June 27, 2024
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Stephen Klein’s Mission to Europe

Part IV

In the midst of discord, and with the leadership of the Vaad having a hard time understanding the chaotic situation in Europe, Stephen Klein, chairman of the Vaad Hatzalah’s immigration committee, embarked on a fact-finding mission to Europe. Klein, the CEO and founder of the Barton’s Bonbonniere, a kosher chocolate factory in Brooklyn, was a former refugee who fled Vienna after the Anschluss in March 1938.

He arrived in Europe on October 26, 1946 and returned to the U.S. on February 3, 1947. During that time, he visited England, France, Belgium, Switzerland and Germany. Before he left the States, he shipped clothing, shoes, underwear, candles and religious texts to the Vaad Hatzala Committee in Paris through American Aid to France, Inc., which sent relief supplies to France for free for the Vaad and other relief organizations—as long as each shipment weighted 200 or more pounds. Klein brought chocolates from his own factory, a luxury in post-war Europe, and used them to thank officials who helped him.

Before Klein left, Irving Bunim arranged a “little social send-off party” on September 23, to let Vaad supporters know that Klein’s mission was to strengthen the Vaad and expand its activities.

It wasn’t long before Klein ran into the roadblocks erected by the U.S. State Department to keep Jews out of the U.S. Visa applications had to state where the people had been during the past 10 years. As Klein noted, this was “a little difficult because they were in four or five countries … and if … the [American Consul] had to ask each consulate in each one of these countries if the people applied for visas or [if he had to ask for] any other information … it would take a lot of time and expense, since all these cables had to be paid for by the Vaad Hatzala.”

Klein suggested that State Department officials be assured that they were morally upstanding individuals. He hoped that Bunim would be able to obtain a “general ruling” for Vaad Hatzala cases so this obstacle would be eliminated. In the meantime, Klein worked with yeshiva students and rabbis who were in one or two countries during the war, and so was able to get visas quickly for them. Among other things, applicants had to offer proof of future employment in America.

Bunim and other members of the Vaad met with officials from the State Department on November 16, 1946. They were promised that the American Consulate in France would receive a cable informing them that the department had investigated the authenticity of the employment from synagogues and yeshivas, as well as the rabbinical status of the applicants, and were satisfied with the documents. They would ask the consul to authorize visas, so the State Department could refer these cases to the consul for clarification.

Bunim and his group also met with Ugo Carusi, the commissioner of immigration, and his adviser about student visas. For 24 years, there had been a rule in force: A temporary visitor or student had to provide documentation about where he would go after completing his studies or at the end of his visit. Carusi and members of his staff were satisfied with the Vaad’s guarantee, but the legal department said that the American Consul would have to follow the regulations unless the ruling could be changed or amended. A meeting with the attorney general and the State Department needed to be arranged and this required time. The Vaad was also told if an individual had a Polish passport for only a short time, they would recommend that the Consul provide the person with a temporary visa for the U.S. for as long as the passport was valid. The Polish Consul would then extend the passport in the U.S.

 

Intergovernmental
Committee on Refugees (IGC)

In the meantime, American consuls in Germany were giving visas to rabbis, but not to students. Bunim suggested that 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 Klein 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 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.”


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 in Jerusalem.

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