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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)



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 -- Chapter 6. The Beginning of the End -- M. 6.34. JDC before war times 1939 - Poland's Central Committee -- End Aug 1939: Paris: Unique conference on Jewish emigration - war is expected -- The End in Poland -- Poland 1939 stays first on the Nazi side - gets on the British side since 31th March 1939 - anti-Semitic Poland expects help for emigration of the Jews by the British side -- Working Jews from Zbaszyn can enter Poland -- Sep 1939: Zbaszyn (Bentschen) is overrun by the Wehrmacht -- Sep 1939: Zbaszyn (Bentschen) is overrun by the Wehrmacht -- Early June 1939: New deportation of Polish Jews in Germany to the Polish border - and then cc -- Since spring 1939: Poland's government enforces anti-Semitism with new taxations -- Central Committee set up: Only one main faction leader within -- Feb 1939: New list without Agudah and Bund representatives -- Feb 1939: Polish government sets up a Jewish emigration committee - Jews don't trust it -- 1938-1939: Bund comes up in anti-Semitic Poland against Zionists -- Polish government wants JDC to cut off relations with the Bund - Bund is said to be communist - Bund is socialist -- Polish government wants hindering influence in JDC representatives -- Bund: Money questions -- Further negotiations for setting up a Central Committee - little committees don't want to loose their functions -- Different view from the "USA" -- 2nd September 1939: Central Committee set up - it's too late

Chapter 6. The Beginning of the End

[M. 6.34. JDC before war times 1939 - Poland's Central Committee 1939]

[End Aug 1939: Paris: Unique conference on Jewish emigration - war is expected]

During the last week in August 1939 a unique conference called by JDC and HICEM took place in Paris. Paralleling the Zionist Congress that was taking place at the same time in Switzerland, the meeting was attended by about 50 Jewish leaders of social agencies throughout Europe. Saly Mayer for Switzerland, Max Gottschalk, Gertrude van Tijn, Isaac Giterman, and many others attended. The general subject was the war, which everybody was expecting. JDC was keeping its bank balances low and was distributing funds to its cooperating committees so that they would have something in hand should the war come. At the last moment the various committees were told that in case of war they could spend money for six months at the same monthly rate as during the first six months of 1939. This was to become standard JDC practice during the war.

But the practical subjects of money and help were not the only things discussed. The people who met in Paris in August 1939 knew that they were facing possible death. Yet they went back to their stations, with heavy hearts but with the clear feeling that they were responsible for others and could not abandon them.

(End note 182:
-- R10, memo of 9/11/39 [11th September 1939];
-- 44-4, Troper to Baerwald, 8/29/39 [29th August 1939])

The End in Poland

[Poland 1939 stays first on the Nazi side - gets on the British side since 31th March 1939 - anti-Semitic Poland expects help for emigration of the Jews by the British side]

Perhaps the most difficult of all the tasks that JDC faced in the summer of 1939 was that of maintaining its work in Poland. The situation there had changes somewhat in favor of the Jews when Neville Chamberlain announced Britain's unilateral guarantee to Poland on March 31, 1939. The anti-Jewish pressure by the Polish government had apparently been influenced by Poland's active concurrence in Nazi Germany's foreign policy: she had participated in the rape of Czechoslovakia in 1938, and she had agreed to Germany's anti-Soviet policy. She was led by a group of mediocre colonels who were stifling whatever remained in Poland of her great democratic tradition. (p.292)

In April 1939 Poland very suddenly became an ally of democratic Britain, because the Nazi dictator demanded the annexation of Danzig and was threatening the dismemberment of Poland.

[Supplement: Hitler claimed for a motorway throuth Poland to Danzig and Eastern Prussia, and Poland was resigning to all, and let pass through the trains only with seals, and the curtains of the train windows had to be shut during the trip throuth Polish territory etc. That so far the NS regime lost the patience. And England took part on the chess game in Europe...]

Anti-Semitism could therefore [with the new ally England] no longer be considered a foreign policy asset. Nevertheless, Colonel Beck, the Polish foreign minister, asked the British to help solve the Jewish emigration problem in Poland and Romania.

The careful British answer was given on April 6, 1939.

