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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

[3.7. The Joint's work in NS Germany since 1934]

[3.7.1. Kinds of work]

[Since 1934: JDC work: Provide jobs, kassas, education, relief, cultural work - and emigration]

All this was theory; from a practical point of view, JDC had to take realities into account - and the realities were unfortunately quite different from the liberal theories of Hyman and his friends. The practical efforts of JDC were directed toward vocational readjustment, the establishment of loan kassas, help in education, relief, aid to cultural institutions, and emigration - to Palestine, to other countries - and also repatriation of East European Jews.

However, contrary to its mode of operation in Poland, JDC wished to have nothing to do with the actual administration of the funds. ZA submitted reports and suggested allocations for a variety of purposes, to which JDC usually agreed, because in Germany, unlike Poland, JDC found men and institutions who could be relied upon to administer the funds in a satisfactory manner. The men and women in Germany, after all, were people with the same kind of background as the leadership of JDC itself; and with the establishment of ZA, in which JDC had been involved, a responsible (p.118)

central Jewish body was created of the type that JDC had wanted to see everywhere, which could now take over tasks of a practical nature. In this way JDC actually contributed to the first centralized institution German Jewry had known in modern times.

[JDC: Kahn sees clearly: Jews only can survive with handicrafts in Germany or with emigration]

For Kahn, who was administering the funds in Europe, it was obvious that vocational retraining was essential on two counts - first, because the elimination of Jews from trade and the professions left open only manual labor as a possibility for Jews in Germany; and second, because only manual workers of various kinds might hope to be accepted as immigrants to other countries.

[1932 already: High unemployment among Jews in Germany]

To make matters worse, unemployment among Jews had been serious even before the Nazi repressions. In Berlin alone Jewish unemployment in October 1932 was put at 7,372. If one added the unregistered this would have reached 10,000-11,000, or about 25 % of all Jewish wage earners.

(End note 32: Jewish Chronicle, 2/24/33 [24 February 1933])
[Since 1934 approx.: Central Committee (ZA) starts with job programs for lower rated jobs for Jews for emigration]
Under the circumstances, the various autonomous organizations affiliated with ZA started a large-scale program of vocational training directed largely toward agriculture, gardening, domestic science (for girls), and crafts, mainly carpentry and metal work.

[3.7.2. Job training programs for emigration]

[Zionist job training programs by Hechalutz for emigration to Palestine]

Part of these courses were organized by Hechalutz, the Zionist organization training pioneers for Palestine, which increased its membership from abaut 500 prior to Hitler's rise to some 10,000 after he came to power. In 1933 approximately 2,300 youngsters, just slightly below half the total, were receiving training (largely agricultural) at Hechalutz centers; but some of the others made it to Palestine too, even though their training was not directed specifically toward any country of immigration.

Table 3: Vocational [Job] Training in Germany for young Jews
Jan. 1934
July 1934
Dec. 1934
No. of Trainees
(End note 33: Based on Nathan Reich: Primer, p.98; draft report for 1936-R13; and: Hyman's report to the National Council of JDC, 4/13/35 [13 April 1935]).


[Non-Zionist job training in farming in Neuendorf for Avigdor in Argentina since 1931]

A number were directed specifically to South America. For instance, a farm at Neuendorf had been founded as early as 1931 by non-Zionist groups such as Jüdische Wanderfürsorge (Care of Jewish Migrants) - which was later to engage in the repatriation of East Europeans - to train farmers for the ICA project at Avigdor in Argentina, where many of the trainees eventually went.

[Non-Zionist job training in farming in Gross-Breesen since 1936]

In early 1936 RV established another large farm, Gross-Breesen, under Dr. Kurt Bondy, for 125 trainees. While the Zionists opposed the principle of its establishment, some Zionists (for example, Dr. Georg Lubinski) acted as special advisers. Gross-Breesen was a Jewish estate in Silesia, and after it opened in May 1936 it trained people for agricultural and carpentry work. The leaders of RV, men like Otto Hirsch and Julius Seligsohn and other liberal leaders, saw Gross-Breesen as a ray of hope for liberal Jewry in Germany.

