Jerusalem Working Group
for Recognition of Major Jewish Rescuers during the Shoah
POB 23718 Jerusalem 91236
Early Rescue Action of Children and Youth from Germany, Austria and Czechoslovakia
Ester Golan - International lecturer and author, sociologist
Volunteer at Yad Vashem School of Holocaust Studies.
Presented at the Fifteenth International
Conference in Jerusalem, Israel
"RESCUE AND RESCUERS: DIFFERENT FORMS AND ACHIEVEMENTS"
Child-emigration from Germany and Austria 1932 -1941
When during the Nazi Regime families realized how hard it was to emigrate as a family, especially when there were old parents or young children included, many families tried to find at least refuge for their children outside of Germany.
Children are the future of a people. In the greatest hour of need of the Jewish people, rescue and saving of children became top priority.
Of those that were helped, saved and rescued, few recall who made it possible for them to get away.
The biggest need for most people was assistance for emigration and especially emigration of children, children on their own. As early as 1932 when Recha Freier founded Youth-Aliyah, a heated and lengthy debate followed whether it was advisable to separate children from their parents. Who would be responsible for their education? How could such a venture be financed? Where could the necessary financial support come from?
I would like to introduce you to this book: Maierhof, Schuetz and Simon (2004)
In this companion to the Exhibition “Aus Kindern wurden Briefe”, they talk mainly about the work of two women, Recha Freier and Kaete Rosenheim and give an excellent rendering of the of the working of Child emigration from Germany under pressure of the Nazi Regime. When families were offered to find refuge for their children they were put to a hard test.
Can you imagine the hardship of these heroes, who were willing to part from their children, probably knowing that this parting was a parting for good?
Recha Freier founded Youth Aliya in 1932 with the destination of Erez Israel or Palestine as it was called in those days which would take care of youngsters aged 15 – 16. Recha’s friend, Leheman – head of Ben-Shemen educational agricultural school in Palestine, who came to Berlin with certificates – agreed to give Recha 12 students certificates – thus succeeded Recha - as her own private initiative, to send the first 12 youngsters to Palestine.
- As there was a strong opposition to the idea, it took the rise of Hitler to power and two years of organizing, before the first group destined for Kibbutz Ein Charod could leave Berlin with the Madrich Chanoch Rinot (Reinhard).
Recha Freier became head of the Youth Aliya office as part of the Jewish Agency office in Berlin.
Via Youth Aliyah - Over the years, from Feb 1934 until 1941 apx 5.000 youngsters arrived in Palestine.
The majority lost their parents and other relatives during the Shoa.
When the need arouse to take care of much younger children, Aliyat Jeladim/ Kinder-Aliya/ Children Aliya was founded.
A great achievement was the migration of AHAVAH, a children home in Berlin, that was transferred, children and staff, to Kirjat Bialik near Haifa.
Within the Reichsvertretung a special department for “Kinderauswanderung “ -Child emigration- was opened in 1934 and headed by Kaete Rosenheim.
At the beginning of the Nazi Regime hundreds of children were send to the neighboring European countries like France, Holland, Belgium, Italy, England and the Scandinavian countries. There they were placed either with relatives, children homes or orphanages.
Somebody had to seek out possibilities and all that had to be financed. That is when Jewish communities rose to the challenge and helped where they could. They provided food and sometimes shelter for people in transit. Helped to move people on to their next destination.
The USA was willing to allow the placement only of one thousand children, known today as OTC “One Thousand Children”, provided that adoptive families were found for each child. Lengthy correspondence took place between Berlin and New York. Only just over 800 children made it.
Evidence of that can be found in the Center for Jewish History, New York City– YIVO Institute Collection: German Jewish Children’s Aid. Many applicants were turned down.
For both the offices, headed by Kaete Rosenheim and Recha Freier, it was essential to get in touch with other countries to secure suitable connections for the placements of young unaccompanied Jewish children and youth.
Kaete Rosenheim worked strictly according to the rules as laid down by the authorities, both German and Jewish.
Recha on the other hand was so concerned to help where help was imminently necessary, that she often overstepped conventions by smuggling children out of Germany and over the border.
Recha Freier, working together with Hechaluz Movement for Kibbuzim - Pioneer Movement, was looking constantly and until the bitter end for possibilities of young people to get agricultural training anywhere outside of Germany, until their turn came to get to Palestine.
Agricultural training farms were painstakingly established in Holland, France, Denmark, Sweden and England. Instructors had to be found. Farmers had to be persuaded to take on trainees, most demanding payment for these services. Some youngsters were placed with individual farmers. In Denmark, this meant an extra burden on the envoys from Palestine.
