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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
[4.9. Nuremberg race laws 1935 provoking speedy action - Council for German Jewry in London - but no action]

[Sep 1935: Nuremberg race laws make clear that German Jewry has to emigrate]

The steady worsening of the situation was punctuated by the passage of the September 1935 Nuremberg laws in Germany, which openly made Jews into second-class citizens. After the fall of 1935, it became clear to many that German Jewry had no choice but to emigrate. The problem was how long this would take and what the financial and political tools would be necessary to effect such emigration.

[McDonald's last action brings British and American Jewish bodies together - speedy action needed]

McDonald's last, and this time at least partially successful, effort was to bring together the British and American Jewish bodies for common action in face of the threat to German Jews.

The irony of a non-Jewish humanitarian's being the essential factor in achieving cooperation between Jews should not be overlooked: McDonald reported to a rather reluctant Warburg in November 1935 that he was trying to persuade Lord Bearsted and Simon Marks, two leading British Jews, to come to the United States to meet with American Jewish leaders.

(End note 49: WAC, Box 324 (a), McDonald to Warburg, 11/21/35 [21 November 1935])

Among British Jews he found, he said, an unanimous appreciation of the dangers and of the necessity for speedy action. Soon the moving spirit in the British camp became Sir Herbert Samuel, the noted liberal leader and moderate Zionist (he had been the first British high commissioner to Palestine after World War I).

[Since Dec 1935: Speedy action - Lord Bearsted and Marks present a British emigration plan - also an ICA plan - 12 to 16 million $ costs]

Events then moved at unaccustomed speed. In December 1935 (p.153)

Lord Bearsted and Marks announced the forthcoming visit of a "leading Jewish statesman" - obviously Samuel was meant - and asked for the postponement of separate fund-raising campaigns in America until consultations regarding a concerted emigration plan from Germany could be agreed upon. They were thinking of a plan to take 23,000 Jews out of Germany yearly. Warburg's reaction was guarded. The visit would be welcome, but JDC was quite clear about preserving its independence.

In Britain, meanwhile, ICA [Jewish Colonization Association] took a similar stand: Goldsmid promised cooperation and coordination, but declared that ICA would retain its independence. The reluctance with which the more conservative groups regarded the proposals stemmed at least partly from the fear of being swamped by Zionist influence. Their caution was strengthened by the fact that early in January items appeared in the New York Times playing up the emigration plan and the forthcoming British Jewish visit to the United States - Warburg was quite certain that any publicity at that early stage was most unhelpful. Also, Warburg was not quite clear what the plan actually consisted of. According to one version it would cost $ 16 million; another version said $ 12 million for four years.

[21 January 1936: New York: Jewish British emigration plan presented - foundation of the Council for German Jewry in London]

On January 21, 1936, three representatives of British Jewry arrived in New York: Sir Herbert Samuel, Simon Marks, an ardent Zionist, and Lord Bearsted, a non-Zionist. To JDC the delegation seemed obviously weighted on the Zionist side. For about two weeks the delegation held talks with JDC, the Refugee Economic Committee (REC), and the Zionists. The plan now became clearer: there were, the guests said, some 94,000 young Jews between the ages of 17 and 35 still in Germany. It was proposed to help 8,000 of these to emigrate yearly to Palestine, 4,000 to the United States, and 4,000 to other countries. Altogether, 64,000 young adults would emigrate in four years. On top of that, an annual emigration of 5,000 children, and 500 Youth Aliyah to Palestine, would mean another 22,000 in four years. Older people who would leave with their younger relatives would swell the total number to 42,000 yearly, or a total of 168,000 in four years.

(End note 50: 15-7, for a summary of the correspondence and reports on the delegation's visit. See also Bentwich, op. cit. [They Found Refuge (London  1965)], pp. 30 ff. The origins of the plan can be traced to May 1935 at least, when a similar plan was submitted to JDC by Max Kreutzberger, secretary of ZA (Executive Committee [Zentral-Ausschuss], 5/22/35 [22 May 1935]). He spoke of an emigration of 15-20,000 annually, half of whom would go to Palestine. The idea seems therefore to have emanated from German Jewry itself and been accepted by McDonald, who then obtained the agreement of CBF leaders in London to support it).

The (p.154)

cost of all this would be about $ 15 million, of which two-thirds would be borne by United States Jewry and one-third by British Jewry. A central coordinating committee, to be called the Council for German Jewry, was to be set up in London.

