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Chapter XI

Germany

 

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Map of occupied Germany

 

Germany was a divided country with millions of German and non–German refugees including forced laborers, volunteers, camp inmates and concentration camp survivors. The last group included Jewish Shoah survivors that were located in Ravensbruck, Theresienstadt, Bergen Belsen, Dachau, Allach and Ebensee concentrations camps.[1] The health conditions were appalling in most of these camps particularly Bergen Belsen where 13,000 inmates, mostly Jews, were on the verge of death. The situation at Dachau was not much better. The Americans and the British threw all their medical teams into the camps to help the inmates. They did a heroic job in spite of the fact that they had never encountered or dealt with such massive health problems. The biggest problem was what to do with all the refugees estimated at 10 million people, amongst whom were 80,000 surviving Jews[2]. The relatively small number of Jews seemed to be fairly unimportant.

 

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Bergen–Belsen concentration camp was liberated by the British in April 1945. The survivors immediately erected a memorial saying: “In memoriam to the 30,000 Jewish victims of war and starvation who fell during the regime of the German tyrants and the concentration camp of Bergen–Belsen.” Joseph Rosensaft, chairman of the camp's Central Jewish Committee of Liberated Jews, later noted that JDC's representatives were the first to visit from the outside world, and that JDC staff brought survivors “warmth and encouragement from America.” Germany, 1945
(Yad Vashem Archives)

 

As stated earlier, the Allies did not consider Jews as a nationality but classified them as nationals of the country where they lived or were born. Polish born Jews were assigned to Polish camps. This situation was highly flammable since most Polish born Jews refused to go back to Poland and refused any contact with Poland. Incidents began to flare up between Jews and other nationalities. Jewish inmates began to move to camps that had larger numbers of Jews. Feldafing DP camp in the US zone in Germany became the first Jewish camp after Hungarian refugees were sent to the Dachau DP camp and the Jews from Dachau were sent to Feldafing. The commandant of the camp was Lieutenant Irving Smith, a Jew[3]. Most of the Jewish survivors related with ease to Jewish soldiers or officers, especially chaplains that carried tablets of the commandments on their collars. The Jewish military men tried to understand and help the survivors with their problems. They frequently gave advice on how to avoid orders to return to their native country or mailed letters to relatives in the U.S., since there was no postal service immediately after the war. The Jewish chaplains helped the survivors organize to defend their interests.

An emissary from Palestine speaking to residents of the Feldafing DP camp in the American zone of Germany. (Yad Vashem Archives)

 

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Rabbi Abraham Judah Klausner

 

As mentioned earlier, Rabbi Abraham Klausner was very active in helping the survivors. He became a “father figure” for the more than 30,000 emaciated survivors found at the Dachau concentration camp near Munich, Germany. He also cared for thousands more left homeless in the various camps following the war as the victorious Allied Forces determined where they should go.

At Dachau, survivors constantly asked whether he knew their relatives in the United States. He began to send letters to the US attempting to establish contact between survivors and their families. His lists of survivors were instrumental in reuniting people with what family they had left. He traveled throughout Bavaria looking for survivors, helping to reunite families and setting up a center for survivors at the Deutsches Museum in Munich. Rabbi Klausner traveled extensively throughout Bavaria and saw the terrible conditions of the Jewish DP's at most of the camps. There was overcrowding, inadequate food, poor shelter, a lack of clothing and medical supplies. Klausner realized that these problems were more than he alone could handle. He decided to enlist the DP's in the struggle for improvement of their living conditions. He urged Zalman Grinberg, a ghetto survivor and head of the Feldafing DP Jewish Council to launch the formation of a Central Committee that would represent all liberated Jews in Germany and Austria. Such an organization would speak louder than he himself.

 

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Zalman Grinberg

 

Zalman Grinberg was born September 4, 1912 in Lithuania and was educated as a medical doctor with a specialty in radiology. He survived the Kovno ghetto and many camps. Towards the end of the war, he was imprisoned in the concentration camp at Dachau. At the end of the war he was living near the St. Ottilien monastery, near Dachau. He managed to set up a hospital at the monastery, recruiting nurses and physicians among the concentration camp survivors. The hospital was critical for the survivors many health needs. He then moved to the Feldafing DP camp where he assumed a leading role in the life of the community and met Rabbi Klausner. Grinberg was soon elected head of the Feldafing Jewish Council.

