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Chapter XIX

The People involved

 

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Israel Gaynor Jacobson

 

Israel Gaynor Jacobson was born on May 19, 1912. The middle name, Gaynor, is Hebrew and stands for “Gan Or” or garden of light. The name was anglicized to Gaynor. The father, a Socialist, was not crazy about the name Israel and reversed the names to Gaynor Israel Jacobson. The son remained with the name for the rest of his life, abbreviating it to Gaynor I. Jacobson. As a child, he suffered a great deal from the neighboring children who called him a “Christ killer.” They frequently attacked him and beat him until he started to fight back. His childhood experiences were not pleasant. He attended Sunday Hebrew School every Sunday. The family moved to Buffalo where Gaynor attended public high school and was graduated in 1928. He finished high school with high honors.

He started law school at Columbia University but had to quit for lack of money. He later studied at Buffalo University where he majored in the field of social work. He received his bachelor's degree and master's degree at Buffalo University. In 1937 he was hired by the Jewish Welfare Society of Buffalo to administer their social services. He was regarded as a very good and capable social worker. He married Florence Stulberg.

He was soon asked to assume the position of executive director of the Jewish Family and Children Agency in Rochester. In the summer of 1944, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) asked Gaynor if he would be interested in leaving the social services in New York State in order to help the European Jewish communities. He gave an affirmative answer. The director of the JDC's European operations, Joseph Joshua Schwartz, flew from his office in Lisbon, Portugal, to New York to interview Gaynor Jacobson. Jacobson was then sent to Italy to help the Jewish refugees. He was then sent to Greece. Then came the big job: director of the JDC operations in Czechoslovakia. He established excellent contacts in Prague and helped thousands of East European Jews cross into Czechoslovakia, Germany and Austria. When the flood of Jews stopped he was sent to Hungary to help the Jews. He was arrested in 1949 in Hungary and jailed for two weeks, accused of helping Jews leave the country. His work opening borders was detailed in the book “The Secret Alliance: The Extraordinary Story of the Rescue of the Jews Since WorldWar II,” by Tad Szulc, a former reporter for The New York Times (Farrar, Straus & Giroux,1992). From 1953 until 1981, Jacobson directed programs for the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, becoming world director in 1966. He retired in 1981. He passed away June 24, 1999.

 

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Dr. Joseph Joshua Schwartz

 

Joseph Joshua Schwartz was born on March 13, 1899 on Novaya Odessa, Ukraine to Rabbi Abraham Nathan and Golda Schwartz. The family barely made a living and decided to leave Russia and head to the United States. As was customary in those days, the husband usually left first and made arrangements for the rest of the family to follow. Rabbi Abraham N. Schwartz left Russia and headed to Hamburg, Germany where he took a boat to Liverpool, England and then to the United States.

As the son of a scholarly orthodox rabbi in Baltimore, Joseph was given a strict traditional upbringing and became a shining Talmudic luminary even as a young boy. At the same time, he was a passionate devotee of the sports which won him the nickname “Packy” among his friends[1]. His father sent him to New York to study at the Reb Itzhak Elchanan Yeshiva, the forerunner of Yeshiva University in New York City. He graduated from the rabbinical seminary At the same time he pursued his secular studies and his interest in world literature. He became quite proficient in modern Hebrew literature and also in modern Yiddish literature. In Montreal he met Dora Rashback, whom he married, before his graduation from the yeshiva.

He remained at the pulpit for several years but he was restless and searching. He began to study “Semitics” at Yale University. Upon receiving his doctorate in Semitics, he went to Cairo, Egypt, to study Arabic lore at the leading Moslem University Al–Azhar, Cairo, Egypt. From time to time he would pay a visit to Palestine. Joseph was an excellent conversationalist and mixed with ease amongst people. Schwartz was given a job at the Brooklyn Federation of Jewish Charities and later headed all the charities in New York. He was the ideal man: apart from his proven executive ability, he could find a common language with the philanthropists in New York mostly German Jews of the second or third generation and with the Yiddish–speaking Jews of Eastern Europe. But basically he was a closed person. He was an immensely private man and kept his thoughts to himself. He never revealed the reason for leaving the pulpit. He was devoted to his work and was an excellent executive.

