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Chapter VI

Rabbi Herzog returns to Europe

From the letters of Rabbi Kahana, Rabbi Herzog realized that redeeming Jewish children from non–Jewish homes was an expensive proposition. Vast sums of money were needed which he did not have at his disposal. But the object of redeeming Jewish children did not give him peace. Rabbi Herzog, realizing the task facing him was immense, felt driven by the need to reach out to these Jewish orphans and bring them back to their heritage. In some ways, he considered them a scarce resource of the Jewish people that needed to be nurtured, brought back to a vibrant cultural life, much as environmentalists look to protect and propagate an endangered species. To accomplish this, Rabbi Herzog began a tireless letter writing campaign, reaching out to rabbis, synagogues, Jewish organizations and Jewish officials around the world, but mainly in Britain where he had extensive contacts, and in the United States. His letters pleaded for support for the redemption of these Jewish children. Of course, Yaacov Herzog handled this extensive correspondence. Meanwhile Rabbi Herzog left for France in May, 1946. His first stop was Paris, France where he met the Shoah survivors of his family. Then he met the various Jewish community leaders and rabbis. Slowly, a picture of the Jewish situation in postwar Western Europe began to emerge, especially the situation of Jewish children in non–Jewish homes. To assist him in France, Rabbi Herzog called on the services of Rabbi Hezkiahu Mishkowski, a man who was already involved in removing Jewish children from non–Jewish homes.

Rabbi Mishkowski informed Rabbi Herzog that several agencies handled Jewish orphans. First was the European wide OSE or Oeuvre de Secour aux Enfants Association. OZE was established in 1912 in Saint Petersburg, Russia, by a group of Jewish doctors to provide medical help to needy Jewish children. Branches were established in various cities in Russia. During World War II, it was very active in assisting Jews. With the rise to power of the Bolshevik Government, OZE found it hard to work. The Communist government was suspicious of everybody and everything, especially “bourgeois” doctors and nurses. The Organisation moved to Lithuania and then to Poland. In 1923, the organization relocated to Berlin, under the symbolic presidency of Albert Einstein. In 1933, fleeing Nazism, it relocated again, this time to France where it became the Œuvre de Secours aux Enfants (Society for Rescuing Children), slightly altering the letters to OSE. OSE became a French Jewish humanitarian organization that aided and saved many hundreds of mainly Jewish refugee children, from France and from other Western European countries that fled the Nazis prior to World War II. During World War II, OSE rescued Jewish children in France, especially in the Vichy controlled areas of France, by smuggling them across the border to Switzerland. OSE also maintained a number of homes, often called “Chateaux,” but actually large “mansions,” where they hid Jewish children. A 1999 documentary “The Children of Chabannes” by filmmakers Lisa Gossels and Dean Wetherell is about one such home or Château de Chabannes, a small village part of today's Saint–Pierre–de–Fursac in Vichy, France where about 400 Jewish refugee children were saved from the Shoah by efforts of its director, Félix Chevrier and other teachers. It was operated by OSE from 1940 to 1943. Then the children were dispersed for safety reasons.

 

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Château de Chabannes where 400 Jewish children were saved

 

Following the war, OSE continued to maintain homes for Jewish orphans in France. There was also the OPEJ or Oeuvre de Protection des Enfants Juifs, and the Committee of French Jews under the auspices of Agudat Israel and supported by Vaad Hatzala representing American Orthodox rabbis. Another Orthodox Jewish group was the small ‘Chabad’ Lubavitch organization. The Beit Din (religious court) of London under the leadership of Dayan ( Jewish religious judge) Grunfeld also became heavily involved in redeeming Jewish children from non–Jewish homes. Finally, the Consistoire, representing the French Jewish religious communities became involved in these efforts. Herzog was informed that most of these agencies had not been terribly successful in removing Jewish children from Christian homes or institutions. Worse still, he was informed about splits and spats among the various religious organizations. He called a meeting, inviting the various Jewish religious organizations to attend in hopes of finding some solutions to their disagreements so that they could all move forward in a unified front to redeem Jewish orphans. The rabbi suggested setting up a Central European Rescue Committee, in coordination with the JDC, to deal with the special needs of the orthodox Jewish community.

At the Paris meeting, Mrs. Recha Sternbuch, the Vaad Hatzala representative in Switzerland, who had recently arrived from Poland, reported on the dire straits of the Jewish refugees there. The rabbi immediately cabled the Vaad Hatzala offices in New York to convey this important message, in the hopes of raising money for the cause[1]. The reply was not too encouraging. Everybody agreed with the need for help but nobody wanted to coordinate the activities. Then the urgent request was altered to emphasize the need to redeem Jewish children from non–Jewish homes. An organization was formed called the “Rescue Children, Inc.,” an organization that would ultimately rescue over two thousand Jewish orphans from the Holocaust and place them in homes throughout Europe.

