, where Reves’ Cooperative Press Service had its headquarters, the Gestapo hunted for him. As Reves told me, while he fled Paris in his Rolls-Royce, he got in touch with Churchill. He was instructed to head for Dunkirk, where a British destroyer would pick him up and bring him to Britain.

It was known to Reves that the German Army Group A had burst through the Ardennes and advanced rapidly to the west toward Sedan. But he didn’t know it then turned northward to the English Channel, effectively flanking Allied forces. It forced the British to rethink their strategy.

According to historical records, on May 26, 1940, Anthony Eden, then British foreign minister, told Gen. Lord Gort, commander-in-chief of the British Expeditionary Forces, to prepare plans for evacuation, but without telling the French or the Belgians.

On the first day, only 7,669 Allied soldiers were evacuated, but by the end of the eighth day, 338,226 of them had been rescued by a hastily assembled fleet of more than 800 boats. Reves was among those rescued. He left his Rolls-Royce on the streets of Dunkirk.

It wasn’t Reves’ first escape from the Gestapo. Shortly after Hitler became Chancellor of Germany, the police appeared at dawn at Reves’ apartment in Berlin with an arrest warrant. Reves was away, partying. Only his housekeeper was at home. After the police left, the housekeeper notified Reves.

In the morning, Reves, in tuxedo and pretending to be tipsy, boarded a train to Zurich, Switzerland. At the border, he presented his Hungarian passport and was waved through. Settling in Paris, he reestablished his Press Service, recruiting Churchill as a contributor.

After arriving from Dunkirk to England, Churchill put Reves to work organizing an anti-Nazi propaganda machine. It turned out Reves was still a Hungarian citizen, a country at war with Great Britain. At Churchill’s request, Reves was quickly granted British citizenship. It didn’t take long before Churchill asked Reves to become part of Great Britain’s effort to counter-act Lindbergh’s “America First” movement and propaganda.

After the war, Reves gained international recognition. His book, “The Anatomy of Peace,” was published in 25 languages, eventually selling almost a million copies.

While in the United States, Reves met his future wife, Wendy. After Reves’ death in 1981, Wendy endowed the Reves Center for International Studies at the College of William and Mary, saying, “I wanted to create a memorial that would reflect on his genius as an original thinker and his vision of world peace based on justice and universal law.”

Shatz is a Williamsburg resident. He is the author of “Reports from a Distant Place,” the compilation of his selected column. The book is available at Bruton Parish Shop and Amazon.com

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