On July 1, 1945 at the Feldafing camp, Klausner and a survivor of Dachau, established the Central Committee of the Liberated Jews in the U.S. Zone of Germany as the official representative body of the Jewish DPs. The purpose of the Central Committee was to champion the interests of the Jewish DPs and to draw attention to their plight. Rabbi Klausner advised Grinberg and his aides to expand their efforts to include all liberated Jewish camps in Germany and Austria. Jewish leaders were invited to the Funk–Kaserne camp where a committee was created representing every Jewish camp in Germany and in Austria. Present at the meeting were Brichah officials, representatives of the Jewish Brigade, chaplains of the military forces, Zionists and representatives of all the DP camps. The assembly endorsed the creation of the Central Committee of the Liberated Jews in Germany and Austria. The general meeting elected Zalman Grinberg as chairman of the organization. Also elected were several deputy assistants including Samuel Gringauz.

The newly created body established its headquarters in Munich (located first at the Deutsches Museum and later at 3 Sieberstrasse) and set up seven sub–committees to formulate policy and coordinate activity in the areas of education, culture, religious affairs, clothing, nutrition, emigration and information. The Feldafing meeting was quickly followed by a conference in St. Ottilien on July 24. Its purpose was to expand the representative base of the Central Committee and to draw public attention to the plight of Jewish survivors in DP camps and put pressure on Britain to open Palestine to immigration.

The 94 delegates from German and Austrian camps issued a resolution demanding the abrogation of the British White Paper, which prevented them from leaving the camps and starting their lives afresh in their own homeland. In addition, they called for the recognition of the Jewish DPs as a distinct group meriting their own camps, in which they would govern themselves. The Central Committee failed in its attempt to incorporate the Jewish DPs of Austria and the British zone of Germany into their organizational structure. However, it continued to represent the largest group of Jewish DPs and eventually won recognition by the American Army of Occupation. In the five years of its existence, the Central Committee convened three formal congresses: Munich, January 27–29, 1946; Bad Reichenhall, February 25–28, 1947; and Bad Reichenhall, March 30–April 2, 1948. Grinberg served as the Chairman of the Central Committee from its inception until his immigration to Palestine in 1946. He was succeeded by his deputy, David Treger (another Kovno ghetto survivor), who was elected Chairman at both the second and third congresses.

 

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David Treger, chairman of the Central Committee of Liberated Jews in Germany

 

The Central Committee was involved in every aspect of Jewish DP life, either independently or in conjunction with one or more of the Jewish welfare agencies operating in the area. Through its constituent departments the Central Committee played a central role in education, culture, and religion, as “the legal and democratic representation of the liberated Jews in the American zone.”

 

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General Joseph McNarney signs the charter of recognition of the Central Committee of Liberated Jews in Bavaria, whereby the American Army acknowledged the Central Committee as the official representative body of Jewish DPs in the American Zone of Germany

 

The military commanders were not pleased with these new developments, especially the British commanders. They did everything in their power to sabotage the Central Committee and succeeded in detaching the British zone DP camps from the organization. Josef Rosensaft was the leader of the Jewish DP camp of Bergen–Belsen.

 

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Josef Rosensaft at work in his office of Bergen–Belsen

 

Josef Rosensaft was born January 15, 1911 in Będzin, Poland. He was the son of an affluent scrap–metal dealer. Before the war he was active in the Zionist Labor Movement. He was deported to Auschwitz in 1943 but escaped the transport by jumping into the Vistula River. He was injured by gunfire during the escape but walked back to Będzin, where he was captured again, given 250 lashes and confined to a chicken cage, before being sent to Auschwitz. He was confined at several other camps and finally reached Bergen–Belsen, where he was liberated on April 15, 1945. At the time he weighed just 76 pounds.

A born leader, he immediately began his campaign to be elected head of the Jewish council of the Bergen–Belsen camp. The British objected to the council and said that Rosensaft was a Polish citizen and must obey the Polish authorities that were present in the camp. The Polish Army that had been created in the Soviet Union and fought with Britain was stationed in Germany. This army obeyed the orders of the Polish government in London and not the orders of the current government in Warsaw. Officers of the Polish army were active in the camps that had large Polish populations. Rosensaft refused to acknowledge the Polish authorities and openly stated that he was no longer a Polish citizen. Most of the Jewish population of the camp supported Rosensaft and refused to cooperate with the Polish authorities. He effectively campaigned in Yiddish and used the Yiddish printed word in his election materials. He was elected head of the Jewish Council but the British authorities refused to acknowledge him. The Jewish camp survivors loved him and reelected him time and again. In spite of the British refusal to co–operate, he organized the few DP camps in their zone and established the Central Committee of Liberated Jews in the British Zone of Germany and served as chairman. He headed Bergen Belsen until it was closed, working closely with the Brichah, the JDC and the Jewish Brigade. The British watched him and his camp as they did all Jewish DP camps in their zone. They received orders not to permit new Jewish refugee arrivals to enter the British zone and were successful in containing the Jewish numbers in their camps. The Brichah avoided the British zone unless it was absolutely necessary.