When after the German occupation of Denmark the evacuation of Jews took place by word of mouth, some youngsters were in remote places without telephone connection and somebody had to make the long trip by bike to warn them of the impeding danger. Most of them managed to escape by boat to Sweden.
Many of these Zionist pioneers from Germany when the Nazi occupation caught up with them, got involved in the underground and were part of the rescue team that were active in saving children.
Perez Leshemin his book Die Strasse der Rettung –The road to Rescue -gives a good rendering on the difficulties of finding suitable placement for young people outside of Germany. As an emissary from the Kibbutz movement in Erez Israel- the Hechalutz, he did its utmost to prepare young people for Kibbutz life - a communal settlement. Hechalutz set up Hachshara places throughout Germany and in the neighboring countries.
As soon as the Nazis rose to power many young Jews, as specially those that were Stateless, were in danger of deportation. It was urgent to get them out of Germany.
In France, Holland, Belgium, Italy, Denmark, Sweden, Poland, wherever possible new Hachshara places were set up in the early 30th, allowing young people to train in agriculture while waiting to get certificates to go to Palestine. Some kept Shabbat and kosher which was far from easy on them. Most of the places were extremely primitive. Many of these places demanded payment for these services.
The Hechalutz Shaliach - emissary - Pino Ginsberg concentrated on arranging Aliya B – the illegal immigration from the British point of view, to Palestine. He worked in conjunction with the German authorities.
People were willing to go to strange places, to part from individual members of the family, use any means to get out from under the claws of the Nazis.
Ruth Saris mentions the forced closing down of the Hechalutz office as late as 12.March 1941.
Many of their emissaries returned again and again to help some more people to safety. Some like Otto Hirsch and Julius Seligman and several others paid with their life for it. It was a question of finding ways to comply on the one hand with the German authorities while at the same time working to save as many people as was possible under the given ever more restricted circumstances.
Recha Freier often went abroad on fundraising trips trying to find the necessary funds for the placement, maintenance and training for youngsters while waiting for opportunity to go to Palestine.
1938 was a crucial year. The annexation of Austria to the German Reich brought an additional number of Jews into imminent danger.
1938after the well planned Pogrom on the 10th of November, the burning over a thousand synagogues, plundering of Jewish shops and incarceration of some 30 000 of Jewish men aged 17 – 70 to concentration camps, many mothers desperate and unable to feed their children, knocked at the doors of the Reichsvertretung in Germany and the Kultus Gemeinde in Austria, begging for help. They pleaded to have their children taken care of.
Jewish organizations in Germany and overseas had to work over time. They were trying desperately looking for possibilities, to find placements for children of all ages. The struggle was to get the children out of harms reach before it was to late.
Norman Bentwichasked Trudie Wiesmueller, a Christian lady from Holland, if she was willing to confront Adolf Eichman in Vienna and plead with him to allow children to leave the country without their parents.
He granted her to let 600 children leave by Saturday. The great difficulty was finding a country that would allow them in.
The British Mandate refused entry of these children to Palestine. America said their quota was full.
The Jewish Lobby held lengthy negotiations with the British Parliament of England, according to a clause in the immigration law, which allows a person who is on his way to a third country entry to Great-Britain with transit visa. Thus the children received a transit visa and special immigration papers, each having a nametag and number around their neck.
The first Kindertransport – Children Transport – left on the 2nd of December 1938 with 500 children for England, that was all the room that was found in a summer camp in Davenport in the south of England. Trudie Wiesmueller brought the remaining 100 as far as Holland. Some managed to get unto the last boat to leave Holland after the German invasion and many days later reached the shores of England.
Nicholas Winton, an Englishman on Holyday managed to get 669 children unto trains in Czechoslovakia, some with and some without proper travel permits.
Rabbi Schoenfeld from London helped place religious children in religious families and looked after their needs. Sometimes putting them up temperately in the community buildings. Sara Hermann from the North London Jewish Community and many others engaged in finding families, some children were send to Dublin in Ireland. Somebody managed to get children out of Danzig.
There were many more helpers in one of the greatest saving actions, but few of their names have ever been recorded.
10,000 children were saved by Kindertransport to Britain,
5,000 youngsters came to Palestine with Youth Aliya,
800 reached the USA as OTC.
These are Children, who otherwise would have joined the 1 500 000 children who perished in the Shoa.
Borders of most countries were hermetically closed for Jews and some had to cross illegally to reach a port of departure for illegal immigration to Palestine.
By 1938 Kindertransport and Youth Aliyawere the only venues open for children on their own. These offices did their best trying to find placement in any country willing to give thousands of children and youngsters temporary refuge, mainly working in agricultural or training in preparation for further emigration to other countries within the near future.
