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Frankfurt Jewish GI Council

Part II

Packages and the JDC

In addition to the supplies sent by Johnny and Rosamund Low, the members of the Frankfurt Jewish GI Council received packages from their friends and relatives. In requesting such assistance, the Council clearly stated that it was not their aim “to try and outdo the many excellent organizations already working to solve the many problems of supply.” They merely wanted to supplement their efforts.

Yet in April 1947, the Council and Rabbi Yosef Miller were admonished by American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) officials in New York for soliciting packages. Many people, they claimed, began to question what the Jewish relief agencies were doing and why the chaplains were duplicating the work of the United Jewish Appeal. They charged that much harm was being done, especially in comparison to the small amount of aid received. Contemporaneous reports from American Jewish chaplains and soldiers to their families and friends, newspaper reports and complaints from survivors told of the plight of the Jews and their desperate need for assistance.

The JDC faced a number of obstacles in providing aid to the displaced persons (DPs). The American military did not allow the JDC to enter the camps immediately after the war ended, in order not to show preference to any relief agency, even though the Jews clearly required immediate help. The military knew that if it allowed the JDC into Germany, the Catholic and Protestant relief agencies would demand the right as well. The survivors, the American Jewish chaplains and soldiers used whatever means at their disposal to provide aid to their fellow Jews. They were not concerned how their actions might appear or its impact in the American Jewish community.

The package program was terminated in late February or early March 1947 when David Marcus (Rabbi Miller’s assistant) received a letter of reprimand from the U.S. Government for illegally using the U.S. mail. American soldiers were not permitted to use military mail for civilian purposes. An additional fear was that the items would be used in the black market, a major source of exchange and corruption throughout Germany. This conflict underlined a tension that existed between many of the chaplains and the JDC in Europe when they were helping the Jewish DPs.

 

Shift to Rehabilitation

With the end of the package program the Council shifted to rehabilitation. Much of the Council’s energies were spent in gathering books and newspapers for libraries, other educational material and sports equipment. The theater was also revived with a group of 20 schoolchildren from Zeilsheim ranging from 5 to 16 years of age.

 

Locating Relatives

Another important task was to assist the DPs in locating their relatives. Pearl Reiter (a member of the Council), David Marcus and Rabbi Miller drew up a form letter that stated the camp in which the relative had been found, his/her present address, and that packages could be sent directly to the individual.

The work of the GI Council was briefly described, and they expressed the hope that the individual receiving the letter would “continue to be generous” in their “aid to the Joint Distribution Committee and other organizations working with the Displaced Persons” and that their “friends will follow” in their “footsteps.” Whenever these letters were returned, the DPs were informed. In such cases, the Council forwarded the names to search bureaus in the U.S.

Perhaps the most bizarre incident in this area involved David Lippert, a leader of the GI Council. One day, a German Jew, employed by the U.S. Army Management of the Reichsbank, came to Lippert with a German bank note that he had found. On the note, there was a message asking the finder to tell the man’s son, who resided in the state of Georgia, that he did not expect to live through the concentration camp. Lippert informed the prisoner’s son and shortly afterward received a letter thanking him for the information. The son had never really known what had happened to his father.

 

The Outings

On Sunday, Council members played with the children. During the summer months, picnics were arranged either in the camps or in the surrounding areas. Not all of these children were healthy enough for picnics. A number were confined to hospitals. For some of the children there was hope, but others were so sick that their days were numbered. Council members often left these visits feeling that the Jewish children were the most pathetic survivors.

 

Purim and Chanukah

Purim and Chanukah were extra-special events. The Council treated an estimated 3,100 children to a Chanukah party in December 1946. The children received toys, candy, ice cream, dolls, books and games. The Council provided the entertainment with songs, dances and skits.

On Purim, at the suggestion of Rabbi Miller, the Council performed Shalom Aleichem’s comedy “Mazel Tov” in Frankfurt, Wetzlar, Schwarzenborn and Ziegenhain, attracting an estimated 3,500 Jewish DPs.

 

The Liberated

In February 1947, the Council published the first of two editions of The Liberator, which sought to inform American Jewry about the condition of the Jewish DPs, and encourage them to continue giving to Jewish relief agencies. A plea was also made to the Jewish chaplains to follow Rabbi Miller’s example by establishing other Jewish GI Councils. One was in Stuttgart and one in Heidelberg.

After Rabbi Miller left Frankfurt in February 1947, the programs continued under Johnny Low, David Marcus, David and Hannah Lippert and others. Bertram Levine, the National Jewish Welfare Board director, and Chaplain Ralph Blumenthal also lent their support, as did Al Kaplan, Al Bernstein, Herbert Grossman, Viola Roberts and Henry and Hannah Rappaport.

 

Conclusion

Most Jewish soldiers in the Frankfurt area did not join the Council, but generally responded to appeals for contributions. They were not involved, Rabbi Miller opined, because they had a limited knowledge of the Jewish condition, and the Council did not have the time or manpower to educate them. That Jewish soldiers in Frankfurt should not know or particularly care about the extent their European brethren had suffered indicated the level of their Jewish consciousness and type of Jewish backgrounds from which they came.

For many of the Jewish survivors this experience was significant. They appreciated this highly visible concern and were reassured that they could still rely on some American Jews.


Dr. Alex Grobman is the senior resident scholar at the John C. Danforth Society, a member of the Council of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East and on the advisory board of the National Christian Leadership Conference of Israel (NCLCI). He has an MA and PhD in contemporary Jewish history from The Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

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