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Yehuda Bauer: My Brother's Keeper

A History of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee 1929-1939

[Holocaust preparations in Europe and resistance without solution of the situation]

The Jewish Publication Society of America, Philadelphia 1974

Transcription with subtitles by Michael Palomino (2007)



Chapter 3. Germany: 1933-1938

[3.1. Effects of the NS power to the Joint - first discussions about emigration]

As we have seen, the crisis in Germany did not find JDC entirely unprepared. The warnings of Dr. Kahn and the rumblings of the rising Nazi tide in Germany had focused the attention of the organization upon the German scene even before the advent of Hitler. Once the Nazis came to power, it was only natural that JDC should try to come to the aid of German Jewry. However, the attitude of JDC was contested within the inner circle of its own leadership - this despite the fact that most of its lay leaders were descendants of German Jewish immigrants to the U.S. or had themselves been born in Germany.

[1933: Discussions in the JDC about actions in Nazi Germany]

During the first months of 1933, discussions of whether JDC should enter the German picture at all were held in New York. Arthur Hays Sulzberger of the New York Times thought that JDC was

making a fundamental and woeful blunder in this connection. It seems to me impossible to conceive that 600,000 persons in Germany can be supported from now on from any outside community. Since this obligation cannot be carried out, it should not be assumed. To do so, in my judgment, merely relieved the German Government of its responsibility that now rests upon it to permit its citizens an equality to earn their own livelihood.

(End note 1: Arthur Sulzberger to Max J. Kohler, 5/29/33 [29 May 1933], CON 21

At a Board of Directors meeting in July, James N. Rosenberg argued that there was no point in providing relief for the Jews in (p.105)

Germany, because JDC simply did not have the means to do so. The aim of the organization should be to get the German government to agree to a program of reconstruction. In this, JDC might be of some help.

(End note 2: James N. Rosenberg at Board of Directors meeting, 7/11/33 [11th July 1933])

The majority of the organization's leaders, however, adopted Dr. Bernhard Kahn's attitude that "the liberal principle in business had met its end in Germany", and that JDC must help German Jews enter into those economic fields in which they were still allowed. He was certainly in favor of constructive efforts in Germany: "Even if a district attorney can only open a stenographic office, that is surely better than if these people leave the country and go completely to wrack and ruin."

But Kahn was very much against limiting JDC help to reconstruction only. He foresaw the necessity of providing funds to create new schools for Jewish children. At the same time, he thought that Palestine was at least a partial answer to those who could no longer stay in Germany: "Jewish youth and the younger adult must have a permanent land to which to go and, under the circumstances, this can only be Palestine. Of course, exceptionally large amounts are required for the preparation of Palestine and the work for this preparation. For this purpose special means must be provided."

(End note 3: Dr. Bernhard Kahn at an Executive Committee meeting, 6/27/33 [27 June 1933])

The first immediate problem as far as Germany was concerned was political. Zionists and others demanded protests in the form of Jewish mass meetings. Kahn's opinion was expressed after meeting Morris D. Waldman, the secretary of the American Jewish Committee. He thought that Jewish mass meetings would be useless and might even be harmful. However, he foresaw a time when such meetings, particularly with the participation of prominent non-Jews, might become necessary.

(End note 4: Kahn cable to New York, 3/19/33 [19 March 1933], 14-47)

In the ensuing months he was to stick to this opinion. On March 21, 1933, Paul Baerwald cabled to the State Department in Washington, asking that American protection be given to the JDC offices in Berlin. That same day, the American Jewish Committee and the B'nai B'rith of America published a protest against Hitler that was published in the New York Times. This apparently was considered to be a moderate form of (p.106)

public intervention; friends of JDC in Germany (for example, Edward Baerwald, brother of Paul Baerwald) were opposed to more militant protests.

(End note 5: Eduard Baerwald to New York, 3/19/33 [19 March 1933], ibid [14-47])

[1933: Kahn is warned to leave Berlin - Kahn returns to New York]

It was soon clear to Kahn that his position as the European director of JDC was untenable as long as he remained in Berlin. During the last days of March, Kahn prepared his departure. On April 1 he cabled from Paris that the removal of his offices had become unavoidable. He had been personally warned, semiofficially, that because of his connection with the widely hated American Jewish community, his departure from Germany would be desirable. He added: "Future passing of German border not possible without special visa which I very likely would not get; nevertheless prepared return by end week." He never stood on German soil again.