We already mentioned that Vaad Hatzala, an emergency committee was created by the Union of Orthodox Rabbis of the United States and Canada, was established in 1939 for ‘the purpose of helping European rabbis and yeshivah students’. According to Dr. Ephraim Zuroff, director of the Jerusalem Simon Wiesenthal Center, the Vaad Hatzala aimed at helping and saving ultra–orthodox rabbis who survived the Shoah.

In 1946, the Vaad approached a member of its Executive Committee, an attorney named Herbert Tenzer who later became a U.S. congressman, to become chairman of Rescue Children, Inc[2]. The organization was officially incorporated in October, 1946 in New York. Governor Thomas Dewey presented the official papers, commending Tenzer and the Vaad ‘on the vision and the great humanitarian program’ of the organization which

 

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Rabbi Herzog meeting in Paris with some of the Vaad Hatzala representatives

 

was to raise funds for the maintenance and education of war orphans through an adoption program. A young energetic rabbi, William Z. Novick, was named president of the organization. Soon Rescue Children, Inc., centers were established throughout Europe. At the beginning members of the board had to pay their own expenses traveling from the U.S. to Europe and back. Once in Europe the executive committee interviewed children who were candidates for the different orphanages they supported. Each child was interviewed, biographical information gathered, and any clues to relatives accumulated. Rescue Children, Inc., would then try to locate relatives of the children. Relatives of over 400 children were located in this fashion. One of the homes in Aix–les–Bains, France, supported about 360 children, part of the children train of Herzog.

Some of the executive members of Rescue Children, Inc., adopted the children themselves. Maurice Enright adopted a child and named her Judy. She grew up happy in the Enright home in New Jersey. Rescue Children, Inc., also began an advertising campaign. They ran ads in American newspapers calling on Jews and non–Jews to support a war orphan by donating a dollar a day per child. According to the ads, this money would feed, cloth, and house a child for the entire year. Mayor William O'Dwyer of New York was the first to adopt a child. The program was successful and competed with the JDC fund drives in the USA. The Rescue Children, Inc. organization stopped operating in 1948, turning over the operation to the JDC.

Cosor or le Comite des Oeuvres Sociales de la Resistance, a French government agency caring for families of deportees, prisoners of war, and people executed by the Germans. Of course, the organization was not Jewish but had a sizable number of Jewish children. It was headed by the priest, Chayet. Rabbi Herzog personally met Pere Chayet, who claimed that between 700 – 2,000 Jewish war orphans then resided in France. Chayet promised Rabbi Herzog that he would provide him with a complete list of the Jewish children. It was Rabbi Herzog's intention to pass this list to the Committee of French Jews and start the process of redeeming the Jewish children.

Rabbi Herzog, Rabbi Mishkowski and Rabbi Herzog's secretary, Rabbi Gold, had several meetings with Pere Chayet to hammer out the details of the legal transfer of the children to Jewish homes. To cover the costs of these procedures, Rabbi Herzog provided Pere Chayet with a sizable sum of money and promised to provide more cash if there was a need. Rabbi Herzog approached the American Vaad Hatzala, asking for funds earmarked specifically for this project. Accompanied by Rabbi Schwartz, the Chief Rabbi of France, Rabbi Herzog was introduced to Felix Gouin, then chairman of the French Provisional Government. Rabbi Herzog implored the French leader to grant 5,000 French transit entry visas for Polish or Central European Jewish orphans, stressing the great danger that they faced each day in Poland. Gouin managed to convince the French government to grant the request. These visas became vitally important since they could be presented to the Polish government as proof that someone was willing to take in Jewish refugees if they were permitted to leave. However, fate stepped in to thwart these plans. No sooner had the government agreed in principle to grant the entry visas, than a political crisis arose in France forcing the prime minister to resign. Anxious days passed until a new government was formed. At last Georges Bidault replaced Gouin as head of the French Provisional Government. Much to Rabbi Herzog’s relief, the incoming French leader reassured him that the promise of the entry visas would be honored. A letter to the French embassy in Poland and UNRRA stated that the first 500 visas provided to Rabbi Herzog were for orphans and another 500 for theology students. The letter further stated that any questions pertaining to the document were to be addressed to the Czech Minister of Interior. Rabbi Herzog was very pleased with the news. At last things were beginning to move. The official French letter would now open doors for his project. While in France, Rabbi Herzog attempted to coordinate the rescue activities of the various Jewish religious

 

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French government informs UNRRA and the French embassy in Poland that a transit visa for 5,000 Polish and Central European Jews has been issued.
The letter calls for the implementation of the first transport that would consist of 500 orphans and 500 theological students.
The Czech Ministry of Interior would have to be contacted for transit passage.

 

organizations but was not very successful. He did manage to establish an overall French committee that would take charge of removing Jewish children from non–Jewish homes.

