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[Page 182]

Chapter VIII

The Herzog Children's Transport

Jewish children continued to arrive at the association and Zionist homes. Most Jews wanted to leave Poland as quickly as they could. Some were single parents and did not want to drag their children through the borders so they brought them to the various Zionist homes with the understanding that the children would leave Poland for Palestine where the families would be reunited. The Jewish community of Zabrze continued to absorb many Jewish newcomers from Poland and from the repatriated Jewish masses from the Soviet Union. A synagogue was established in Zabrze with the help of the AJRC and some Jews chose to settle in Zabrze. Batia Akselrod recalls enjoyable moments shared with the Geller's at their apartment. There was a constant stream of Jews to Zabrze but most did not stay.

 

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Jewish children from Teheran, Iran arrive in Palestine

 

Rabbi Herzog watched with trepidation as events unfolded in Eastern Europe, especially Poland. But there was little he could do except write letters and send money to the Association homes in Poland. The English government kept him in Palestine and would not permit him to leave the country. Herzog took a great interest in Jewish children. He helped absorb the Jewish children that arrived in Palestine during World War II with the Polish Army headed by General Anders.

He now wanted to help the Jewish orphans in Europe. Finally the British relented and permitted him to leave Palestine on January 20 1946. His first stop was Cairo, Egypt and then he continued to Italy where he met Jewish Shoah survivors, Jewish community leaders, soldiers of the Jewish Brigade and rescued Jewish children. Everywhere he urged the Jewish leaders to do everything in their power to help redeem the Jewish children still held in non–Jewish homes or institutions.

 

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This cable awaited Rabbi Herzog on his arrival in Jerusalem
The visa was issued by the Polish government in Warsaw following pressure by David Guzik, director of JDC in Poland and Rabbi Steinberg. This document would enable Herzog to travel to Eastern Europe without British permission.

 

Rabbi Herzog then flew back to Jerusalem to testify before the Anglo–American Commission for Palestine. On his arrival in Jerusalem, a surprise awaited him, namely a visa to enter Poland. He testified at the hearings and then returned to Europe and traveled to England, France, Belgium, Holland, Switzerland and the American zone of occupation in Germany where he met Jewish Shoah survivors in the D.P. camps. The rabbi was shocked by the conditions, especially the orphanage homes in the camps.

 

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Rabbi Itzhak Eisik Halevi Herzog and his son Yaakov Herzog
arrive at the D.P. camp in Fohrenwald, Bavaria, Germany.
To the left of Rabbi Herzog dressed in military uniform is Rabbi Wohlgelernter, Vaad Hatzala representative in Europe.

 

In London Rabbi Herzog urged Jews to contribute money to save Jewish children from non–Jewish homes. He also discussed plans of mass transportation with Rabbi Wohlgelernter, Vaad Hatzala representative of the American Orthodox rabbis in Europe and liaison officer with the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA). Both rabbis wanted to speed up the rescue of Polish Jewish orphans. They decided to ask UNRRA to help transport the children to France without the need to smuggle them over unfriendly borders. The rabbis used all their connections to influence UNRRA to prepare a plan of action. UNRRA cooperated and began making the arrangements. Meanwhile Rabbi Herzog obtained visas to enter France and Belgium for the children.

Rabbi Herzog and his son Yaakov left Paris and headed to Prague. Transportation in Europe was still limited to military personnel and only UNRRA could provide extensive means of transportation. So the Rabbi traveled under UNRRA auspices. He arrived in the Czech capital on July 25, 1946 and met Elfim Rees, UNRRA representative in Czechoslovakia. They discussed arrangements for a transport to be led by the Rabbi of 1,250 passengers – 500 adults, and 750 children. The transport would arrive from Poland and have to remain in Czechoslovakia for about six weeks until accommodations in France were ready. Rabbi Herzog, UNRRA and the Czech government conducted discussions on the length of the stay. The Czechs wanted the transport to leave the country as soon as possible. Then Rabbi Herzog took ill and was sent to the hot springs of Karlovy Vary where he stayed for one week. He returned to Prague and finalized the stay of the transport, then flew to Warsaw, with Yaacov, Rabbi Zeev Gold, the Rabbi's secretary and Rabbi Solomon P. Wohlgelernter.

The Polish government did not want to take risks with the safety of the Rabbi even though he was not an official guest of the government. For security purposes, the Herzog entourage was installed at the “Warszawa” [1] hotel by Rabbi Kahane. Several army officers were assigned to guard him reinforced by a few more Polish Jewish officers enlisted by Kahane.

Rabbi Kahane acted as the host and was pleased to finally see the man with whom he had often corresponded. They exchanged ideas and plans. Rabbi Kahane told Herzog in detail of the Jewish situation in Poland, and that there was a mass exodus of Jews from Poland. Rabbi Herzog decided to insist that his visas be used. It was true that Jews could leave Poland illegally or semi–legally by heading to the Czech border and then to Germany and Italy. But this lengthy trip involved so much suffering, pain and exhaustion, while his plan envisioned transports of Jewish children and youngsters from Poland to France by rail – easy and simple.