(End note 6: Kahn to New York, 4/1/33 [1 April 1933], ibid. [14-47])

[1933: Discussions about protests and interventions of the Red Cross]

The next day, April 2, Kahn asked for protest meetings along nonsectarian lines, emphasizing the humanitarian interest in what was happening in Germany. However, such protests were to take place only if negotiations then in progress between influential Jews in London and the Nazis were fruitless. Joseph C. Hyman went to Washington to see William Phillips and Pierrepont Moffat at the State Department with this message on April 4. On April 6 a meeting was held at the home of Paul Baerwald, where the leadership of the German Jewish aristocracy in the United States convened. Participants included Henry Morgenthau, Jr., Ludwig Fogelstein, Irving Lehman, Arthur Hays Sulzberger, Judge Rosenman, Solomon Lowenstein, James Marshall, Frederick M. Warburg, Judge Proskauer, Jonah B. Wise, and others. The suggestion was made that the whole situation be turned over to the International Red Cross, but the argument was advanced that IRC could not act except through the local societies of the Red Cross, which would mean that in practice the German Red Cross would have to intervene more or less against the wishes of the German government.

Proskauer, Lehman, and others were very much against what they called "separatist Jewish protests", and wanted whatever protests (p.107)

were made to remain on a purely humanitarian and nonsectarian level.

(End note 7: Meeting at the home of Paul Baerwald, 4/6/33 [6 April 1933], ibid. [14-47])

[Funds to the Hilfsverein CV]

Kahn was asked by cable whether funds could be sent into Germany. His first reply on April 12 was that funds could indeed be sent and that the best people to handle such funds would be the Hilfsverein or CV (Central-Verein deutscher Staatsbürger jüdischen Glaubens), the political organization of liberal Jewry in Germany.

[The Joint has no right to demonstrate]

As a nonpolitical organization, JDC could not be involved in any demonstrations against German persecution of the Jews. Such protests, if made, had to be left to the American Jewish Committee, whose leadership, as we have seen, was to a certain extend identical with that of JDC.

[April 1933: British Jews want that Felix M. Warburg will make pressure on British prime Minister MacDonald who will be in "USA"]
Influential British Jews tried to convince Felix M. Warburg to put pressure on the American government to try to influence the British government to intervene in behalf of German Jewry. The British prime Minister, Ramsay MacDonald, was in the United States during the latter part of April, but Warburg did not place much hope on any direct contact that Jewish leaders might have with the British premier.

(End note 8: F.M. Warburg to Lord Reading, 4/22/33 [22th April 1933], ibid. [14-47])

[Kahn: JDC has to defend every Jewish position in Germany]

The immediate problem confronting JDC was what to do about the new situation that had arisen in Germany. The first reaction was well summed up by Dr. Kahn, who wrote in the memorandum from which we have already quoted that he was of the opinion that JDC could not give up German Jewry as completely lost. JDC had to defend to the last every position that the Jews still held in Germany.

(End note 9: Hilfsverein der deutschen Juden, Dr. Kahn's material, 1931-1940, memo of 6/27/33 [27 June 1933])

[Hyman states that the young German-Jewish generation has to be prepared for emigration]

This did not mean that JDC was opposed to the emigration of large numbers of German Jews. The panic exodus that followed the Nazis' assumption of power would have made any such position hopeless in any case. The policy of JDC was enunciated clearly by Hyman when he said that, in line with the wishes of the German Jewish body, "there is no hope for the younger  generation; that it is therefore necessary to make this group capable of productive activity by being trained to vocations of agriculture, handicraft, and the like", in order to settle outside of Germany.

(End note 10: J.C. Hyman to Judge Irving Lehman, 7/14/33 [14 July 1933], R19)

[Kahn predicts: Emigration is necessary, because the conditions will be worse]

Kahn added that emigration was a necessary part of any future action in Germany. His own opinion was that the tragedy was of (p.108)

such dimensions that one feared to consider its issue. He was convinced that the conditions would not improve. "On the contrary, they must become worse."

(End note 11: Kahn, 4/28/33 [28 April 1933], 14-47)

[JDC fund raising persons in Nazi Germany]

One of the immediate steps that JDC took was to send its chief fund raiser, Rabbi Jonah B. Wise, into Germany to try to arrange for a German counterpart to JDC, which would be capable of receiving funds from America and distributing them in line with JDC policy. A leader in this endeavor was Max M. Warburg, Felix M. Warburgs's brother, the head of the family banking house in Hamburg. Also involved were Karl Melchior, a high German official and a partner of Warburg in the Hamburg firm, Dr. Cora Berliner, Ludwig Tietz, a physician and a well-known public figure, and others.

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