Rabbi Herzog left France and headed to Switzerland. A sizable number of Jewish children were smuggled into Switzerland during the war. Most of these children were placed with non–Jewish families simply because not enough Jewish families were willing to take in Jewish children. Furthermore, there were few Jewish orphanages. After the war nobody seemed to know much about these children. Following his efforts in France, Rabbi Herzog next focused on finding out what had happened to these children hidden in Switzerland. Much to his chagrin, Rabbi Herzog found that the Swiss Jewish community was more concerned with internal politics and personalities than the fate of the Jewish child in a non–Jewish home. Some even expressed the opinion that the children were in a safe, warm environment, and why disturb them. Undaunted, Rabbi Herzog pressed the Jewish leaders, especially the rabbis, to locate the children. While in Switzerland, Rabbi Herzog found the time to lecture at the rabbinical seminary in Montreux, Switzerland. Some progress was made because of his relentless pressure. The Swiss Jewish community opened an office that would focus on collecting the names, and launched appeals to the government, churches, local institutions and private families aimed at returning the Jewish children to Jewish families or institutions. The response in the Swiss community was very positive. Soon names began to appear, lists were drawn up, and children were turned over to the Jewish authorities.

Belgium hosted a large Jewish organization called the AIVG (Aide aux Israelites Vitimesde la Guerre) that was responsible for over 500 Jewish orphans. Also in Belgium, the American Vaad Hatzala ran an orphanage for 80 children. Rabbi Herzog approached the AIVG organization for a list of Jewish children in non–Jewish homes but was refused. Again, most officials had no interest in the extra work, and others believed that there was nothing wrong with Jewish children growing up in Christian homes as long as the foster parents were decent, upstanding citizens. They did not share Rabbi Herzog's sense of mission that each child represented a thousand Jewish souls that had perished. Pressing his case, Rabbi Herzog met local rabbis, community leaders and any influential people he could, urging them to press the AIVG to release the list of Jewish children.

 

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Belgian government informs UNRRA and the Polish government that a visa grants permission to bring 250 Jewish Polish orphans to Belgium.
The letter is addressed to Henry Landau, president of the Vaad Hatzala, American Emergency Committee in Belgium

 

As part of his campaign Rabbi Herzog was granted an audience with the Prince–Regent Charles of Belgium who promised to help him with the Jewish children in Belgium. As Rabbi Herzog was walking the royal red carpets, Rabbi Mishkowski was meeting church officials and lesser members of the government, pleading the cause of the Jewish orphans. As a result of these efforts Rabbi Herzog obtained Belgian entry visas for 250 Jewish children then in Poland. At the time Antwerp, Belgium was another once–important community that was rising from the ashes left by the war. Rabbi Herzog paid a visit to Rabbi Aulman, chief rabbi of Belgium, who painted a dire picture of the Antwerp community and the Jewish situation in Belgium.

Now armed with both the French and Belgian visas, the rabbi felt much better. At last something was beginning to move. He urged Rabbi Salomon Wohlgelernter attached to the UNRRA organization as a representative of the Vaad Hatzala to pressure the organization to begin to plan for the exit of about 1200 Jewish orphans and divinity students from Eastern Eueope mainly Poland.

Rabbi Herzog discovered much to his chagrin, that the situation of the Jewish children in non–Jewish homes in Holland was the worst in Europe. The Dutch government steadily refused to act to remedy the matter. According to a report of Dr. B. De Vries, Chief Rabbi Herzog's representative in Holland, a Jewish children organization called “Ezra L'yeled” (Help for the Children) represented all Jewish organizations and communities in Holland. This organization tried valiantly to cope with the situation but was quite timid, fearful of antagonizing the Dutch people. The O.P.K . (Oorlogspleegkinderen –War orphans) was an official Dutch governmental committee formed after the war to help determine the fate of Jewish war orphans. Their approach was to place Jewish orphans with non–Jewish families.

 

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Rabbi Herzog meeting with Dutch Judges

 

Rabbi Herzog's idea, however, was to place these children who had no parents with Jewish families, in Jewish institutions, and ultimately get them to Palestine. What he discovered was that O.P.K. did not cooperate with the “Ezra L'yeled” organization, frequently refusing to provide information about the hidden children. O.P.K., he realized, had no intention of helping bring these children back into a Jewish framework.

An audience was arranged between Rabbi Herzog and the Dutch Queen Wilhelmina. At the meeting Rabbi Herzog brought up the issue of Jewish children. The Queen diplomatically deferred giving a direct answer, and instead recommended that Rabbi Herzog bring up the issue with ministers in the Dutch government. To his dismay, the Rabbi was put through a series of interrogations that left little room for doubt where the government stood. He was asked if he was sure the parents of these orphans were Orthodox Jews? Perhaps, the ministers suggested, they weren't religious at all?

Rabbi Herzog persisted, as was his way. He urged Dutch rabbis to appeal directly to the assimilated Jewish community. The rabbis organized a banquet in his honor. Speaking in English, Rabbi Herzog urged the audience to do everything in their power to return the Jewish children O.P.K had placed with Christian families back in a Jewish framework. During private meetings with members of the community, and the rabbis, he pushed his request that pressure be placed on the government to release these children from their foster homes. Slowly the Dutch government relented.


Footnotes

  1. Shraga Rescue Mission, pp 28 & JDC ARCHIVES of cable MAY 21 1946 Return
  2. Tenzer, Files, Yeshiva University, New York Return

 

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