The inspired leadership of a great educator like Bondy gave a measure of excellence to character training at the farm, besides its real technical achievements. By the spring of 1938 Gross-Breesen was actually self-supporting. But emigration plans lagged, and in 1938 plans for group settlement had to be abandoned, despite JDC attempts to settle the groups in Virginia with the help of a generous Jewish citizen of Richmond, William B. Thalheimer. (Ultimately, a small settlement was founded there at Hyde Farmlands, which lasted until 1941).

[Since Nov 1938: Non-Zionist job training in farming in Holland and England]
After the November 1938 pogrom most of the trainees, including Bondy, went to Holland and England.

(End note 34: Werner T. Angress: Auswandererlehrgut Gross-Breesen; In: Leo Baeck Yearbook (1965), 10:168 ff.

[Zionist job training in farming in Holland and other countries for Palestine since 1918]

The Zionists, on the other hand, concentrated a great deal of their efforts on taking German Jewish youngsters out of Germany and training them for Palestine in other European countries, away from the Nazi atmosphere. There was one such center in existence prior to 1933, namely, the one at Deventer, Holland, which had been established in 1918. By 1936 there were 1,248 youngsters who were being trained in 26 centers. These also included some that were not exclusively Palestine-orientated, such as Wieringen in Holland.

Holland took 378 of these young people, Czechoslovakia (p.120)

141, France 124, Denmark 213, Fascist Italy 137, and little Luxembourg 88; the rest were sent to various other countries.

Among the problems that were never solved was the lack of girls and of professions to train them in.

[The job training in farming]

Most of the training was agricultural, which accounted for over 80 % of the work done abroad. Hechalutz usually tried to lease farms where the people could live communally, but sometimes this did not work out, as in Denmark and Czechoslovakia, and the trainees were forced to live with individual peasants - which of course limited the possibilities for cultural and religious activities. There were certain places, as in Luxembourg, where only the fittest were sent, because work was especially hard in the vineyards of that country. Nevertheless, the vast majority withstood these trials, and many of them did go to Palestine and other countries in the end. In the towns, communal centers were set up for those who were learning a trade or a craft, some of them with aid of ORT (as in Lithuania).

(End note 35:
-- David J. Schweitzer at Board of Directors, 1/4/36 [4 January 1936];
-- Training and Retraining outside Germany, 8-1; and:
-- Statement of Reconstructive and Emigration Activities Carried on in Germany; no date, 14-64)

All this activity, known as Auslands-hachsharah (Foreign Training), was largely organized by Shalom Adler-Rudel, a Zionist expert in the training field, and by the German Hechalutz, with some JDC supervision and financial support.

[Since 1936: Job training farms abroad going down]

Nach 1936 the Foreign Training program declined, because it became more and more difficult to place German Jewish youngsters in training abroad.

By 1937 only 774 were in training.

(End note 36: Statistics, R43)

Nevertheless, many hundreds of youngsters had found their emigration prospects enhanced by participation in these programs.

[3.7.3. Children help programs]

[Since 1932: Programs for children by Recha Freier]

Connected with problems of training was the larger question of the future of German Jewish children generally. Owing to the great emphasis Jewish tradition placed on children and their education, stress was laid on programs that dealt with solutions for the younger generation. As early as 1932 Recha Freier, wife of a Berlin rabbi, a wonderful and immensely strong-willed woman, foresaw the need to save the Jewish children. She set up an umbrella organization composed of the following groups: representatives of the Ahavah home, a famous children's institution in Germany, which was then in the process of moving to Palestine; representatives (p.121)

of the Palestine children's village, Ben Shemen, which was under the direction of a great German Jewish teacher, Ernst Lehman; and a unified body representing all the Zionist youth movements in Germany. On July 14, 1933, the umbrella organization, the Working Body for Children and Youth Aliyah, submitted a plan to ZA for settling 600 children in Palestine by 1934, at a cost of 293,300 German marks.