(End note 183: JTA [Jewish Telegraphic Agency], 4/7/39 [7th April 1939])

In it His Majesty's government declared its readiness to examine with the governments concerned what it termed "particular problems in Poland and Romania which are part of a larger problem." Such an examination was not conducted prior to the outbreak of war. After the war began, it ceased to be necessary.

[Working Jews from Zbaszyn (Bentschen) can enter Poland]

The change in atmosphere was felt at Zbaszyn, too. Restriction on the movement of refugees from there into Poland were eased. Groups of people, mainly young persons who could prove that they had work waiting for them, or persons who had a chance to emigrate, were allowed into the country. At the end of May 1939 3,500 refugees remained in Zbaszyn.

[Sep 1939: Zbaszyn (Bentschen) is overrun by the Wehrmacht]
At the outbreak of the war, the 2,000 Jews still there were overrun by the Germans advancing into Poland.

[Early June 1939: New deportation of Polish Jews in Germany to the Polish border - and then cc]

As a result of the increasing enmity between Germany and Poland, the Germans tried to repeat the action of October 1938. In early June 1939 they attempted to chase 2,000 Polish Jews over the border at Zbaszyn, but the Poles prevented them. The sufferings of the Polish Jews who were the victims of this act are beyond description.

On June 23, the newspapers reported, hundreds of these unfortunates were shuttled back and forth at the frontier near the town of Rybnik. In the end, some managed to get into Poland. But most of them became victims of Nazi brutality; anyone who could not be expelled was sent to a concentration camp.

[Since spring 1939: Poland's government enforces anti-Semitism with new taxations]

Polish pressure on emigration was coupled with increasingly shameless and open acts of coercion against Jews in political and financial matters. In the spring of 1939 the Polish government (p.293)

asked for a Polish Defense Loan, to be raised "voluntarily" throughout the country. The Jews were forced to participate in the loan in a manner that was far beyond their capacity. By ruthless methods that amounted to capital taxation, Jews were forced to pay 150 mio. of the 400 mio. zloty that were raised throughout the country. This occurred in May 1939. As a result, there was a sharp increase in Jewish business bankruptcies. Jews who refused to pay very large assessments were summarily arrested.

(End note 184: 44-24)

In the summer of 1939 JDC was faced with economic emergencies in Poland that seemed grim indeed.

One of the ways to counteract the dangers facing Polish Jews was to encourage the establishment of effective Jewish bodies in Poland. As we have seen, there were no generally recognized Jewish representative bodies in the country. JDC's aim of helping Jews to help themselves could not be effectively promoted under such conditions. The primary cause for this situation lay in the political competition between the many different ideological trends and movements, and in the seemingly insurmountable differences in approach between them.

[June 1937]:
In June 1937 the provisional Representation of Polish Jewry, composed of Zionists and Agudists, was established at the level of the Polish Sejm, but it was short-lived. The World Jewish Congress established a Polish branch in February 1938. But this was formed only of Zionist bodies and was thus ineffective as an overall unifying factor. In any case, JDC would have opposed the WJC branch in Poland, in line with its general philosophy.

JDC therefore embarked on its own schemes to create something resembling a common front of Jewish interests. The first problem was how to hand over major JDC functions in Poland to local groups, thus promoting greater local independence. The subject seems to have been discussed in detail for the first time in July 1938, during a meeting there between Kahn and the heads of the Warsaw office.

In a rather sharp and formal letter on August 11, Kahn declared that now it would have to be decided whether the Free Loan kassas should continue to operate under direct JDC management (p.294)

or be transformed into independent organizations along the lines of CENTOS and TOZ. With most of the constructive work concentrated in the Free Loan kassas, such a transformation would in effect hand over most of the JDC program in Poland to a local body.

The second proposal, also broached in Kahn's letter,

(End note 185: R55. The creation of a Polish Central Committee was apparently discussed with Sachs in talks with Kahn in Warsaw in late 1937 (Sachs's letter to Kahn, 44-3, 9/15/38 [15th September 1938])

was for the establishment of a supervisory economic committee "composed of leading Jewish personalities in commerce, banking, industry, and craftsmanship". This committee would grant subsidies, subject to JDC approval. Kahn wanted this committee to be set up by the end of 1938.

