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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 4. Refugees: 1933-1938
[4.8. The first emigration wave - no help and the reasons - German Jews impoverished in France - partly return to Germany]

[1934: French Jews want to get rid of the German Jewish refugees because of economic crisis - and "USA" are not helping either]

The attitude of French Jewry to German Jewish refugees was a source of constant and occasionally bitter criticism by Kahn in his letters to JDC in New York. French Jews were inclined to criticize American Jewry for not helping enough - this (p.150)

was in 1934, at the height of the economic crisis in the United States. The solution advocated by French Jews was to get the German Jews to emigrate as quickly as possible. They even repeated these demands in official bodies where they were represented such as the Advisory Council of the McDonald Commission, and Kahn thought he had to threaten with a negative reaction on the part of American Jews if it became known that French Jews wanted to get rid of the refugees.

(End note 39: Dr. Kahn's material, file Hilfsverein, 1932-1935, Kahn to Hyman, 5/11/34 [11 May 1934])

[1933-1934: France: National Jewish committee quits in 1934 - liquidating commission takes over support for impoverished Jewish refugees in France]

The National Committee that had been set up in 1933 dissolved in June 1934. A liquidating commission, which was to have taken over support for deserving refugees, refused help to certain categories of emigrants. These included people who had not applied for aid previously but had now used up their resources and could not continue without aid. Having sold all their effects, including clothing, people had to find money for hotel bills. Many were faced with the "alternatives of stealing or begging. Thefts, and what is more frequent, cases of petty larceny"

(End note 40: Gen. & Emerg. Germany, refugees 1934/5, German Commission report (translated), signed by Prof. Georg Bernhard, Dr. Sammy Gronemann, and Dr. Oscar Cohn, among others).

were reported. Well-to-do German Jewish refugees managed to collect 200,000 francs in early 1934, but this was not enough. A similar effort in Britain had to cease when CBF demanded that all money be channeled through its own organization. Facilities in Paris were bad: the only shelter in Paris was crowded and vermin-infested.

[1934-1935: France: Little agriculture training for Jewish refugees by Agriculture et Artisanat]

Groups that tried to train refugees for emigration, such as Agriculture et Artisanat, could show only very modest results: by 1935, the latter group had trained 350 men, of whom 200 had left France. HICEM helped 2,343 people to emigrate in 1934.

(End note 41: R22, 1934 draft report)

[Kahn resumes: Economic crisis and unemployment makes Jewish refugees to an enemy]

There seemed little possibility of solving the problem with the means then at the disposal of Jewish organizations. Kahn summed it all up by saying that the economic crisis and the many unemployed in the very cities where the refugees were trying to settle "had led humanity back to those savage days of human history when every stranger who came to a foreign land was considered an enemy who had to be destroyed."

(End note 42: R16, Kahn report, 1/3/35 [3 January 1935])

[1934: France: Direct help for refugees by the Joint - French Jews are blocking the settling of German Jews]

There was really no successor organization to the National Committee, and JDC simply did not have the means to feed and clothe (p.151)

the refugees. There were about 10-12,000 Jewish refugees in France in 1934, of whom probably not more than 3,500 were completely dependent on aid. Yet JDC had to spend $ 170,000 directly on refugees in France, because local support withered. JDC tried to obtain work permits by direct intervention with the French premier, Flandin. "The French Jews did everything possible to frustrate our efforts at constructive work there. ... We might have been able to settle several hundred families on the land in France, and it would have done a great deal of good for the Jews there. We may still be able to do so, but we have already met with insurmountable opposition there. The reason is that the French Jews are afraid of anti-Semitism."

(End note 43: Executive Committee, 1/7/35 [7 January 1935]; cf. also 1/4/34 [4 January 1934])

[1934: Political murders in France spread fear of anti-Semitism - Jewish refugees are not admitted]

The truth of the matter was that French Jewry was frightened by the rise of French Fascist movements, which caused serious disturbances in Paris in February 1934. After the assassination in Marseille of King Alexander of Yugoslavia and the French foreign minister, Louis Barthou, on October 9, 1934, the head of the French Jewish Consistoire, the highest religious institution of French Jewry, declared that nothing should be done to settle the refugees permanently in Paris.

(End note 44: See note 39 above; Kahn letter, 10/26/34 [26 October 1934])

[German Jewish refugees returned to the Third Reich land in concentration camps]

JDC had little alternative but to aid, to the best of its very limited resources, as many refugees as possible to emigrate from France. During 1934 many refugees had no other choice but to return to Germany. 1,200 to 1,500 did so from Holland and twice that number from France.

In 1935 the refugee committees ceased this practice because they learned that the Germans had been sending Jewish returnees to concentration camps from late January [1935] on. A JDC bulletin quoted a German government circular to the effect that "these repatriates should be brought into a concentration camp to learn there the National-Socialist tenets, which they had no opportunity to learn while they were abroad."

(End note 45: R16, JDC monthly bulletin, nos. 1 & 2, 3/6/35 [6 March 1935]; ibid., nos. 3 & 4, 6/3/35 [3 June 1935])

[1935: France: No help for German Jewish refugees - deportation orders - few deported Jews - hided Jews]

In 1935 the situation worsened. Welfare for German Jewish refugees came to a virtual stop. JDC efforts to have French Jewry inaugurate a new campaign to raise funds met with no success. The French government was issuing deportation orders by the thousands, (p.152)

though few were actually carried out against Jews. In the early part of the year [1935] there probably were not more than 9,000 refugees in France, of whom about 2,000 were estimated to be in hiding from deportation.

(End note 46: R14, Kahn's report for 1935, Jan. 1936)

[1936: France: All local French Jewish committees quit - Joint is alone helping the Jewish refugees in France]

By the end of 1935 and in early 1936 the refugee aid committees that had mushroomed in France in 1933/4 began to disappear. Agriculture et Artisanat dissolved in 1936;

(End note 47: In Paris there had been a committee known as the Assistance Médicale aux Enfants run by a lady doctor, a refugee from Germany, with the help of her lover, another German refugee. She used the name of the Baroness de Rothschild for raising money without bothering to inform that lady of the fact, and provided medical assistance to some 1,200 infants and small children (R16, May 1935 report). She also received some JDC funds. One day her lover's wife turned up and found the couple at the Assistance Médicale. The lovers escaped through the window, the wife committed suicide, the baroness discovered that for two years she had been the head of a fairly well-known institution, and the Assistance Médicale dissolved. What happened to the children who had received its help is not recorded (R15, Kahn to Morrison, 3/1/36 [1 March 1936]. Similarly, an organization called Renouveau, purporting to train youngsters under the influence of religious Zionism, came to an ignominious end (28-9).

others followed suit. With the advent of the left-wing Popular Front government in 1936, the Rothschilds and their supporters tended to withdraw from the scene. Kahn, usually so conservative in his opinions, was moved to say that apart from JDC "nobody cares about the German refugees in France, neither ICA, the Jewish community, the British (Jews), nor any other organization."

(End note 48: Dr. Kahn's material, file Hilfsverein, 1936-1939, Kahn to Baerwald, 6/18/36 [18 June 1936])