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Unworthy Republic author gives RFK Human Rights staff, supporters a look into research on award-winning book

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Surprisingly, it was a box of letters he inherited from his Hungarian grandfather that inspired Claudio Saunt to write about Native American dispossession. Saunt, who won the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Book Award for Unworthy Republic: The Dispossession of Native Americans and the Road to Indian Territory, said reading the letters, which provided a firsthand account of the experience of Jews in Hungary during World War II, made him want to explore the issue of deportation more broadly and led him, quite literally, to the Trail of Tears. The professor of American history at the University of Georgia recently joined RFK staff, board members, and supporters for a book club discussion moderated by Michael Schreiber, chief operating officer.

The following is an edited transcript of that conversation, part of an ongoing series looking at the RFK Book and Journalism Awards Winners work behind the scenes.

Q. As you were thinking about what to work on, how did you land on this particular topic?

A. Native American removal is probably the most familiar topic in Native American history, and I think for that reason I had stayed away from it as a subject of research for decades. It seemed so familiar and yet, I was always dissatisfied with the existing literature on the subject.

Several years ago, I inherited a cache of letters from my grandfather, who turned out to be a voluminous correspondent and diligent archivist. He had fled from Hungary in the summer of 1937 and continued to correspond with his family overseas. Reading the letters from 1943 and beyond, it was this amazing experience of these Jews in Hungary during this tumultuous period, and later with surviv