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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

An American Unsung Hero of the Shoah: Stephen Klein

Part VIII

While the procedure to expedite visas initiated by Undersecretary of State Dean Acheson worked in the U.S., unfortunately, the American Consuls in Europe continued to follow the frustrating and time-consuming procedures to discourage Rabbi Baruch and others. Yet through the 4(d) program, 49 rabbis immigrated to the U.S. by late 1947 and worked as pulpit rabbis and teachers around the country. Several hundred students were permitted to enter the U.S. for an extended period and continued their studies and yeshivos that provided for their welfare. When the Vaad reported that it had brought 1,100 families to the U.S. in 1947 through the nonquota program, in reality it had brought in between 3,500-4,500 Jews. In one case, a man from Hungary received a visa that covered himself, his wife and their 11 children. All these cases were outside the regular immigration quota. Without the Vaad’s efforts, these people would not have been permitted to enter the U.S., since they were from countries whose quotas had been exhausted for the next eight to 10 years.

Stephen Klein noted that only Orthodox families were eligible to take advantage of the nonquota program. It was unfortunate, but there was no law that could be used to bring others to the U.S. at that time. Outside the restrictions on immigration, Klein was proud that the Vaad had assisted thousands who were not “yeshiva people and b’nei Torah.” In particular, he mentioned the packages sent by the Vaad to Russia, where one package sustained a family, any Jewish family, observant or not, for a month.

New Visa Arrangements

In early February 1948, Klein informed Rabbi Baruch that new arrangements were made with the State Department to allow the Vaad to bring rabbis to any American Jewish institution. He wrote: “Very strong interventions are going to the various Consuls that visas should be given to these men which we designate. It will be necessary to move as many people as possible to Paris, because the Paris Consul is working very satisfactorily.”

Irving Bunim credited this new arrangement to a meeting he, Klein and Rabbi Aharon Kotler had with Undersecretary of State Robert A. Lovett, where they received new concessions about nonquota immigration.

Klein began sending lists of individuals and copies of their contracts to Paris to prove that these Jews had no intention of staying in Paris. Klein also gave the names of displaced persons (DPs) being blocked by the Consul in Stuttgart, Germany to Herve J. L’Heureux, the State Department visa division chief. L’Heureux promised to send a very strong letter to Stuttgart asking why these cases had not been expedited and why so many obstacles had been placed in their path.

Several months later, Klein asked Rabbi Baruch to alert the Vaad when individuals were issued their visas towards the Vaad’s corporate affidavit quota. Historian Zosa Szajkowski explained that in 1939, the National Refugee Service (RS), the largest refugee assistance service in the U.S.—and the United Service for New Americans (USNA) that replaced it—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.”

Once the Vaad learned that a visas had been issued, they could alert relatives of the impending arrival and keep track of the immigrants for the Department of Justice. The Justice Department required an initial report of each person entering the country and biannual reports, until there was proof of self-sufficiency. These reports enabled the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) to determine whether follow-up was necessary. Between October 30, 1948 and July 21, 1952, more than 400,000 immigrants came to the U.S. under the Displaced Persons Act; 16% were Jews. An INS report later concluded that without the assistance from the Vaad and other relief agencies, this would not have been accomplished.

The Displaced Persons Act of 1948

In mid-July 1948, Klein, Herbert Tenzer and Bunim went to Washington to ask permission for 300 students to remain in the U.S. under a provision of the Displaced Persons Act of 1948. On June 25, 1948, Harry S. Truman signed the Displaced Persons Act of 1948. Truman reluctantly signed the bill, which he acknowledged “discriminates in callous fashion against displaced persons of the Jewish faith. This brutal fact cannot be obscured by the maze of technicalities in the bill or by the protestations of some of its sponsors.” The bill also excluded “many displaced persons of the Catholic faith who deserve admission.” Truman said he signed the bill “in spite of its many defects, in order not to delay further the beginning of a resettlement program and in the expectation that the necessary remedial action will follow when the Congress reconvenes.” The law allowed 15,000 temporary visitors to apply for resident status, which is why Klein, Tenzer and Bunim went to Washington to plead for the students.

Under the provisions of the Act, as of December 1950, 41,218 Jews were admitted to the U.S., which was 20.4% of the Jewish DP population in Austria and Germany. Altogether 100,000 Jews were allowed into the U.S., according to historian Haim Genizi.

Interestingly, the Catholic relief agencies copied the Vaad’s approach by sending their representative to Europe to sign up Catholic refugees as ministers and teachers. Pincus Schoen, executive director of the Vaad in New York, made regular trips to Canada to arrange contracts for immigrant rabbis and teachers who could then enter the country because Bunim and Klein did not believe the work could be left to other Jewish relief agencies.

As the Cold War heated up and exigent political realities changed, in late 1948 the U.S. Department of Justice advised the Vaad that American consular offices in Europe would no longer accept corporate affidavits.

* 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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