June 22, 2024
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June 22, 2024
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Part II

After World War II, the Vaad Hatzala sent Rabbi Nathan Baruch, a newly minted rabbi, to direct their relief and spiritual rehabilitation program for observant Jews in Germany. Previously, Rabbi Avraham Kalmanowitz had tried to print and distribute bibles and prayer books to displaced persons camps. However, his request was denied by General Lucius Clay of the U.S. Army in late 1947, citing an acute shortage of paper; only vital government documents could be published.

Rabbi Baruch refused to accept this excuse and began exploring ways to publish religious texts (sefarim) on his own. The need to print the Talmud, the oral tradition, became especially important for the students who were being taught in the yeshivas that were established in various DP camps. In addition, in 1947 the rabbinate of the Yishuv (the Jewish settlement in Palestine), led by Rabbi Dr. Isaac Herzog, and the Union of Orthodox Rabbis of the United States and Canada, and the rabbinate of England united to make the Daf Yomi (daily folio page of the Talmud) a universal part of observant Jewish life. The Jews of Germany responded with enthusiasm, but few had any copies of the Talmud.

At the Congress of the Agudath Israel in Europe in 1923, Rabbi Meir Shapira of Lublin had proposed that Jews all over the world study the same page of the Talmud simultaneously—as a sign of a unifying commitment to Judaism and Jewish learning. The proposal was accepted, and a special calendar was created.

When Rabbi Baruch approached the military authorities for authorization and assistance to publish religious material, they responded that the function of the Army was not to be the nursemaid to the DPs but to keep the order and to be a buffer against Russian encroachment. Rabbi Baruch was not deterred. He turned to those who had access to the Army warehouses. Since the military had an abundance of supplies—an assessment not shared by General Clay—Rabbi Baruch thought he might be able to “barter” for his supplies. Among his contacts was a Jewish girl working for the military and some non-Jewish quartermasters who were sympathetic and willing to provide paper and materials.

One of Rabbi Baruch’s contacts worked in the Army Post-Exchange (PX) and purchased whiskey for him. A number of officers who didn’t need their alcohol rations sold their rations to Rabbi Baruch at a fraction of their worth. The same was true of others who had coffee and cigarette rations. Thus, coffee, whiskey and cigarettes were traded for paper, ink, printing and binding. The rabbi and his associates found a photo-offset processing plant and went into the now financially viable business of publishing prayer books and other religious texts.

As soon as the books were printed and bound they were sent to the DP camps and to leading rabbis and scholars throughout the world. Some people in Europe came to the Vaad office in Germany to collect their copies. Pincus Schoen, executive director of the Vaad Hatzalah, asked that prominent donors and every Orthodox rabbi in the United States receive sets of these books to induce them to fund the project. Regrettably, there was no quid pro quo. Rabbi Baruch never recalled receiving any additional funds from the Vaad or anyone else who received copies of these special editions.

To meet the demand for copies of the Talmud, the Vaad printed and distributed 10,000 conveniently sized pocket editions. By the end of 1947, the Vaad published some 240,000 religious texts and distributed them to camps and to the rest of the world Jewish community. These included siddurim, Tehillim, Haggadahs, Megillat Esther, Pirkei Avos, Mesilas Yesharim, Or Israel, Shev Shemateso, Kesses Hasofer, Yiddish Leben, Kitzur Shulchan Aruch, Shagath Aryeh, Taharas Hamishpacha, and the Bible.

Shortly after the sefarim arrived in the U.S., Rabbi Baruch received requests for additional publications. Despite his many obligations, he complied. Pincus Schoen asked for 1,000 copies of “Pirkei Avos (Ethics of Our Fathers)” with the following inscription: “Dedicated to you and to all friends of Vaad Hatzala who in thick and thin realized their great moral obligation and responsibility and gave wholeheartedly to rescue their brethren and to rebuild their lives. May the Almighty bless you.” The copies were shipped to America where they were sent to Vaad supporters with thank you letters enclosed. Schoen was so impressed with the response he received, he declared that the publications were “worth their weight in gold…”

On June 2, 1947, Schoen sent Rabbi Baruch an additional request for 200 copies of books to include the inscription: “In grateful acknowledgement to Mr. Louis Clark and to all members of Congregation Agudas Achim Bnei Jacob for their generous contributions to Vaad Hatzala during the past several years.”

On another occasion, the New York office requested that thousands of Haggadahs be printed for Passover. They later complained that the package was so bulky, they had problems with the U.S. Customs Service.

Rabbi Baruch also printed texts requested by Rabbi Isaac Lewin, a member of the Agudath Israel in the United States who worked with the Vaad. One of these was “Avnei Hefetz,” an important rabbinical work by the Rzeszow Rav, Rabbi Aaron Ben Nathan Lewin of Rzeszow, Poland. Rabbi Lewin was elected to the Polish Parliament (Sejm) in 1922. As a leader of the Agudath Israel, Reb Aaron succeeded his father as the rabbi of Rzeszow in 1926. When he attempted to flee to Lemberg after the Nazis took over his city, Rabbi Lewin was apprehended and killed. His all-important manuscript was lost during the Holocaust and fortuitously recovered after the war.

His son, Dr. Isaac Lewin suggested that Rabbi Baruch reprint “Avnei Hefetz” as part of the series of publications. Lewin offered to pay for additional 1,000 copies so that he could send them to rabbis in the United States and abroad. He viewed the publication “as a great credit for the Shearith Hapleta [the surviving remnant] and [it] personally will give me great satisfaction for my share in the Hatzala work.”

Among those who received books published by Rabbi Baruch’s makeshift publishing company were: American generals in Europe, the Far East and the United States; American admirals; U.S. Secretaries of War, Labor, Treasury; the mayor of New York; the Secretary-General of the United Nations; U.S. Supreme Court Justices and a number of Jewish celebrities.

After thanking Rabbi Baruch for “remembering” him “with such a splendid gift,” General Dwight D. Eisenhower, then the chief of staff of the War Department, said he would pass along his report on the Vaad “to the appropriate agency of the War Department staff for information and study.”

After they received Vaad publications, the Frankfurt Jewish GI Council made inquiries at several Jewish DP camps to determine their religious needs and submitted a list to the Vaad’s Frankfurt office. The Council was established in June 1946 by David Bar-El (Schacter) and Eliezer Dembitz, American citizens whose families were living in Palestine, and by Chaplain Yosef Miller, a 26-year-old Orthodox rabbi assigned to Headquarters Command for the United States Forces in Frankfurt.

The Council proceeded to visit camps in Zeilsheim, Bensheim, Wetzlar, Ziegenhain, Babenhausen, Schwarzenborn, Lindenfels, Dieburg, Lampertheim and Kibbutz Buchenwald. They permitted Rabbi Baruch to make a presentation about Vaad activities so the Council could help. The Council also co-sponsored a learning contest in the yeshivas during Passover, allocating $50 to purchase fountain pens and pencils to be awarded as prizes.

Harry A. Goodman, Secretary of Agudath Israel World Organization, asked Rabbi Baruch in early 1948 if the Vaad could supply the Agudah in London with copies of its publications. Goodman assured Rabbi Baruch that the books would be distributed to institutions in England that “really need them,” and that Agudah would pay for the publications “if necessary.” Goodman had received parcels of books from Rabbi Baruch less than a month before and was eager to secure more.

Dr. Alex Grobman is the senior resident scholar at the John C. Danforth Society, and on the advisory board of The National Christian Leadership Conference of Israel (NCLCI).

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