The JDC was supplementing the food and medicine provided by UNRRA to Jewish camps, and entered Germany with an abundance of food, supplies and personnel, reaching every camp where there were Jewish Shoah survivors. Herbert Katzki was appointed head of the JDC in Germany.

 

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A road marker in a German city indicates the direction to the office of the AJDC

 

Herbert Katzki was born in Elizabeth, New Jersey, He joined the JDC in 1936 as Assistant to Executive Director Joseph Hyman and remained with the organization for 60 years. When World War II broke out, Katzki was sent to the JDC office in Amsterdam, then to Brussels, and finally to Paris, where he served as Secretary of EUREXCO (European Executive Council). Just days before the Nazis entered the city, Katzki sealed the office and fled to Bordeaux, and then to Lisbon, where JDC relocated its overseas headquarters. From there, Katzki returned to France to open a JDC office in Marseilles for assistance to Jewish refugees in unoccupied France. He remained there until December 1941, when the US entered the war, and returned to Lisbon the following year. In 1943, Katzki was drafted into the US Army, following his discharge, Katzki was appointed JDC Country Director for Germany, where he headed a vast program for survivors and displaced persons. Schools were organized for Jewish children who had little opportunity to attend school during the war. Cheders were established where Jewish children received a religious education. Some camps even had Yeshivas where older students resumed their interrupted studies. Most of the camps were autonomous to the extent that the residents elected their representatives who administered each camp. The camp council ran the police department, fire department, medical facilities and educational facilities.

 

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The late Yehuda Leibner learning Hebrew at the Pocking Jewish primary school. The teacher was Mrs. Waldman. The Pocking camp located near Passau, was also referred to as the Waldstadt camp.

 

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Jewish children receiving a religious education at the Pocking camp cheder

 

The Pocking camp was immense. It was a former Luftwaffe air base and plane parts were still on the ground. Most of the people at the camp were Jewish and the predominant language was Yiddish, followed by Hungarian, Romanian and Polish. The streets had Hebrew names such as Rehov Herzl. Hebrew was the official language of the camp although few people knew it. Posters were printed in Hebrew and Yiddish. There was regular communication between the camps including sharing of camp published newspapers. JDC sponsored many sports activities to keep the youth active, including Hapoel Pocking, a soccer club that competed with Jewish clubs in other camps. Pocking also had an ORT training school where Jewish refugees were taught a variety of trades, based on the vocational organization started in Tsarist Russia. ORT spread throughout Europe and the Western world. The main office of the organization was forced to leave the Soviet Union ending up in Geneva, Switzerland. Following World War II, ORT established many schools in the Jewish DP camps. The first ORT school in Germany was opened in the Landsberg Jewish DP camp in 1945.

The population in Pocking was strongly Zionist oriented, with branches of all Zionist organizations represented. Jacob Leibner, father of the author of this book, was a member of the Hapoel Hamizrahi or religious Zionist party. He was in charge of collecting wood during the summer in order to provide the camp with heating material during the winter. While at the branch office of the local Hapoel Hamizrahi, he overheard that Rabbi Itzhak Halevi Herzog, chief rabbi of Palestine would be visiting some Jewish DP camps in the American zone in Germany. He quickly discovered the dates for the Rabbi's tour and decided to travel to the first camp where the Rabbi was expected to speak. Leibner was familiar with some of the UNRRA drivers who delivered wood to the camp and approached one with a proposition to take a day off with his truck. The driver agreed. One morning all the selected passengers met at a desolate place in the camp and boarded the truck. Leibner and his son William, traveled together for several hours to the Neu Freimann camp near Munich where Herzog was scheduled to speak.