With the rise of Hitler to power in Germany, the Jewish situation in Europe worsened by the day. Jews were forced to leave their homes and became wandering refugees at the mercy of various government policies. German Jews and later Austrian and Czech Jews began to flock to France, Holland, Belgium, England and the United States. Their situation was hopeless. The JDC or American Joint Distribution Committee stepped in to help. The recently appointed secretary of the JDC organization, Moses A.Levitt, called on Schwartz to help him. He appointed Schwartz in 1939 as his assistant secretary[2]. The latter left for Europe in 1940 to assist in the European Operations of JDC. In 1942, he assumed the directorship of European Operations.

The JDC was established in 1914 following the receipt of an urgent cable from Henry Morgenthau, Sr., ambassador to Turkey, in 1913. Henry protested the Turkish behavior towards the Armenians but the Turks ignored his protests. He also took up the cause of Palestinian Jewry. By 1914, approximately 59,000 Jews were living in Palestine under Ottoman rule. With the outbreak of World War I, the Jewish situation became desperate. Morgenthau sent an urgent cable to New York–based Jewish philanthropist Jacob Schiff, requesting $50,000 of aid to keep the Jews of Palestine from starvation and death. Schiff saw to it that the request was granted and Palestinian Jewry was saved from starvation. He also established the organization known as the JDC to help Jews throughout the world. The JDC experienced financial difficulties as the expanses in Europe constantly increased. Morris Troper, European director of operations, had his hands full. The Paris office was flooded with Jewish refugees from all over Europe trying to get out of France.

The war found Troper and Schwartz out of Paris. Both headed to Switzerland to meet Sally Mayer and made him director of the JDC for Europe. They then visited several European capitals and discussed their situations. Both returned to Paris as the French government left the city. They traveled to Angers and then to Bordeaux. The trip was beyond description and it seemed that all of France was heading south. The roads were a huge parking lot. Troper sent Schwartz to Bordeaux. Schwartz continued to Lisbon, Portugal where a small Jewish community existed[3]. Troper and some other JDC officials soon arrived in the city. The JDC began to help refugees stock food to continue their voyage. Troper and Schwartz, later Schwartz alone, directed JDC operations throughout occupied Europe. Where there were Jewish organizations that functioned, namely France or Poland, money was smuggled to them so that they could help the Jewish population. In other areas, they used private individuals to transmit money. Schwartz helped Jews wherever he could during the war, although the possibilities for success were limited.

Immediately after the liberation of France, Schwartz reestablished his headquarters in Paris and began to organize JDC programs that would help to rebuild the life of the Shoah survivors. But the American government also turned to Schwartz for assistance. In 1945, Schwartz accompanied Earl Harrison who had been recruited by President Truman, to investigate the conditions of the Jewish displaced persons (DPs) in the American zones of Germany and Austria. Their findings and ultimate report resulted in the improvement of living conditions in the DP camps. To stave off mass starvation, JDC marshaled its resources, instituting an ambitious purchasing and shipping program to provide urgent necessities for Holocaust survivors facing critical local shortages.

Supplementing the relief supplied by the army, by UNRRA, and by UNRRA's successor agency–the International Refugee Organization or IRO–JDC distributed emergency aid, but also fed the educational and cultural needs of the displaced, providing typewriters, books, Torah scrolls, ritual articles, and holiday provisions. JDC funds were directed at restoring a sense of community and normalcy in the camps with new medical facilities, schools, synagogues, and cultural activities. Over the next two years, the influx of refugees from all over Central and Eastern Europe would more than triple the number of Jews in the DP camps. Their number included Polish Jews who had returned from their wartime refuge in the Soviet Union only to flee once again (westward, this time) from renewed anti–Semitism and the July, 1946 Kielce pogrom. Schwartz met Rabbi Herzog several times in Europe and helped him with the children transport and helped, financially, to maintain the homes of children in France.

At the same time, JDC was helping sustain tens of thousands of Jews who remained in Eastern Europe, as well as thousands of others living in the West outside the DP camps in Jewish communities also receiving reconstruction assistance from JDC. In 1946, an estimated 120,000 Jews in Hungary, 65,000 in Poland, and more than half of Romania's 380,000 Jews, depended on the JDC for food and other basic needs. Schwartz enabled tens of thousands of Jewish DPs to find their way to Eretz Yisrael as “illegal immigrants” before 1948. In August 1948, after the establishment of the State of Israel, Schwartz met with Israeli officials to plan for future emigration to the new state.