In October 1938 Morris C. Troper took over Kahn's functions in Europe. The new European chairman of JDC visited Poland in November and found himself in full agreement with his predecessor. JDC, he thought, still controlled the Polish Jews "in a manner and to an extent far beyond what might be expected from a foreign organization". He found a "subservience in relationships" between the local organizations and the JDC office, which he thought was harmful.

(End note 186: CON-2, Troper report, 11/30/38 [30th November 1938])

Progress was fairly rapid on the first of the two problems dealt with in Kahn's August 1938 letter. In Poland, CEKABE, which had long been recognized by JDC as the central institution dealing with the Free Loan kassas, was now given the sole responsibility for all matters affecting this most important aspect of JDC work.

Troper could report to Hyman in early March 1939 that the kassas were being handed over and that JDC was reserving for itself a purely supervisory function, justified by the fact that it provided the credits necessary for maintaining and expanding the work.

Membership on the board of CEKABE included Assimilationists and Zionists and, of course, Giterman as the JDC representative.

(End note 187: 44-4, 3/4/39 [4th March 1939])

The problem of handing over most of the JDC functions to a Polish Central Committee was very complicated. JDC conducted these negotiations with a group of industrialists headed by Karol Sachs. It seems, however, that Giterman and his Warsaw colleagues were not very happy about this development. Troper was inclined to attribute this opposition to Giterman's desire to maintain (p.295)

his predominant position as the JDC representative. He also hinted that there was some jealousy within the JDC office over Giterman's position.

(End note 188: 44-4, Troper at the Committee on Poland, 4/11/39 [11th April 1939]: "Some of the men (at the Warsaw office) feel that Giterman's situation is not satisfactory from the JDC point of view.")

But the evidence suggests that Giterman was not in agreement with the idea of going beyond the established political bodies and relying mainly on a group of rich men - whose practical activities up to that time had not been very outstanding and whose ability to unite Polish Jewry behind their leadership was doubtful.

[Central Committee set up: Only one main faction leader within]

The first list of prospective Central Committee members submitted by Sachs in September 1938 was indeed indicative of a trend: not a single leader of the main factions was included except Rabbi Lewin, president of the Agudah.

JDC could not agree to such one-sided proposals. But negotiations continued, and early in 1939 it was clear that the leaders of the Central Financial Institution of the Reconstruction Foundation loan kassas, who were identical with the group of wealthy men around Sachs, had been "charged by us" (as David J. Schweitzer put it somewhat grandiloquently) to form the committee "that will practically take over the functions of our present JDC office in Warsaw."

(End note 189: 44-4, memo by Schweitzer, January 1939)

[Feb 1939: New list without Agudah and Bund representatives]

In February [1939] a new list was submitted by Sachs to the JDC office in Paris. This time the list was much more balanced, though here too about one-half the committee was composed of the Sachs group. The Zionists and even the World Jewish Congress were included, but the Agudah and the Bund were not.

(End note 190: 44-3, Sachs to JDC, Paris, 2/28/39 [28th February 1939])

In addition, the committee was to include representatives of the main JDC-supported organizations in Poland, such as CENTOS, TOZ, CEKABE, and so on.

[Feb 1939: Polish government sets up a Jewish emigration committee - Jews don't trust it]

In the meantime, as we have seen, the Polish government had set up the Jewish emigration committee; on it were some of the people that had been proposed for the Central Committee.

Most of Polish Jewry, especially the Bundists and the Zionists, rejected the emigration committee as a body imposed on the Jews by the government, and the individuals who were on it were suspect in the eyes of the Jewish public.

Since some of them were also candidates for membership on the Central Committee, this added complication held up negotiations. (p.296)

[1938-1939: Bund comes up in anti-Semitic Poland against Zionists]

Another very serious problem arose concerning the participation of the Bund. The Bund, as we have already seen, was gaining strength in Poland in 1938/9. As Alexander Kahn put it: "There was a time when the Zionist group could give money to help people to emigrate to Palestine. They were the angels then." Now there was [officially] no possibility of emigrating to Palestine because of the British restrictions. That, in Kahn's view, explained the rise of the Bund, "which politically is the strongest expression of the dissatisfaction of the people."

