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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 6. The Beginning of the End
[G.] Emigration and flight

[6.19. Sudeten accession - harsh anti-Semitism in ex-CSSR territories after the split of the CSSR - no-man's-lands]

[Oct 1938: Invasion of German army in the Sudeten territories]

The problem of mass emigration from Germany and Austria was compounded by the addition of yet another victim of Nazi barbarism: Czechoslovakia. In late September 1938 the Western powers had betrayed the Czechs to Hitler at Munich. In early October the German-speaking border lands of Bohemia and Moravia, the so-called Sudeten areas, were occupied by the Germans.

[Supplement: The German occupation was welcomed by the German population which had suffered under Czech rule since 1919, authorized by the French dictation in Versailles and the treaty of St-Germain. Now the German invasion was authorized by the Munich conference and by the English prime minister Chamberlain. Hitler for his part gave the guarantee not to make war any more. The national gold of the CSSR was brought into Nazi hands with English and Swiss help (In: Jean Ziegler: Die Schweiz, das Gold und die Toten). When Hitler had died now he had been in a good memory of whole Europe (In: Eitler: Hitlers Deutsche)].

[Partition of the CSSR: Hungary and Poland performing occupations - nationalist Slovakia]

Soon afterward the Hungarians took southern Slovakia and southern Subcarpathia, while the Poles occupied an area near Tesín. The democratic character of the Czechoslovak republic was destroyed, Slovakia became autonomous, and nationalist and near-Fascist (p.260)

tendencies increased. "Do not ask us for humanity", officials are reported to have said. "We were not treated with humanity."

(End note 94: R11, November 1938, report by Noel Aronovici on a visit to Czechoslovakia)

[Czech refugees, within about 15,000 Jews - 5-60,000 German Jews in rest CSR - anti-Semitism - emigration projects]

The number of Czech refugees from the occupied Sudeten areas was estimated at between 180,000 and 200,000. Of these, about 15,000 were Jews. In addition, there were 5,000 to 6,000 refugees from Germany and Austria still in the country.

About 2/3 of all these refugees lacked means of subsistence and had to be supported. To find work in the new, smaller Czechoslovakia was a practical impossibility; anti-Semitism was rampant, and Jews were attacked as a foreign, germanizing element (most of them spoke German). Jews themselves were expected to formulate anti-Jewish laws. In colleges and universities Jews either were not admitted or, if already registered, were thrown out under various pretexts. As a result, tremendous efforts were made by Jews - refugees and natives alike - to leave the country.

[27 Jan 1939: CSR government proclamation for emigration of foreign refugees]

On January 27, 1939, the rightist government of Rudolf Beran issued a proclamation demanding a speedy emigration of foreign refugees; it also proclaimed that the government would review the status of those who had acquired citizenship since World War I - a measure expressly directed at the Jews.

[Prague: Jewish central organization set up under Dr. Josef Popper - help for Jewish refugees]

In this chaotic and dangerous situation a central organization of Jewish communities was set up in Prague under the chairmanship of Dr. Josef Popper. In the Czech lands Marie Schmolka headed HICEM, dealing with emigration. The Jewish Social Institute, the chief aid organization, had to care for 1,290 persons immediately. To all other persons, the Czech government gave an allowance of 8 crowns (about 30 cents) a day; those who could not manage were put into camps.

In the Czech lands 118,000 Jews were now crowded; they were threatened with the fate of German Jewry.

(End note 95: Karel Lagus and Josef Polak: Mesto za Mrízemi; Prague 1964, p.334)

Of the 136,000 Jews who had been in Slovakia in 1930, 88,951 remained in 1940; some had emigrated, but the rest had become Hungarian Jews as a result of the 1938 annexations.

(End note 96: Livia Rothkirchen: The Destruction of Slovak Jewry (Hebrew); Jerusalem 1961, pp.9, 14 (English summary, pp. vii, xiv)

In early 1939 a social committee (Zentrales Soziales Fürsorgekomitee) was working in Bratislava under Dr. Robert K. Füredi and Mrs. Gizi Fleischmann, who was to become during the war one of the great (p.261)

heroines of the Jewish tragedy. In January 1939 this committee was supporting a foreign refugee population of 3,064 who had to be fed daily.

(End note 97:
-- 11-2, report, 2/3/39 [3 February 1939];
-- CON-2, report by Marjorie Katz, 2/12/38; and
-- R11, see note 94 above)

[Jews temporarily driven into no-man's-lands - Kosice and other border regions]

One of the main problems arising from the Sudeten crisis was the terrible plight of thousands of Jews who were driven - by Germans, Slovaks, Hungarians, Poles, and even Czechs - into no-man's-land, the small areas between the new borders. Two thousand such unfortunates were driven by the Slovaks into a no-man's-land near Kosice, a town which passed into Hungarian hands. The Hungarians drove most of them back. In the end some 300 refugees, largely stateless and Slovak Jews, spent the Slovak autumn in the open, without shelter, food, or medical aid.