Rabbi Kahane began to prepare a list of children that would be leaving Poland with Rabbi Herzog. The Zabrze home received a sizable number of seats aboard the train as did the home of Gluszyca. Other religious homes like the Mizrahi and Agudat homes were given a number of seats and all the homes were told to prepare lists of children and the adults who would escort the transport.

In Warsaw, Rabbi Kahane introduced Herzog to various Polish Jewish leaders and Polish government officials including Poland's Prime Minister Eduard Osobka–Morawski. During this cordial meeting Rabbi Herzog asked the Polish leader to pass legislation to the effect that all Jewish children still in Poland be listed as Jews even if they were no longer living in Jewish homes or with Jewish families. He also asked the Polish prime minister to permit 750 Jewish orphans and 500 yeshiva students to leave for Palestine. The Polish government decided to allow the children to leave Poland.

Soon Rabbi Kahane was told that a Polish Red Cross train would be heading to Paris to bring home disabled Poles from France. The train could be used to transport the Jewish orphans to France. The entire operation was under the auspices of UNRRA which would pay for the transportation. [2] The Polish government side stepped the entire issue by handing the transportation matter to the Polish Red Cross and UNRRA.

In Warsaw, preparations began to organize the children's journey to France. Rabbi Kahane met with the AJRC leaders and representatives of Agudat Israel, Poalei Agudat Israel, the religious Zionist Mizrachi and Hapoel Hamizrachi movements in Poland, and apprised them of the plans and the need to prepare for the imminent departure of the children. Due to limited time and the difficulty of assembling such a large group, the original plan for 1250 travelers was drastically reduced.

Meanwhile, Rabbi Herzog visited the city of Lodz and on his way back to Warsaw, he decided to stop off at the Jewish cemetery in the city of Suchaczew where Rabbi Awraham, the author of ‘Avnei Nezer’, was buried. The tombstone was gone but he did find the tomb of Rabbi Awraham's wife, daughter of the Rabbi of Kotzk. He spent some moments in prayer and contemplation when Poles began to assemble and the security forces ordered the Rabbi to leave immediately for the train station. [3]

The AJRC organized a dinner honoring Rabbi Herzog where he encouraged them to have faith. He also addressed English and American correspondents in Warsaw on the Jewish situation in Poland. Following the news conference, he was urged to leave Poland immediately. He left Warsaw for Prague at 10:30 p.m.on August 13, 1946. The Polish guards remained with the Rabbi until the Czech border [4].

On August 19, 1946, the final transport plan entitled “Transport 750” was ready and presented to Rabbi Solomon P. Wohlgelernter, liaison officer for Rabbi Herzog and UNRRA. He called Rabbi Herzog and Rabbi Kahane and transmitted the plan to them. It was very detailed and covered almost all possible eventualities. According to the plan, the train, consisting of 44 passenger cars, would leave Lodz on Wednesday, August 21, 1946, stopping in Katowice where most of the children would board, and arrive in Prague on Friday, August 23, 1946. The document listed the entire leadership of the transport and their positions. The Polish government was represented by Wanda Siwek, an official of the Polish repatriation office. Security was represented by Major Sokol and medical facilities were the responsibility of Dr. Alfred Kalmanowicz. The Vaad Hatzala was represented by Rabbi Simcha Wasserman , Recha Sternbuch and Rabbi Solomon P. Wohlgelernter.

 

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The UNRRA plan for transporting the Polish Jewish youngsters out of Poland.

 

The plan had two major drawbacks, there was no continuation provision following the arrival in Prague and no one specific leader named. Rabbi Kahane instructed Drucker to supervise the loading of the train [5] in Lodz on Wednesday, August 21, 1946. The Rabbi's office in Warsaw directed all homes to proceed to Lodz or Katowice. Transportation was a problem in Poland especially for groups that wanted immediate tickets. Furthermore, there was a problem of safety for the Jewish children on Polish trains. But these decisions had to be made quickly. Even the UNRRA plan called “Plan 750 “only listed 750 youngsters plus escorts. This number would be further reduced the day of departure

Recha Sternbuch, was one of the first to board the train in Lodz with a group of yeshiva boys who brought a Torah scroll they had saved during the war and carried with them all across Russia. Rabbis Wohlgelernter, Drucker and Becker were on the train to greet the children. The loading proceeded according to plan, with half the cars assigned to the Mizrahi party and the other half to the Agudat party.

 

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The youngest member of the Herzog transport

 

Group leaders, namely Moshe Einhorn, Yeshayahu Spiner, the late Meir Weissblum, and Recha Sternbuch soon assumed their posts. When the train arrived at Katowice, it was shunted to a side line where the various groups proceeded to board including the Zabrze contingent that was part of the Mizrahi group. David Danieli described in a previous chapter how the Zabrze group of children received the news of departure and proceeded to the train station.