(End note 191: 44-21, Kahn at the Committee on Poland, 7/7/39 [7th July 1939])

The Bund was opposed on principle to cooperating with a group of Jewish capitalists and Zionist leaders. Yet some of the greatest economic and cultural achievements of Polish Jewry were connected with the Bund, and it could not simply be ignored by JDC. "Whatever work is being done by these (working-class) groups, especially by the Bund, the largest party, be it their extensive school organization, their sanatoriums, their other social and economic activity, it is done well and most efficiently."

(End note 192: 44-4, report Schweitzer, 3/23/39 [23th March 1939])

This opinion was repeatedly supported by Bernhard and Alexander Kahn in New York.

[Polish government wants JDC to cut off relations with the Bund - Bund is said to be communist - Bund is socialist]

On the other hand, the Polish government, which was aware of the negotiations concerning the Central Committee, tried to influence JDC to cut off its relations with the Bund. One of the leaders of JDC, Edwin Goldwasser, had a talk on the subject with the Polish consul general in New York in July 1939. Said Alexander Kahn: "The consul made a statement that there was a strong feeling in Polish circles that JDC in Poland was closely identified with the Bund, which is considered as a Communist organization dominated by the Russian Communist party. It is natural to assume, therefore, that any special support extended by JDC to the Bund as such will not be viewed favorably by the Polish authorities. Of course", Kahn added, "we here know that the Bund is a socialist group and is opposed to Communism."

(End note 193: 44-4, A. Kahn to Troper, 7/11/39 [11th July 1939])

[Polish government wants hindering influence in JDC representatives]

Besides its intervention in New York, the Polish government also tried to influence, and even intimidate, JDC representatives in Poland. Police chiefs and the press attempted to put pressure on (p.297)

persons connected with JDC in Poland to prevent further support of the Bund.

On July 17, 1939, Giterman himself was asked to appear before the political department of the government commissioner of Warsaw. Nothing was said that would violate good taste, but the hints were broad and clearly understood.

(End note 194: 44-4, memo by Giterman, 7/17/39 [17th July 1939])

JDC did not succumb to this pressure. But the Bund was not a very easy organization to deal with. In early June one of its leaders, Mauricy Orzech, visited Troper in Paris and conducted negotiations with him. The Bund had just been victorious in municipal elections in Poland, and Orzech thought, Troper reported, "that the other Jewish political bodies had practically no political influence or representative capacity and would either gradually wane or die out completely."

Not only did the Bund refuse to cooperate with capitalists and Zionists in a Central Committee, but it was clear that since all the other organizations would soon die out anyway, there was no apparent reason why the Bund should make any concessions. Troper had to argue Orzech out of his extraordinary and completely unrealistic position.

Earlier in 1939 a compromise had been reached to the effect that the Bund would not sabotage the actions of a Central Committee established by JDC.

A year after it was established the question of the Bund's cooperation with it would be renegotiated. Now, in June 1939, this arrangement seemed out of date. A new compromise was therefore suggested by Troper whereby the Bund would establish a permanent body whose task it would be to negotiate with the new Central Committee. However, only those activities of the new committee that directly affected the Bund or one of its subsidiary organizations would be discussed. The Bund would not be a part of the committee or concern itself with its overall policies.

Orzech accepted this and returned to Poland to obtain the assent of his organization.

(End note 195: 44-4, Troper to Hyman, 6/10/39 [10th June 1939])

There were indications during the summer of 1939 that the compromise was acceptable to the Bund leadership.

Behind the negotiations with the Bund were negotiations within JDC also. At the Warsaw office Leib Neustadt supported the claims of the Bund. He thought that its establishments and organizations (p.298)

were models of efficiency and that they, rather than their capitalist counterparts, should receive JDC support. In New York the labor representatives were, of course, inclined to support such a position.