He served the JDC from 1939–1950, and then went on to become the Executive Vice–Chairman of the United Jewish Appeal and later the Vice President of Israel Bonds.

Joseph Schwartz died in 1975.

 

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Rabbi Dr. David Kahana

 

Rabbi Kahana was born in Chlamowka in the district of Tarnopol, Galicia in 1903. He studied in Vienna where he was ordained rabbi and received a doctorate. In 1930, he became rabbi at the Sikstoska Synagogue in Lemberg prior to WWII. He survived the war and with the liberation of the area opened the first synagogue and also was appointed to the Jewish section of the city library in Lemberg by the Russians. Emil Sommerstein, head of the Central Committee of Polish Jews, invited Rabbi Kahana to Lublin where he met Polish Prime Minister Edward Osobka–Morawski and Minister of Defense Michal Rolazymierski on November 15, 1944.[4] Rabbi Kahana was appointed chief chaplain of the Polish Army with the rank of major. Rabbi Kahana also insisted that his office be granted permission to restore Jewish religious life in liberated Poland. Both Rabbi Kahana and Sommerstein knew that this was a difficult request since the government was predominantly communist and did not care about religion. But the Polish government wanted good publicity and indeed this was a good tactic that showed the Polish government helping Jews in Poland. Rabbi Kahana was granted his request. He appointed Chaplain Aaron Becker to begin visiting the renewed Jewish communities and help restore religious life by helping to organize synagogue services and providing the synagogues with religious articles including talitot and prayer books. He also appointed chaplain Yeshayahu Drucker to search, locate and redeem Jewish children who were hidden during the war in non–Jewish homes.

The war was still raging in Poland and there were no other official rabbis. Rabbi Kahana became not only the chief military rabbi but also the rabbinical spokesman for Polish Jewry in liberated Poland. Thus, he represented Polish Jewry to the rest of the world and his office became the center of Jewish information in Poland. Furthermore the Polish government authorized him to re–establish destroyed Jewish religious communities in Poland. These associations became popular and helped the surviving Jews to feel safer. Rabbi Kahana also established the Zabrze home for Jewish orphans and for the children who Drucker had redeemed. Rabbi Kahana worked closely with Rabbi Herzog in rescuing Jewish children.

Rabbi Kahane was the author of a number of works in the field of Halachah or Jewish religious law. He was also well–known for his book “The Lvov Diary,” written while hiding out from the Nazis in a monastery. Rabbi Kahana died in Tel Aviv in 1998 at the age of 95.

 

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Chaplain Yeshayahu Drucker

 

Chaplain Yeshayahu Drucker was the oldest son of Israel and Rachel Drucker. He was born in the city of Jordanów in 1914. The family then moved to Krakow. He lived in the Jewish section of the city, namely Kazimierz. He went to a Hebrew school where the language of instruction was Polish. He had very little contact with the Polish population except in his father's jewelry store. At the age of 14, he was sent to Warsaw to the seminar that was called the Feinslowicz Seminarium in Polish. This was a state educational institution that trained Jewish religious teachers. He graduated as a religious teacher in 1939. He was not drafted due to a medical problem. The family left Krakow heading east a few days after the war started. Along the road, the family disintegrated and Yeshayahu and Aron Drucker wound up in a Russian prison where they were condemned to 5 years of hard labor without ever seeing a court room. They were then shipped to a Siberian gulag or labor camp. They tried to join the Polish army of General Anders but were rejected because they were Jews. Shortly after, they joined the Polish army of General Berling and fought all the way to Berlin. Following the war, Rabbi Kahana enlisted the help of Yeshayahu Drucker whose main task was to search, locate and redeem Jewish children who lived in non–Jewish homes. He brought these children to the Zabrze home where many were united with their relatives while others were sent to France. Hundreds of Jewish children were thus returned to their Jewish roots. He worked closely with Rabbi Herzog's office in tracing the location of Jewish children in Poland.