(End note 37: Memo of Arbeitsgemeinschaft für Kinder- und Jugendalijah to ZA, 7/14/33 [14 July 1933], 14-48)

It would accept children between the ages of 13 and 16, who would be sent to institutions like Ahavah or Ben Shemen or to kibbutzim, or placed with individual families.

[1933: Copy of Recha Freier's children's program: Youth Aliyah for Palestine]

The program was adopted, and in Palestine a central organization known as Youth Aliyah (immigration to Palestine) was set up [in 1933], headed by the veteran American Zionist Henrietta Szold. After a six-month training course in Germany, the children, who had been very carefully screened, were sent to Palestine. It was only in 1936, however, when 630 Youth Aliyah children had reached in Palestine, that the original 1933 goal was finally met. But the adjustment made by the children was very successful, and the JDC funds were well used through this program to pay for part of the cost both of training and of transportation.

[1933-1939: JDC founds the German Jewish Children's Aid for 433 children brought to the "USA"]

From the inner circle of the JDC leadership in America, too, there was a response to the need to save children. In October 1933 Dr. Solomon Lowenstein and Jacob Billikopf, head of the National Conference of Jewish Social Workers, were instrumental in setting up a committee known as the German Jewish Children's Aid to deal with the transfer of children from Germany to the United States. It was difficult for the liberal Jews of America to accept the need for the emigration of German Jewry, especially that of unaccompanied children. It was doubted that German Jewish parents would consent to the procedure.

Hyman told Billikopf that it was preferable to send the children to German-speaking countries on the Continent rather than overseas, and that it would be even better to keep them in Germany altogether.

(End note 38: Hyman to Billikopf, 1/18/34 [18 January 1934], 14-54)

There were great legal and financial difficulties. A guarantee of $ 500  per year for each child had to be given and the placement of children with families "had encountered a great many difficulties." Nevertheless, a first group (p.122)

of 53 children arrived in America in November 1934. But Dr. Lowenstein declared in May 1935 that "the expenditure would seem out of proportion to the amount actually required for general relief in Germany for tremendously large numbers of persons and projects. We have, therefore, regretfully, come to the conclusion that we could not bring over any other children."

(End note 39:
-- Dr. Lowenstein at Executive Committee, 5/22/35; and:
-- 24 - German Jewish children's aid, 1934-44)

By that time about 150 had been brought here.

After the fall of 1935 [Nuremberg race laws] the immigration of children became feasible again, and by early 1937 the committee had filled its original quota of 250 children (actually 235) and continued to accept them at a rate of 10 to 12 a month. The total number of children who came to the United States under this program until the outbreak of the war in 1939 was 433.

(End note 40: Executive Committee, 4/14/37 [14 April 1937])

[18 children placed in England and Switzerland]

A beginning was also made in children's emigration to England and Switzerland, where 18 children were placed in 1933 and 1934.

All these efforts made very little difference statistically to the estimated 101,000 [Jewish] children under 15 who lived in Germany in 1934.

Psychologically, however, parental consent to the emigration of about 1,000 unaccompanied youngsters by 1938 made a significant difference to the climate of exodus that was swiftly engulfing German Jewry. People began to be willing, especially after 1935, to send away their most precious possession - their children - to more hospitable lands.

[3.7.4. JDC schools]

No matter how large the special emigration programs for children might be, a large majority of them had to remain in Germany. As these children were slowly forced out of the general school system, the need arose to give them a Jewish and humanist education in special Jewish schools. Because of the small funds JDC had at its disposal at the beginning of what was inappropriately called "the German emergency", Kahn was at first against founding new institutions, for which large capital investments would have to be made.