A great deal of money was spent providing them with basic necessities. After many interventions, Slovakia finally accepted most of these refugees.

(End note 98: See note 94 above [R11, November 1938, report by Noel Aronovici on a visit to Czechoslovakia)

Hundreds more were reported to be in the Austro-Moravian border areas, between the new Sudeten frontier and the Bohemian heartland and on other borders.

(End note 99: 11-4, 10/24/38 [24 October 1938] report)

It is next to impossible to establish the total number, but there could not have been less than 3-4,000 persons. It was not until January 1939, more than three months after Munich, that the last of these people finally found a country that would harbor them, mostly in refugee camps.

(End note 100: Executive Committee, 2/26/39 [26 February 1939]. According to JTA [Jewish Telegraphic Agency], 2,700 Jews were finally taken out from no-man's-land by Hungarian and Slovak authorities (1/23/39 [23 January 1939])

[15 March 1939: NS occupation of rest CSR - JDC with social committees in Prague and Bratislava - emigration projects]

Then final disaster struck. On March 15, 1939, Germany occupied the Czech lands; Slovakia became "independent" under a German protectorate; and Subcarpathia was annexed by Hungary. In Prague, Marie Schmolka was arrested by the Nazis immediately after they entered the city; she was not released until May.

JDC policy in Czechoslovakia was to support the two social committees in Prague and Bratislava. Prior to March, JDC was providing 40 % of the budget of the Prague Social Institute. After March it gave more than 50 %.

(End note 101: 11-2, 6/8/39 [8 June 1939], memo on Czechoslovakia)

Large-scale aid had to be given to Slovakia to support the 2,938 refugees who were completely dependent on outside help.

(End note 102: R59, Troper letter, 6/16/39 [16 June 1939])

In the Czech lands an arrangement similar to that in Germany and Austria was worked out, whereby American dollars would not go into German coffers (p.262)

but would cover the costs of emigration, while the emigrants' money would be used to cover local needs. But in Slovakia the new authorities would not accept these arrangements, and immediate help was essential.

Reluctantly, Troper cabled his head office on June 15, 1939, that a one-time transfer of $ 20,000 to the Slovak National Bank was unavoidable; on the 16, New York cabled agreement.

(End note 103: 11-2, exchange of letters and cables, 6/15/39-7/21/39 [15 June-21 July 1939]

In Prague, JDC support was, as we have seen, indirect, but it ran at a monthly rate of about $ 33,000.

[April 1939-end 1939: Emigration of about 35,000 Jews of CSR]

The main concern of the committees and of JDC was, of course, to aid as many people to emigrate as possible at the greatest speed. Prior to March 15 there was a great deal of competition from Sudeten German opponents of Nazism and from Czechs who wished to leave the country. Nevertheless, by the end of 1939 about 35,000 Jews managed to leave the Czech lands.

This was facilitated by a British government-supported fund, the Lord Mayor's Fund, which had 4 million pounds at its disposal. Despite the fact that the fund was largely used for Czech internal requirements, small amounts were used for Jewish refugee emigration. England was the main destination of the emigrants; representatives of British groups, Quakers and others, did a tremendous job in Prague, sifting and processing applications; the staff of the British Embassy in Prague was also very helpful.

[Illegal emigration is not mentioned but is very probable].

[Flight without visa from the NS CSR - an emigration train without visas]

Nevertheless, there were difficulties. In the panic that the occupation of the country brought, people simply tried to flee without bothering to obtain visas. A train with 160 Jews went across Germany in April, only to be stopped by the Dutch because the emigrants did not have any visas of final destination. The Gestapo declared that if the train was still in Germany by a fixed deadline - April 29 - the refugees would be arrested. It was only through a waving of formalities by the British that these people were saved.

(End note 104: R60, introduction to the March-April 1939 report)

Illegal emigration to Palestine also flourished; other persons crossed the border into Poland as Czech refugees, only to be threatened by the Poles with deportation back into the Gestapo's hands.

(End note 105: 11-5, Smolar report, 6/9/39 [9 June 1939])

The Germans were pressing for Jewish emigration by the (p.263)

same methods that had been so successful elsewhere, and in July 1939 they established in Prague a branch office of the Central Bureau for Jewish Emigration.

[Since March 1939: Again Jews driven into no-man's-lands - help]

After March, too, the tragedies of small groups in no-man's-land were repeated. Germans were expelling Jews from the Czech lands, and on the Polish border the scenes of autumn 1938 took place once again. In all these cases the Prague Social Institute had to intervene to keep the people alive.

(End note 106: 11-5, Troper cable, 6/15/39 [15 June 1939])

When the curtain came down on the unhappy country in September 1939, the fate of Czech Jewry had become identical to that of Germany and Austria.

Where could the Jews of Central Europe have gone? No country was willing to accept panic-stricken Jewish refugees without the necessary and delaying prerequisites of form-filling and careful scrutiny. No country really wanted penniless Jews.