The American Jewish bodies agreed to these proposals in broad terms after some rather heated discussions. JDC leaders declared that they understood the council to have coordinating functions, because JDC's contributors would hardly agree to having the distribution of their funds determined by people in another country. Also, what JDC undertook to do was essentially to devote their funds (other than their commitments to Eastern Europe and other places) to the saving of German Jewry in coordination with the others. This, of course, was what JDC had been doing in any case, so that behind the façade of declarations of goodwill the situation had not changed materially when the British delegation left on February 5, 1936.

On January 1 Samuel had been received by Roosevelt, who had promised him "a sympathetic attitude on the part of the (U.A.) German consulates in the case of all suitable applications for emigration visas to this country."

(End note 51: Ibid. [15-7, Executive Committee / Zentral-Ausschuss (ZA), 5/22/35 (22 May 1935)])

Yet at the final meeting of the delegations, Marks was more realistic than the enthusiastic newspaper reports when he said that in fact the British delegation had accomplished very little.

[Skeptical voices of the Joint to the agreement - Zionist efforts to get German Jews to Palestine]

Some JDC leaders saw even the small measure of agreement as a mistake. Vladeck, Marshall, and Rosenberg argued that the Zionists would simply use the agreement for getting Jews into Palestine. Zionists, Vladeck said, agreed with Fascists that Jews should get out of Europe. That was the reason why the Zionist flag was protected in Germany. Repercussions in Eastern Europe to such large-scale emigration might increase anti-Semitism there because governments would think that they could evict Jews with Jewish financial support. If this meant, said another participant in the discussion, "that when Jews are hurt, they shall immediately be taken out of the country through a grand exodus, and ... that money is paid to bring people out of places merely because conditions are bad there, we would only succeed in muddling up the (p.155)

situation for other Jews all over the world." On the other hand, William Rosenwald argued, the Zionists got their funds on the strength of the German crisis and yet only about 13 % (actually about 20 %) of the admissions into Palestine were from Germany. If, as a result of the new plan, the Zionists would devote a larger proportion of their funds to help German Jewry, he said, the plan would commend itself "to many of us."

(End note 52: Executive Committee, 2/10/36 [10 February 1936]; 15-11, Rosenwald memo, 2/1/36 [1 February 1936]. Cf. also Forverts, 2/17/35 [17 February 1935])

Warburg's influence neutralized the opposition, and the overwhelming majority of the leading JDC laymen supported the new plan. However, events in London soon made it seem that at least some of the criticism had been justified.

[And nobody speaks with the Palestinians and with the Arabs. Already now the Arab propaganda is fighting against any Jewish plan to place more Jews in Palestina].

[The Council for German Jewry: Always quarrel about Palestine or not]

The council was to be set up in London and consist of six men - three each from Britain and the United States. The three Americans were to be Warburg, Baerwald, and Rabbi Stephen Wise, the Zionist leader. With Samuel and Marks considered as Zionists, there would thus be an equal representation of Zionists and non-Zionists on the council. However, after the British delegation had returned to London, Marks invited Weizmann to join and, probably in order not to appear partial, Goldsmid of ICA as well. This was done without prior consultation with the Americans. On top of that, the British now interpreted the agreement in New York to mean that JDC would raise funds over and above what it was spending for all its other purposes.

In the early April session in London of the council's Preparatory Committee, Kahn emphatically denied this interpretation.

On April 6 Warburg wrote a very outspoken, though humorous, letter to Bentwich, who had been appointed director of the council, together with Sir Wyndham Deedes, a non-Jew and a pro-Zionist. The council was, Warburg said, clearly top-heavy on the Palestine end. His enthusiasm, he added, was somewhat dampened. The English had allocated their money to Palestine "in its entirety"; the consultations were therefore somewhat futile and, he added, "some of us feel that we had better stay at home and saw wood and satisfy the givers, as we have in the past, by spending their contributions as the givers would want and as the recipients desire."

(End note 53: 15-3, Kahn to New York, 4/3/36 [3 April 1936]; Baerwald to Samuel, 4/7/36 [7 April 1936]; Warburg to Bentwich, 4/6/36 [6 April 1936]. As to Warburg's statement that the British had allocated all their funds to Palestine, the situation by the end of October 1936 was that of the 721,035 pounds collected by them in Britain, 392,000 pounds had been allocated, of which 51 % went to Palestine (see: Council of German Jewry, interim report, 10/30/36 [30 October 1936], JDC Library). Cf. also: Executive Committee, 5/4/36 [4 May 1936]).

In the end only about half of the British funds went to Palestine. (p.156)

[Council for German Jewry: Quarrel about money for Palestine]

In the spring of 1936 the Zionists were demanding that 250,000 pounds be allocated to aid the immigration to Palestine of 3,500 young trainees. This would have meant that a very large sum of money would go to settle a relatively small number of people, and JDC felt that it could not agree to that - although there seems to have been no protest on JDC's part when HICEM and ICA spent very large sums to effect the settlement of equally small numbers of people in Latin American countries.