(End note 41: Kahn to Baerwald, 2/23/34 [23 February 1934])

He was in favor of increasing the number of children in the existing schools by enlarging them, and he vigorously defended the need to provide funds for Jewish education. The British Jews, mostly Zionists, argued that no money should be given for schools (p.123)

in Germany, as the children would soon be brought out in any case. However, reality soon made this discussion academic.

In early 1933 only 6,000 out of some 50,000 Jewish children went to Jewish schools, but the numbers [of Jewish children who went to school] grew by leaps and bounds each year.

(End note 42: Primer, p. 98; see also 1934 annual report)

This tremendous effort to absorb children who were driven out of schools by the attitude of classmates and teachers and the general hate-filled atmosphere

(End note 43: An ordinance against the attendance of Jewish children in German schools was published on April 1, 1936, but was not rigidly enforced for quite some time after that).

was made possible by the resolution on the part of the German Jewish educational and spiritual leadership, men like Leo Baeck, Martin Buber, Ernst Simon, and others, to build a better spiritual world for Jewry by returning to Jewish and humanist values and traditions. There probably were few eras in German Jewish history when there was such a flowering of Jewish education and thought as in those short years prior to the catastrophe.

JDC, unlike the British organizations, insisted  on aiding and supporting these activities. Kahn especially was a convinced believer in the value of spiritual resistance, and he encouraged the German leaders to use the funds they had for purposes such as these.

[3.7.5. JDC relief work - Jewish welfare recipients]

An area of activity that had to be included in ZA [Central Committee, Zentral-Ausschuss] work, which JDC strived to avoid as much as possible in Eastern Europe, was relief. In Germany there was little choice: JDC understood the need and supported large expenditures for relief. The number of welfare recipients prior to 1938 usually averaged about 20 % of the Jewish population. For example, in 1935/6 the number was 83,761; this increased somewhat in 1937. In addition, funds were

Table 4: Jewish Schools in Germany
No. of schools
No. of pupils
Total Jewish children of school age



given to the Jewish Winter Help, though during the first years of the German regime some aid was still received from the German government. (Indeed, the Germanic mind operated so efficiently that until the outbreak of war, even those Jewish recipients of government pensions who lived abroad received them punctually).

[Since 1936: Impoverishment of the Jewish communities - more concentration of the Jews in towns]

However, the continual decline of the Jewish population expressed itself in the impoverishment of the local communities where most people in need had been receiving help without recourse to the central organizations, and in the parallel population movement from small towns to large urban centers.

In 1937, of the 1,400 or so communities (Gemeinden), 309 were classified by ZA as being in need and 303 as partly in need; 120 more asked to be placed in that category. Berlin itself had 15 soup kitchens, where large numbers of free meals were given out, and about one-third of the total public Jewish funds in Germany were spent on welfare in 1935.

(End note 44: Kahn: Report and Bulletin; January 1936, R15; out of the total amount collected in Germany by all Jewish organizations, Kahn estimated that 8 million marks were given to "welfare", presumably child care, medical care, old age care, and relief).

[JDC fund raising for relief work]
German Jewish welfare was efficient and followed modern practice - a whole generation of Jewish welfare workers had, after all, been trained in Germany prior to Hitler, although with quite different prospects in view. JDC reacted to the German situation with great speed. The sum of $ 40,000 was sent to Germany immediately after Hitler's assumption of power; and after Jonah B. Wise's trip, $ 254,000 was sent.

(End note 45: Memo on JDC activities in behalf of German Jewry, 10/24/33 [24 October 1933], 14-47)

[May 1933: The Joint offices are searched - existence until 1939]
The JDC offices in Berlin were searched by the Nazis in May 1933, whereupon Hyman spoke to the U.S. State Department, and the American consul in Berlin intervened "energetically and effectively", as did the British consul.

(End note 46: Executive Committee, 5/25/33 [25 May 1933])

After that, the JDC office in Berlin was maintained only formally, under Prof. Eugen Mittwoch, who was responsible for it until 1939.