Recha Freier herself in the end when threatened by the Gestapo in 1941, had to escape together with her 11-year –old daughter and that with the help of smugglers via Austria.
She managed to get 120 children, who were smuggled along with her and they reached Jugoslavia hoping to bring them to Palestine.
But only 90 Certificates were available and 30 of the children had to be left behind with their Shomer Hazair Madrich Jossy Indig.
He managed to smuggle them yet across another border into Italy, where they remained till the end of the war in Villa Emma, when they finally arrived in Erez Israel.
Here are some personal memories:
In 1935 aged 12, I applied for the adoption to America, but was turned down. The picture that was sent in was returned with a comment: “Who wants to adopts such an ugly child”. Whereas they wanted curly golden-locks, I only had a couple of plain plaits.
The relevant document can be seen in YIVO Institute New York. All told only just less 1000 children reached the States. They were hand picked.
A month before my 15th birthday 15 I registered with Youth-Aliya in Berlin and was excepted in October 1938, to join a month-long camp Vorbereitungslager for preparation in Ruednitz, near Berlin.
At the end of November 1938, 2 weeks after the famous Christal Night, we had to appear in front of a reception committee where our fate was decided, whether or not we were accepted to go with a Youth-Aliya group to Palestine.
Out of the 40 participants only 25 were chosen. That was all the allocation available. I was turned down because of underweight, as being too small to withstand the hardships of life in Palestine.
There were always more applicants, then available places.
Eventually thanks to the intervention of Recha Freier, I managed as a candidate for Youth Aliya, to join the first group that was organized by Youth Aliya to go with a Kindertransport from Berlin to Whittingehame, - the Estate of Lord Balfour.
As we can see from the before said:
1. Emigration from Germany and Austria in the late 30th became complicated because more and more borders were closed and few if any countries were willing to take in refugees. On the other hand, the Nazis came up constantly with new and severe red-tape regulations concerning passports, exit visas, documents and payments.
Those that could get out of their own record and found a way to escape, did so, but what about the others? Where could they turn too, where could they get information as to how to go about seeking much needed help?
The Jewish emigration institution in Germany and Austria including the Hechaluz and other Zionist Institutions did what they could to assist in whichever way, legally as well as illegal.
In the Scandinavian countries, in Holland, France and in England as well as in many other places Jewish Communities as well as individuals did their utmost to help secure placement, even if only temporarily.
Massive fundraising took place in Britain to ensure that as many children as possible could be rescued from the ever more life threatening Nazi atmosphere.
2. Families had to split up and separate.
In order to spare the children the worst and to save their lives, parents were willing to part from Children. This was possible one of the greatest hardships for all concerned.
Using illegal ways of crossing the border was not only dangerous but also expensive. False identity papers and travel permits had to be purchased, smugglers had to be paid, foreign currency had to be purchased in illegal ways.
3. The Jewish rescuers worked under absolute secrecy and often under great danger, often not knowing who else was involved in the rescue work. If caught too much knowledge could have been dangerous. Many years had to pass before some of them told of their work.
4. There are Holocaust survivors who were helped, saved and rescued. A high percentage of them at the time were children, some rescued by the skin of their teeth by Jewish rescuers.
Most of these survivors who had been rescued or saved, never knew at the time, as too who was involved in their miraculous survival.
Little is known or written about whence the money came from that was needed to save as many children as possible and how it was transferred. Fares had to be paid, board and lodging had to be found, where possible to save-guard their education, some of the refugees had to be smuggled out of the country for lack of the needed proper papers. There is room for further research on this subject.
So far, to the best of my knowledge, there is no comprehensive research work available dealing especially with the part that the Jewish helpers and rescuers have played in small and larger salvage operations.
Gudrun Maierhof, C. Schuetz, H. Simon Aus Kindern wurden Briefe. Die Rettung juedischer Kinder aus Nazi Deutschland edition Berlin Im Metropol Verlag 2004
Freier Recha Let the Chidren come. Early History of Youth Aliyah
Weidenfeld and Nicolson London 1961 (see also Hebrew version)
Elkin Rivka The Heart beats on. Continuity and Change in social Work and Welfare Activities of German Jews under the Nazi Regime 1933-1945 (Hebrew) Yad Vashem and Leo Baeck Institute 2004
Scheer Regina Ahawah Das Vergessene Haus
Spurensuche in der Berliner Auguststrasse Aufbau Taschenverlag 1993
Golan Ester Auf Wiedersehen in unserem Land Econ 1995 ( German)
Letters to a daughter from Berlin 1939 - 1942
Goepfert Rebekka Der Juedische Kindertransport
Von Deutschland nach England 1938/39 Campus 1997
Perez Leshem Die Strasse der Rettung 1970