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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

[3.2. New Jewish organizations in NS Germany since April 1933]

[13 April 1933: Foundation of the Central Committee for Help and Reconstruction (Zentral-Ausschuss für Hilfe und Aufbau ZA) - foundation of a Reichsvertretung (RV) Jüdischer Landesverbände under Judge Wolff and Rabbi Leo Baeck]

Largely because of the work of Max Warburg and Ludwig Tietz, on April 13, 1933, the so-called Zentral-Ausschuss für Hilfe und Aufbau [ZA] (Central Committee for Help and Reconstruction) was formed. In this, Jonah B. Wise played a significant role. ZA was an umbrella organization that included welfare, educational, emigration, and vocational training organizations that had existed in Germany prior to the events of 1933. Officially, ZA was founded by the provincial organization of the Jewish communities (Landesverbände), which had in their turn created a Reichsvertretung [RV] Jüdischer Landesverbände (All-German Association of Jewish Provincial Community Organizations), headed by Judge Wolff and Rabbi Leo Baeck. This first Reichsvertretung (RV) did not last very long, however, German Jewry being influenced more by its major political division into liberal and Zionist wings than it was by the organization of Jewish communities.

[Berlin Jewish Community under Heinrich Stahl]

In Berlin the head of the community was a very forceful individual by the name of Heinrich Stahl. Stahl wanted RV to be under his own influence, but this proved to be impossible because the major political organizations opposed such a solution. Tietz and Warburg, who had founded ZA, were themselves nonpolitical and, being in sympathy with both the liberal and Zionist wings, thought of themselves as the natural mediators between the two. Tietz went (p.109)

to see Dr. Weizmann in London, and Warburg's connections with JDC through his brother had helped to forge a link with the American Jewish organization. ZA became a success, with Karl Melchior and Tietz at its head.

But the first attempts to set up an RV failed almost immediately.

[Summer 1933-17 Sep 1933: Definite Foundation of Jewish All-German Association (Reichsvertretung (RV) in Essen]

During the summer of 1933 new attempts were made to create an overall political organization of German Jewry. These attempts centered in the community of Essen in western Germany. The initiators were local leaders like Dr. Georg Hirschland and Rabbi Dr. Hugo Hahn. They organized a meeting attended by the leading non-Zionist personalities in Germany and convinced them to set up a countrywide organization which also would be called the Reichsvertretung. It was Max Warburg who persuaded Dr. Baeck to assume leadership of the proposed organization, and it was he who convinced Director Stahl to desist from his attempts to create a separatist organization led by the Berlin community, and instead to accept a leading position in the new RV. At last, on September 17, 1933, the new Reichsvertretung came into being, with Dr. Baeck as president, Dr. Otto Hirsch as vice-chairman, and with liberal and Zionist representatives taking a share in the work of the executive committee (Präsidialausschuss).

An immediate connection was established between the new RV and ZA. Baeck was both the president of RV and chairman of ZA. The intelligent and popular Dr. Hirsch, whose experience as a high government official in the south German state of Württemberg helped him to master the difficult work of ZA, was the administrative chairman of RV. Other individuals occupying central positions in RV also occupied parallel positions in ZA. In this way, RV could appear vis-à-vis the Jewish communities as the dispenser of foreign funds and as the organization to which the individual and the community had to turn for practical purposes.

(End note 12: See
-- K.Y. Ball-Kaduri: The National Representation of Jews in Germany; In: Yad Vashem Studies; Jerusalem 1958, 2:159 ff.;
-- Max Grunewald: The Beginning of the Reichsvertretung; In: Leo Baeck Yearbook; London 1956, 1:57 ff.
-- See also Leo Baeck's reminiscences in the same volume).

[Dr. Werner Senator returns from Palestine to Nazi Germany to participate ZA work - emigration of the Jewish youth]

One of the central figures in German Jewry, Dr. Werner Senator, a representative of the non-Zionist groups on the Jewish Agency who had emigrated to Palestine, returned to Germany in order to participate in the work of ZA. In a memorandum submitted to (p.110)

JDC in August, Senator demanded that German Jewry try to establish a dialogue with the new Nazi authorities. This should lead to a kind of concordat, like the arrangements between the Roman curia and European states, an idea which was by no means new in German Jewry, and which had almost come to fruition before the rise of Hitler to power. Such a concordat should provide for the right of the Jews to leave Germany, as well as for the rights of those who would remain in the country. Such a dialogue, Senator thought, was still possible, though the results might be painful for the Jews.

In general, however, Senator agreed to the policy that was by then evolving on the part of the foreign organization toward the German Jewish problem. He emphasized the central position of Palestine in the creation of a new Jewish society where the truly constructive forces of German Jewish youth would go, but he also stressed the necessity for providing havens for such youths in other countries. At the same time, he demanded the defense of German Jewish economic and social positions in the new state to the very last. The negotiations that he proposed with the German authorities should take place on an honorable basis. The implication was that the Jews should reorganize as a national group and that only on that basis would the Nazis deal with them.

While Senator's proposals were not accepted in toto, his way for thinking was by no means unique, both among German Jews and their supporters outside.

(End note 13: Werner Senator, 8/15/33 [15 August 1933]: Bemerkungen zu einem wirtschaftlichen Verhandlungsprogramm der deutschen Juden, 14-47)

[Joint has to accept that the Jewish youth should emigrate]

JDC was inclined to support such an action. Rosen, who visited Germany in June 1933, wrote to Kahn that the aimlessness of German Jewry's endeavors frightened him. Outside pressure might produce some results, he said, but there was no possibility of a real improvement "unless some understanding is arrived at with the government from within."

(End note 14: Dr. Joseph A. Rosen to Kahn, June 1933, Executive Committee meetings)

[Tasks for the Joint: Prepare young Jews for emigration - schooling of discriminated Jewish children - support cultural and religious institutions]

It was in this atmosphere of hope and illusion that JDC started its great rescue work for German Jewry. Its aim, after the first few months of confusion, seemed to be fairly clear: it had to help in emigration, and it had to provide training facilities for those German Jewish youths who left Germany and also for those who would have to stay in the country and adjust to the new anti-Semitic laws that (p.111)

the Nazis were in the process of enacting. Aside from that, there loomed the problem of providing schooling for Jewish children if they were forced out of the general schools. Also, it was essential to support cultural and religious institutions in the hope that these might fortify the sinking morale of German Jewry.