 

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The Herzog children's train reached the main Prague railway station where Rabbi Herzog, seen standing on a small platform, thanked the Czech government and Czech officials for their hospitality.

 

The train stood in Katowice for a long time until Rabbi Herzog who was detained in Warsaw finally arrived late in the evening and the train started to roll to the Czech border. Prior to the border crossing, some stowaways were discovered aboard the train. The Polish guards counted and recounted the passengers and discovered that there were 10 extra passengers. The stowaways were removed and the journey continued. But the train was still far away from Prague as the Sabbath approached. Rabbi Herzog and the children left the train in Ostrava–Moravska where they spent the Sabbath and resumed the journey the next day. They arrived in Prague to a tumultuous reception. This was one of the largest Jewish children transports to transit Czechoslovakia and contained a sizable number of Zabrze and Gluszyca children. The transport consisted of 500 children, 101 teachers and supervisors and Rabbi Herzog and his entourage. The children were moved to the big reception center of Dablice where they would spend six weeks until accommodations in France were ready. Only then did the Herzog Children's Transport leave Czechoslovakia for France.

The children left Poland but relatives continued to search for them there. Below is a letter sent from England inquiring about two orphans who survived the war. The letter was sent to the JDC office in Poland who traced the children and replied to the distressed family.

 

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Letter searching for Jewish children after the war. The children were located. They had left the Zabrze home with the Herzog children transport and reached the home of Schirmack near the city of Strasburg in France.
Notice the signature on the letter.

 

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Rabbi Herzog, chief rabbi of Palestine, pleading with UNRRA official in Prague to let his transport of children enter Czechoslovakia

 

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Children outside Zabrze Orphanage

 

Transports of children continued to leave Poland but on a much smaller scale and more frequently. The children transports went directly to France. Batia Akselrad–Eisenstein, one of the Jewish children hidden during the war and then brought to the Zabrze orphanage by the efforts of Drucker, was constantly hoping that she would be returned to her Polish adoptive family in Krosno as they had promised her. While Batia waited in vain for her foster family to rescue her from the orphanage, other events soon took control of her destiny. “The news quickly spread,” she said, “that the children from Zabrze would soon leave for Palestine. A second children transport was being organized. Like everyone else, I began to pack. I was ready for the trip. I still thought my ‘mother’ would come and get me once we reached the train station. A small number of us Zabrze children were

 

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The second Herzog transport to France

 

driven to Katowice where we boarded a train to Lodz. I looked for my ‘mother’ at the Katowice railway station but couldn't find her. We only spent a short time in Lodz. Living conditions there were unpleasant. The second train was finally organized. I remember waiting again for my ‘mother’ to come and get me before the train left. I was crying. But the train left without me ever seeing her. We rode in cattle cars but the trip was pleasant. The train rolled through Poland and after a delay at the Polish–Czech border, it then continued to travel through Czechoslovakia, then Germany, stopping in Paris. We received a tumultuous welcome at the Paris train station. I remember that Rabbi Herzog's son Yaacov was there to greet us on behalf of his father, who was recuperating in Palestine from his last long journey.” According to Batia, the Zabrze children were then sent to the southern French city of Perigueux where they would remain for the next two years. They would all arrive in Israel with the creation of the new State.

 

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The Rothschild estate near Perigueux where Jewish children spent two years preparing to settle in Palestine

 

The Zabrze home had a number of small toddlers who presented particular problems. Obviously, they could not be sent illegally across the borders. Most of them were flown to England by Rabbi Salomon Schonfeld, son in law of the Chief Rabbi of England

 

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Rabbi Salomon Schonfeld dressed in military uniform

 

Joseph H. Hertz. Rabbi Hertz raised substantial sums of money in England to support the Jewish orphanages in Europe. Rabbi Schonfeld was heavily involved in rescuing Jewish children from Europe before World War II, regularly bringing children from Germany and Austria and placing them with religious Jewish families. With the end of the war he immersed himself in rescuing Jewish children from non–Jewish homes. He worked very closely with Rabbi Kahane and helped financially and materially the Jewish homes. He made all the arrangements in England to transport the young children and place them with Jewish families. Rabbi Schonfeld took several transports of small Jewish children directly from Poland to England. Rabbi Kahane did not like to send Jewish children to England but the necessity of the situation forced him to consent. Poland was in turmoil, the small children needed special care that could not be assured in Polish homes. So he consented to send them to England where they would be provided with good homes. Most of the children were adopted and raised to maturity


Translator's Footnotes

  1. Kahane, David Rabbi. After the Deluge, Jerusalem, p89. Return
  2. Kahane, Deluge, p.88 Return
  3. Sharagai, Zalman. Mission to Europe, Jerusalem, p.66 Return
  4. Ibid. pp72–74 Return
  5. Testimony of Yeshayahu Drucker at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem Return

 

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