They were not the only visitors at the camp, many other DP Jews wanted to hear the words of the spiritual leader of Palestine. There was great excitement in the camp as the residents awaited the Rabbi's talk. Leibner and his group were ushered to a large open area where the Rabbi and his entourage were already seated at the podium. Herzog was escorted by his son Jacob, and Rabbi Solomon Wohlgelernter, liaison officer between UNRRA and the American Vaad Hatzala organization. Vaad Hatzala was established in the US by Orthodox rabbis to help rabbis and yeshiva students in Europe. Leibner said that the rabbi spoke a “Heimishe” (down–to–earth) Yiddish, and always used the word “us” as though he were one of the refugees. Herzog was an excellent speaker and interjected biblical lines and quotations. His language was familiar to the crowd and they were enraptured by his words. The rabbi, more in his official role as Chief Rabbi of Palestine, assured the survivors that the Jewish community of Palestine had not forgotten them, and promised that their liberation was not far off. “Soon you will be living like free men in your own land, he told us. The rabbi assured us that our sufferings would soon end and we would soon abandon the cursed (German) soil where our people have suffered so much. He urged us to have hope and faith because our Geula (redemption) was not far off. We were very impressed by the Rabbi's words and headed to our awaiting truck that took us back to Pocking. Our driver was paid in packs of camel cigarettes obtained at the American military base. Cigarettes, especially American cigarettes, were frequently used as a means of payment instead of money.”

The UNRRA drivers were frequently used by the Brichah to bring Jewish refugees from the border to the camps and also transported the potential refugees that were selected by the local Brichah officers for illegal aliyah to Palestine. Pocking not only had a Brichah office but also a Haganah recruiting office urging young Jews to join the Haganah training camps in Germany. The “Etzel” or Irgun Ha–Tzva'i Ha–Leumi or National Military Front also had an office. The NMF followed the Revisionist ideological party line of Ze'ev Jabotinsky.

All the major camps in the American zone in Germany and Austria had recruiting offices. The volunteers were usually sent to the Jewish Agency office in Munich where they underwent medical examinations and were sent to special camps to begin military training and to study Hebrew. The camps were disguised as regular DP camps and the recruits wore civilian clothes. The overall command of these training camps and recruiting offices were directed by Haganah officers who came especially from Palestine for this purpose. These officers worked closely with the Brichah and the Mossad.

The Brichah and the Mossad constantly sent transports of Jewish DPs from the camps in Germany and Italy to embarkation points in Italy and France. These organizations received the wholehearted support of the Committee of Liberated Jews that represented all the American Jewish DP camps in Germany and Austria. The Jews hated Germany for obvious reasons but were forced to stay on German soil and jumped at any chance to leave, legally or illegally. The American army was also happy to see Jewish DPs leave their zones––less people to feed and care for. Besides, the illegal departures were the only positive action that took place in the camps. Most countries including the US granted few admission papers to the Jewish camp residents. Between the end of 1945 and July 1, 1948, it is estimated that 12,649 Jews were admitted from the camps to the USA[4]. The number of Jews kept increasing in the

 

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Jewish DP camps in Germany, Austria and Italy

 

U.S .zones and soon reached the figure of about 250, 000. The number of Jewish DPs in the British zones hardly changed from the end of the war. The Brichah in Germany was mostly run by former Palestinian Jewish soldiers, mainly Jewish Brigade soldiers. The Brichah was well organized in the German American sector and received full cooperation from the JDC. Some 70,860 Jewish refugees arrived in Germany between June 1945 and the end of October 1946. By the end of 1946, there were 140,000 Jewish refugees in Germany[5]. The Jews were distributed amongst 57 DP camps, 15 special children homes, 39 agricultural training farms and 25 hospitals and sanatoriums[6].

The number of Jews kept growing until Poland closed the Polish–Czech borders in accordance with the previously mentioned Spychalski –Zuckerman agreement. The Brichah activities in Poland declined to a trickle in 1947 and by 1948 a total of 2000 Jews crossed illegally into Czechoslovakia and onward to Germany[7]. The Brichah in Poland came to an end, besides the Polish government was granting visas that enabled Jews to leave the country legally. The European Brichah shifted its emphasis from Poland and Czechoslovakia to Germany, Austria and Italy. The Brichah was very active in Germany in all military zones. It was solely focused on transporting Jews from Poland, Czechoslovakia and Austria to the DP camps in Germany.