 

Zdenek (Zoltan) Toman (Asher Zelig Goldberger) Toman was born Asher Zelig Goldberger in the small Slovak hamlet of Sobrance near the Hungarian border. His parents ran a tiny grocery store that also sold bootleg whiskey. His father, David was one of the few ultra–orthodox Jews in the town, Toman's experience with anti–Semitism in his hometown was something that he never forgot. He left Sobrance to attend high school in a neighboring town, and ultimately gained admittance to Prague University, where he earned a law degree. He became an active communist, rising in the student government. According to reports, Toman believed in the “new man” concept where religion would not be held against a man. He changed his name from Zoltan Goldberger to Zdenek Toman. Toman married Paula, a Polish Jewish Communist. With the outbreak of the war, the couple fled to London. There Toman became a member of the Czech government in exile. When he returned to Czechoslovakia after the war, he was appointed Deputy Minister of the Interior, and hand–picked by Soviet leader Joseph Stalin to run the party's secret service in Czechoslovakia.

His family shared the fate of Slovakian Jewry.

His wife Paula gave birth to a boy, Ivan. Toman remained Deputy Minister of the Interior and chief of the Political Intelligence Section, Department III. Toman was also in charge of border controls. This gave him the power to permit European Jews to transit Czechoslovakia on their way to German and Austrian D.P. camps. Close to 250,000 Jews resided in these camps by the end of 1947. He co–operated with the Czech JDC that provided food and medicines for these refugees in transit. He helped the children train of Rabbi Herzog that was stuck in Ostrava, Czechoslovakia to reach Prague and later arrived in France.

He was arrested in 1948. His wife committed suicide by jumping from their third floor apartment's balcony in Prague. Their 18–month old son Ivan was taken from the apartment by Czech secret service never to be seen again. Toman managed to escape from jail and joined his brother in Venezuela. In Czechoslovakia, he was tried in absentia and sentenced to death. Toman became very successful and contributed financially to the Ben Gurion University in Beer Sheva in Israel.

 

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Rabbi Yitzchak Isaac Herzog

 

Itzchak Eisik Halevi Herzog was born in Lomza, North East Poland on December 3, 1888, to Rabbi Joel Leib Halevi Herzog and Liba Miriam Cyprowitz. The family was a rabbinical family going back several generations. Both grandfather and father were rabbis in Lomza. Physical poverty was a steady companion of the Herzog family. This was more than made up for by the rich Torah intellectual milieu of the family. Economic hardship forced the rabbi to look for a position. He was accepted as rabbi in Worcester, Massachusetts. He did not stay too long at the post since differences of opinions developed between the leaders of the community The Herzog family left Lomza and they joined the rabbi in Leeds.

The rabbi was pleased with the small community that also provided him with time to write and exchange Torah ideas. He also devoted a great deal of time to teach Torah and Talmud to his son. Itzhak never attended a cheder nor had a private teacher. His father supervised his religious education. The child was a brilliant student and capable of grasping difficult Talmudic concepts. He also had a fine memory and a great intellectual curiosity. With his father's permission he enrolled at the Leeds University where he studied modern and classical languages. Rabbi Wilkowsky tested him and granted him “ smicha” or rabbinical ordination.

Rabbi Itzhak Herzog continued to study Torah and Talmud as well secular studies at the Sorbonne University in Paris. His combination of science and religion made him an attractive speaker. He was appointed Rabbi to the small Belfast Jewish community in 1916. He met and later married Sarah Hillman, daughter of Rabbi Shmuel Yitzchak Hillman and Sarah Pokempner. In 1936, he was elected Chief Rabbi of Mandatory Palestine. He began to introduce modernization within the rabbinate of Palestine. His office became a center of Jewish Halachic studies. The rabbi sternly opposed the British limitation on Jewish entrance to Palestine, especially children. He devoted himself to redeem Jewish children from non–Jewish homes in Europe. With the establishment of the State of Israel he became Chief Rabbi of Israel. He passed away July 27, 1957.


Footnote

  1. Bauer American, p.41 Return
  2. Bauer, American, p23 Return
  3. Bauer, Amer p.43 Return
  4. Rabbi David Kahana, After the Flood, published by Mossad Kook 1981, p13 Return

 

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