[Bund: Money questions]

Indeed, the Bund organizations managed to do a great deal with very little money. By way of comparison, Troper himself had to write of TER, the export subcommittee of the Economic Council (Wirtschaftsrat) supported by JDC, that it is "under the difficulty that they get orders which they cannot fill and they have to do all they can to prevent people from coming from abroad so that they should not be disillusioned. I thought it best to give them some money so that they would have something to show."

(End note 196: R55, Troper report, 3/5/39 [5th March 1939])

Giterman was not as enthusiastic about the Bund as his colleague was. But he, too, thought that it would be highly unfair to stop supporting the Bund's establishments when the Central Committee was set up, and he therefore supported the compromise suggested by Troper.

[Further negotiations for setting up a Central Committee - little committees don't want to loose their functions]

Negotiations regarding the Central Committee were carried on with great intensity during the summer of 1939. Troper realized that the problem had to be solved speedily, and he put the whole prestige of JDC behind efforts to reach a satisfactory conclusion. The groups in Poland, both the political groupings and the large social organizations such as CENTOS, TOZ, CEKABE, and others, feared that their affairs would be handed over to a committee that would lean toward one side or another and be less impartial than the JDC office in Warsaw had been. JDC had to put great pressure on the groups to agree to conduct their own affairs alone rather than continue under JDC auspices.

In July a final JDC proposal was worked out. The Central Committee would represent Jewish communal activity "in its entirety".

Article 3 of the proposed constitution stated that the committee would coordinate the activities of the federated organizations and "represent their interests", organize and carry out fund raising in Poland, seek financial support abroad, and generally "consider or initiate new proposals for dealing with social and economic welfare needs of a national scope." In other words, what (p.299)

was proposed was an umbrella organization of Polish Jewry, which undoubtedly would have the tendency to become involved in more than economic and social problems. Membership in the committee, as carefully proposed by JDC, consisted of 20 persons; more would be added later. These 20 comprised well-known Zionist and Orthodox leaders, as well as the group of industrialists around Sachs, who would serve as chairman of the committee. Left-wing Zionists were also represented, and the Bund would be taken care of by the Troper-Orzech compromise.

(End note 197: 44-4, Interim Report, July 1939)

These efforts to establish a Polish Central Committee were typical of a trend in JDC thinking. In effect JDC was almost coercing Polish Jewry to establish a unified front, at least in the economic and social spheres, though it was clear that such a front would have political overtones. JDC was trying its best to reduce its own role in Poland and hand over its work to others.

There was an interesting contradiction in its attitudes. On one hand, it continued its detailed supervision of economic and social organizations in Poland; its rather patronizing attitude did not materially change. At the same time, it was trying almost desperately to disengage itself from day-to-day supervision and give the Polish Jews a feeling of responsibility and leadership, so that ultimately they would take over its work.

[Different view from the "USA"]

There was an even greater and more significant paradox. In New York, JDC leadership was in 1939 still concentrated in the hands of the same group that had been at the helm in the early 1930. The prevalent view was still that the Polish Jews were "coreligionists". The idea of a Jewish national group was viewed with skepticism, at best. Yet here was JDC actually organizing Polish Jewry , for the first time in centuries, as one body, as a national group within the Polish Jewry. It was left to an apolitical, philanthropic American Jewish agency, working on general Jewish and humanitarian principles, to attempt the unification of Polish Jewry. Had it succeeded, it is at least possible that Polish Jewry would have been better prepared to meet the horrors that were in store for it. (p. 300)

[2nd September 1939: Central Committee set up - it's too late]

As it was, the fate of the Central Committee of Polish Jews was symbolic of the situation of Polish Jewry generally. JDC in New York received a telegram, signed by Raphael Szereszewski, a former senator, a banker, and one of the group of industrialists mentioned above, that the Central Committee had been established. The date was September 2, 1939.

(End note 198: 44-4, cable of 9/2/39 [2nd September 1939])

Twenty-four hours earlier German troops had crossed the borders of Poland. [The European] World War II had begun. It was too late. (p.301)

[The Polish government had six months the choice to go with Hitler against Russia, or with Russia against Hitler. There was never a decision, but the hope that France and Britain would attack Germany when Hitler attacks Poland. The Polish propaganda spoke of a march to Berlin...
In: Valentin Falin: Second Front]