June 17, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

American Unsung Hero of the Shoah: Stephen Klein

Part XI

Steady Stream of Requests From Stephen Klein

The pressure on Rabbi Baruch to keep the Vaad operation in Paris running efficiently, which was not helped by the constant requests originating from Vaad headquarters in New York, was enormous. Stephen Klein provided Rabbi Baruch with a steady stream of requests and people, but rather than wait for an answer by mail, he would sometimes phone the rabbi or send a telegram to find out about particular cases. In some situations he would say, “Whatever expense you may have in obtaining this [affidavit] is to be charged to me” or “spare no costs for this case.” He had a sense of urgency in his requests because he was under intense pressure from relatives in the US for quick results.

Another reason for resolving individual cases quickly was that while the Vaad had “no objection to sending as many people … as possible” to the U.S. through corporate affidavits, it was expensive. As already noted, the United Service for New Americans (USNA) that replaced the National Refugee Service(NRS), was authorized to provide corporate affidavits for potential immigrants. “These affidavits committed the agency to assume full responsibility for a designated number of immigrants, otherwise eligible but unable to furnish acceptable affidavits from individuals, with the provision that the agency would not permit them to become public charges.”

The Vaad requested the names of American relatives of Jews who immigrated to the U.S. in order to solicit them to recover some of the costs. Since there were many cases of DPs registered in New York and Germany still being processed, Klein and his committee asked “that the emigration office … concentrate on … cases which have already been registered” with the New York office, “and which have been pending, in some instances, for two years before they accept others.” Some might interpret these requests “unsympathetic” declared Lee Stein, Vaad New York office manager, but he assured Rabbi Baruch that if he knew “what headaches were involved in trying to soothe impatient relatives, I would forgive him for some slight impatience.”

Most requests for assistance were sent by mail, but Rabbi Baruch received a fair number of telegrams from people who expected him to drop other urgent appeals to attend to their crisis. The most unusual request came from Rebbetzin Rose Soloveitchik of Spring Valley, New York, who came to Munich to ensure that their nephew Judah Eidelman received a visa to immigrate to the U.S. Frustrated with the American consul’s procrastination, she persuaded Rabbi Baruch to help her. As a result, her nephew arrived in the U.S. on February 18, 1947.

 

After Israel Was Declared a State

After Israel was declared a state on May 14, 1948, 25,526 Jewish DPs left the U.S. Zone in Germany, according to Major Abraham S. Hyman, assistant adviser on Jewish affairs to the American Military Government in Germany, and later the last adviser. The exodus continued in 1949, when 31,290 left the American Zone. By June 1950, most of the Jews in Germany, Austria and Italy who had planned to go to Israel had done so, Yehuda Bauer noted. By 1950-1951, two thirds of the survivors had gone to Israel; the rest immigrated to other countries. Historian Leonard Dinnerstein said that less than 100,000 refugees went to the U.S. There might have been more, were it not for Patrick McCarren, the senior senator from Nevada. As chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, he delayed DP legislation for so long that by the time the Senate ratified the DP law to allow Jews to enter the U.S., most were already in Israel or elsewhere. McCarren, an isolationist, did not like Jews and did not have a good relationship with President Harry S Truman, his fellow Democrat.

After Rabbi Baruch returned to the U.S., he went into business with the assistance of William I. Alpert. He also continued to work with Rav Aharon Kotler to build Beis Medrash Govoha in Lakewood, New Jersey, and assisted other religious institutions. He died in 2003.

 

A Final Note—Stephen Klein

Rochel Licht, a Holocaust educator, summed up the enormous contributions of Stephen Klein when she quoted Rabbi Mordechai Gifter, rosh yeshivah of Telshe Yeshiva in Cleveland, Ohio, who said: “We have become accustomed to thinking of a gadol [most revered] only in terms of the great Torah scholar. Chazal [our sages] define the gadol hador [greatest (one of) the generation] as being… anshei ma’asim v’tzaddikim—men of righteous deeds whose lives are representative of never-ceasing action in carrying forth the dictates of the Gedolei haTorah of all times. In this sense of gadol hador… [Stephen Klein has] justly earned the title ‘Gadol Ish Hama’aseh’ in the highest sense of the word.”

He died in 1978.

*These are excerpts from Alex Grobman, “Battling For Souls: The Vaad Hatzala Rescue Committee in Post-War Europe” (Jersey City, New Jersey: KTAV, 2004).


Dr. Alex Grobman is senior resident scholar at the John C. Danforth Society, member of the Council of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East.

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