A particular problem was the accumulation of Jewish refugees in Berlin, located in the Russian zone. The Polish Jews came by foot, truck, and train to Berlin where the DP committee received them. But the Brichah had to get them out of Berlin to make room for other Jews, especially children. The British commanders refused to help and the Brichah had to circumvent the British zone to reach the American zone where they were received. The flow of Jewish refuges came mainly from the city of Stettin or Szczecin. The former residents of the port city had left it or were chased out by the Poles and the city was practically deserted. The Polish government encouraged all repatriated Poles from Russia to settle in the city. The Jewish population soon reached 20,000 people[8], and was the largest Brichah group in any one place. Yaacov Erner, nicknamed Tulek, headed the Stettin group, and was later assisted by Mordechai Mittelman, a Palestinian who had been imprisoned by the Soviets for Zionist activities. They organized the transports of Polish Jews to Berlin. There was competition by private smugglers but the Brichah dominated the field. Stettin was also a center for the expelled German residents in Poland who waited for trains that would take them to Germany. The Brichah decided to infiltrate the trains by providing Jews with forged papers saying they were former German citizens returning home. The scheme worked and thousands of Polish Jews reached Germany. The activities of the Brichah were frequently dangerous and one of the agents named Yossef Nissenbaum was killed in the line of duty by Russian soldiers.

 

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The Brichah agent Moshe Zonenshein was killed in a car accident crossing the Alps
(Yad Vashem Archives)

 

In addition to Berlin, there were Jews at other centers and borders waiting to be transported to the DP camps in Germany. This was an enormous task that involved thousands of Jewish refugees who had to be allocated living quarters, food, medicines and other life necessities. Once settled in a camp, the refugees were registered with the UNRRA offices. The next step would be transport an embarkation port to Palestine. The immense organizational challenges were carried out with great precision. For instance, in the case of the Exodus 1947 ship, within a period of two weeks approximately 4,500 Jews were dispatched from the DP camps in Germany to the area of Marseilles in France, without legal papers or proper border crossing authorizations, where they boarded the ship with their Brichah guides.

 

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Brichah agents in the Foehrenwald DP camp prior to leaving the camp with their escorts for Marselles, France
From left to right; David Schechter–Bral, Gary, Chaim Ben–Uri, Meir Port, Ephraim Dekel, and Zivia Hershkowitz
(Yad Vashem Archives)

 

For the complex task of transporting so many refugees, the Brichah needed a fleet of trucks and drivers and a large amount of gas that had to be purchased on the black market for dollars or bartered for American goods like Camel cigarettes, Hershey chocolates or nylon stockings. The Brichah frequently borrowed trucks and their drivers from the UNRRA or JDC. Some drivers earned sums of money but the Brichah did not care as long as the refugees were moved to the right place at the right time. The Brichah in Germany also had its own trucks purchased by the Jewish Agency that were driven by Brichah volunteers.

 

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A group of Brichah drivers
From left to right; Zvi Steiglitz, Shimon Pritzki, David Reich, Itzhak Werber, Teichner, Israel Steiglitz
(Yad Vashem Archives)

 

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The Hebrew slogan of the Brichah reads:
“Between Mountains and Borders, in starless nights, we will lead Jewish convoys”

Pictures of the Bad Reichenhall Brichah members

 

Brichah Agents in Germany

AKSELROD Batia M
ASHKENAZI Sonia M
BEN ARI Chaim Wilner M
ELLER Misha M
FEINMAN Gideon M
FISHMAN Burka M
FIZICKY Shimon M
FORT Meir M
FRANK Ernest Ephraim M
FRIDMAN Israel M
KAMINSKY Dov M
KRYSTAL Moshe M
LANDSBER Itzhak M
LANDSBERG Ida M
LINIWSKY David M
LISS Zelig M
MILHAUSEN Lucian M
MILHAUSEN Michel M
MIZRITZER Abrasha M
MIZRITZKY Rachel M
NISSENBAUM Yossef Killed M
PERLES Shalom M
PERLES Yaacov M
RAM Itzhak Peretz M
RHEINHAL Max M
RITTER Willi M
ROGER   M
SCHECHTER Zeev M
SCHECHTER Tzizik M
SHALOM   M
SHEINBERG Baruch M
SHEINBERG Genia M
SHIKLER Mordechai M
SHNITZER Moshe M
STEIGLITZ Israel M
STEINFELD Zeev M
STOCKLITZK Itzhak M
TEICHNER Mundek M
WAKS Sheptel M
WEGEN Itzhak M
WEINSTEIN Amnon Grisha M
WERBER Itzhak M
WIDRY Abraham M
WROBEL Pessah M
ZONENSHEIN Itzhak M

Footnotes

  1. Bauer, Flight, p.55 Return
  2. Bauer, Flight, p.51 Return
  3. Bauer, Flight, p.56 Return
  4. Bauer, Flight, p.205 Return
  5. Bauer, Flight, p.274 Return
  6. Ibid., p.274 Return
  7. Ibid., p.290 Return
  8. Ibid.p.233 Return

 

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