June 23, 2024
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American Unsung Heroes Of the Shoah: Stephen Klein

Part IV
German Consuls In Germany

American consuls in Germany were giving visas to rabbis, but not to students. Irving Bunim, a key leader of the Vaad and builder of the Young Israel movement, suggested that Stephen Klein approach the Intergovernmental Committee on Refugees (IGC) to obtain its support, so that stateless students and their wives could enter Germany or some other country once their visas expired in the U.S. Bunim urged him to get documents from the consulates of Morocco, Luxemburg, Costa Rica or some South American country because the State Department did not care where Jews went after their American visas expired. As historian Leonard Dinnerstein noted, the IGC was established in 1938 to find homes for refugees. Klein turned to the IGC because its post-war responsibilities included coordinating DP affairs and easing administrative transitions.

When Klein went to London to meet with the IGC, he found that they only wanted the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC or Joint) and the Jewish Agency for Palestine to represent the Jews in Europe. Klein explained that the Vaad had a different mission than other relief organizations and questioned whether the IGC had the authority to make such decisions. When Klein informed them that he did not want to go to Washington to discuss the exclusion of the Vaad, he sensed that they were very concerned that he “might complain to the Five Powers, especially Washington.”

In response to a claim by the JDC that the Vaad was duplicating its work, Klein responded, “It is not we who are duplicating, but it is the Joint who is trying to imitate and duplicate us.” At another point, Klein remarked that “it is unbelievable how little relief work is done by the JDC in Europe, especially in Germany. They depend entirely on UNRRA [the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration] and the Military.” Founded November 9, 1943, UNRRA was an international relief agency whose mandate, according to the “Agreement of UNRRA,” was to “plan, coordinate, administer or arrange for the administration of measures for the relief of victims of war in any area under the control of any of the United Nations through the provision of food, fuel, clothing, shelter and other basic necessities, medical and other essential services.”

Klein realized the only way to overcome the slow process of getting people out of Germany was to increase the number of Jews coming to the U.S. on a non-quota basis. He made some initial attempts to do so, but he turned the work over to Rabbi Sol Rosenberg, a Vaad shaliach, before leaving the country.

 

Securing Transportation

Finding transportation for DPs [displaced persons] immigrating to the U.S. also consumed a great deal of Klein’s time. U.S. Lines (United States Shipping Board), and the American chief consul in Germany promised to provide him with some ships from Bremen that would stop in Le Havre, France to pick up yeshiva students. To ensure that other additional avenues of transportation would be available, Klein urged Pincus Schoen, executive director of the Vaad in New York, to arrange reservations for sick DPs on the Queen Elizabeth from Southampton, England to the U.S. Klein also tried to gain permission from the Palestine colonial minister for students from Germany and France to study in Palestine. The American Embassy’s special emissary for the Middle East was close to Klein and worked hard to convince the minister to implement this policy.

 

Financial Assistance

Wherever Klein went in Europe, people asked him for financial help. The JDC supplied the yeshiva in Paris with a home, and gave each student 125 francs a day for food. The Vaad Hatzalah provided an extra 200 francs per day for their other needs, which was still not enough. Klein also found a group of 35 rabbis with their families—about 200 altogether—mostly from Poland, Galicia and Hungary, who wanted $3,000 a month. He gave them $1,700, which included $1,000 from the Vaad, $500 from his own funds and $200 from Rabbi Yehezkel Abramsky, the senior dayan of the London Beth Din. The JDC provided each with 180 francs per day and 90 francs per day per child. Klein asked the Vaad board to allocate money for them, and suggested they leave France as soon as possible. Since there was no hope of going to Palestine at that point, they wanted to go to the U.S. He urged that they write to the Agudath Harabonim and the Vaad for additional help.

Pockets of Orthodox Jews living in very poor financial straits were found in St. Germain, Henneville, and other areas of France. The JDC was only able to provide them with 125 francs per day. Klein gave them some money, but he was quite limited in what he could offer. He felt that they, too, had to emigrate.

Klein also found five children’s homes under the auspices of the Vaad: Aix-les Bains had 4,500 children including two yeshivot; at Barbizon, there were 40 children and 75 at Fublaines. All the homes were maintained and supported by Rescue Children, Inc., which paid an average of 5,000 francs per child each month. It also paid for their clothing and other necessities, and salaries for the teachers and administrators. Jewish education at the homes was inadequate because they lacked teachers and the strong leadership needed to develop a curriculum and administration. The homes were run along political party lines, which only exacerbated the problems.

 

Rescue Children, Inc.

On May 20, 1946, the Vaad announced it had established a National Foster Child Adoption program to provide a year’s maintenance for more than 2,000 orphans and other children in Vaad Hatzala homes and schools throughout Europe. Rescue Children, Inc., under the chairmanship of Herbert Tenzer, raised the funds for orphans rescued by the Vaad. Adoption meant paying for food, clothing, medical and dental care, religious and secular education, developing contact with the children and sending food packages, gifts, photographs and other amenities.

Through this program, the Vaad felt it might give the children a feeling of “belonging” to someone, somewhere. The Vaad also sought to unite families, and more than 400 children were “found” after American rabbis placed an advertisement in their local newspapers.

Board members of the Vaad who were also members of the executive committee of the Rescue Children, Inc., included Stephen Klein, Irving Bunim, Herman Hollander, Nathan Hausman, Charles Ulman, Jacques Weill, Maurice Enright and Moe Rosenberg. Rabbi William Z. Novick served as executive director. Centers were established in France, Belgium, Sweden and Germany. The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) worked closely with the organization to register the children with the Chief Rabbi’s Council in France and to arrange for many of them to be sent to Palestine.

*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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