One of the paradoxes of the situation was that the Zionists, especially in America, had not been at all enthusiastic about the establishment of the Council for German Jewry.

[1933: Boycott of German goods supported by American Zionism]
Under the influence of Stephen S. Wise, American Zionism had come to support the boycott of German goods that had been started by Abraham Coralnik and Samuel Untermeyer in 1933, to which JDC was very much opposed.

[Beginning 1936: American Zionists don't want to buy German goods for Jewish emigration]
American Zionists thought that the council's plan was similar to the Jewish Agency's German transfer scheme, to which American Zionism was largely opposed. This, as we have mentioned, consisted of an agreement to take out Jewish capital to Palestine in return for the promotion of the export of German goods.

[Emigrated Jews should buy German goods in Palestine for construction of their settlements which was happening already by the Haaverah aggreement].

The boycott trend in the United States was so strong that JDC, itself eager not to clash with the Zionists on this issue, decided that no plan should be implemented that would facilitate the export of German goods.

(End note 54: JC-1/10/36 [10 January 1936], 1/31/36 [31 January 1936])

[5 Feb 1936: Zionists want emigration to Palestine in any case, also with German goods]
Now, after the delegation had returned to London and the Zionist influence had gained weight, the situation was reversed: the Zionists had been enthusiastic supporters of the council's plans, whereas JDC's ardor had cooled considerably.

[Council for German Jewry: Three JDE members are never in London - British allocate British money]

The marriage then had hardly taken place when a separation occurred, though both sides took great care not to announce a divorce. On paper there were soon five American Jewish members of the council, of whom three were JDC representatives (Warburg, Baerwald, and Liebman; Liebman represented REC [Refugee Economic Corporation], which was a JDC affiliate). The two others were Zionists. In reality, there usually was an American delegate representing the JDC members in London who partook in the council's deliberations.

Practically speaking, the money the council spent came from England only (p.157)

and was allocated by the British members of the council. As to the rest, there was much exchange of information and consultation and some common action in Europe, especially in the refugee countries, but no pooling of resources.

[No action to save young German Jews by the Council because of lack of places]

The grandiose plan to evacuate young German Jews remained on paper.

To be sure, the reason for the inaction did not lie mainly with interorganizational differences of opinion. Money alone, even had there been much of it (which there was not), would not have solved everything. There had to be places to which emigrants could be directed, and on this major point the council did not advance beyond what McDonald had done.

Max Warburg and Otto Hirsch from Germany "begged and pleaded for action, meaning that monies be made available to start sending (refugees) at the rate of 500 a month out of Germany to various parts of the world, in addition to immigration to Palestine."

(End note 55: Executive Committee, 7/2/36 [2 July 1936], report by David Bressler)

[Spring 1937: Warburg's initiative for an umbrella organization of Jewish leaders]

In the spring of 1937, during the last months of his life, Warburg was working on an idea to create an umbrella organization of Jewish leaders of major organizations, to be weighted very definitely on the non-Zionist side.

(End note 56: Executive Committee, 4/14/36 [14 April 1936])

[July 1937: Paris: Foundation of an umbrella organization of Jewish leaders under Warburg - only one session]

Such a committee was in fact set up and met in July [1936] in Paris for the first and only time. But one may doubt whether a mere reshuffling or organizational change would have made much of a difference in a situation that was determined by the non-Jewish world rather than by Jewish leadership.

August 1937 approx.: Death of Felix Warburg

[Early 1937: Warburg's trip through Europe brings only few places for German Jews to emigrate]

Warburg himself had been to Europe in early 1937, and his report was not encouraging.

(End note 57: R13, Warburg at a meeting at the St. Regis Hotel, 4/29/37 [29 April 1937]; Executive Committee, 9/27/37 [27 September 1937])

Small numbers of people could emigrate to a few places with the help of large sums of money, provided this was done quietly; the same was true of the United States, where fear of anti-Semitism caused Jews to keep very quiet regarding the numbers of Jews entering the country. Palestine was, in 1937, awaiting the verdict of the Peel Commission, and immigration was becoming restricted. The outlook was bleak.

[Until 1936: Palestine splits the emotions of the Jews]

Until 1936 Palestine was, as we have seen, a main focus of emigration for German Jews. This fact and the emotions aroused in the Jewish world by the controversy about Palestine, as well as the bearing it had on the relations in the United States between (p.158)

JDC and the Zionists, caused JDC to devote a fairly significant part of its thinking to the Palestine problem.