Content posted July 9, 2017

Notable Individual Rescuers


Dr. Mussa (Moses) Abadi and Odette Rosenstock

Mussa Abadi and his fiancée, Odette Rosenstock, fled Paris in the summer of 1940 to Nice, in the South of France. The persecution of Jews in this area started in September 1943, after the Germans invaded and occupied southern France.  Nice and Cannes, as well as other areas, became areas of German control.  During this period, Abadi and Rosenstock began rescuing Jewish children whose parents had been deported or were in hiding. Once the children were in their protection, Abadi and Rosenstock began to look for safe hiding places to hide their charges.  They were aided by the Catholic bishop of Nice, Bishop Raymond.  Raymond supported the rescue efforts by opening up Catholic institutions as well as allocating a small office for Abadi to produce forged ID cards and baptismal certificates.  Abadi also sought and received support from the Protestant ministers in the area as well as working with Jewish underground organizations such as the OSE and the Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC), which gave him financial support. Rosenstock continued to check up on the young Jews in hiding.  The lives of Abadi and Rosenstock were in constant danger.  Abadi and Rosenstock, and the “Marcel Network,” as they were called, are credited with saving the lives of more than 500 Jewish children.

 

 György (George) Adam, “Second Secretary,” Vatican Embassy, Budapest, Hungary, 1944-1945

György Adam was a Jewish refugee who sought refuge in the Vatican embassy in Budapest.  While there, he volunteered to go on missions to the Obuda brickyards to release Jews from custody.  In doing so, he was able to prevent Jews from being deported to the death camp of Auschwitz-Birkenau.  Armed with Vatican protective documents, Adam was able to release 500 Jews from the brickyards.  He also worked with Father Gennaro Verolino in rescuing Jews from death marches.  On one occasion, he prevented the arrest of Admiral Horthy, the Regent of Hungary, and his family, by Nazi occupying forces.  At that time, he announced that he was the Second Secretary to the Nunciatura.  This title stuck with him throughout the war.

 

Peter H. Bergson (Hillel Kook), Bergson Group

Peter Bergson founded the Bergson Group and the Emergency Committee to Save the Jewish People of Europe.  He was a member of the Zionist Revisionist Party in Israel.  Bergson organized numerous rallies and publicity campaigns in the United States to raise awareness of the plight of Jews and the murder of millions in Europe.  Bergson and his associates drafted legislation for the US Congress that resulted in the creation of the War Refugee Board.

 

Adolf Abraham Berman (1906-1978), Zegota, CENTOS, ZOB

Adolf Abraham Berman was one of the Jewish underground leaders of Zegota (the Polish Council for Aid to Jews).  After the Germans occupied Poland, he was director of CENTOS (the Federation of Associations for the Care of Orphans in Poland) in the Warsaw Ghetto.  He was also a founder of the Anti-Fascist Block, which eventually became the Jewish Fighting Organization (ZOB) in the Warsaw Ghetto.  After September 1942, Berman escaped to the Aryan side of Warsaw.  He represented the Jewish community as secretary of Zegota.

 

Angelo Donati, DELASEM, working in Southern France and Italy

Angelo Donati was an Italian banker in Nice, France.  He was appointed as an advisor to Italian occupation official Guido Lospinoso, who was the Inspector of Racial Policy.  Donati advised Lospinoso on Jewish affairs.  On numerous occasions, they resisted cooperating with planned German deportations.  He also worked with Italian Consul Alberto Calisse in Nice.  After the Italian withdrawal from southern France in September 1943, Donati continued his work to help save his fellow Jews in Italy.  Specifically, he worked with Father Marie-Benoit and the Jewish emigration association DELASEM.  Donati worked with Italian Consul General of Nice Alberto Calisse and Count Quinto Mazzolini.

 

Gisi Fleischman* (1897-1944), Zentrales Sozials Fürsorge-Komitee für die Juden in Slovensko; Vice President, Procovna Skupina (“Working Group”); Stredna Zidov (Jewish Center); JDC Representative

In the early months of 1942, two Jewish community leaders began operating to save Jews in Slovakia. They were Gisi Fleischman and Rabbi Michael Dov Weissmandel.  At first, they called their group to save Jews the “Action Committee.” They later called themselves “The Working Group.”  They attempted to prevent the deportation of Jews in part by bribing Slovakian officials. 

After the beginning of deportations from Slovakia in March 1942, the Working Group was able to thwart the deportation by bribing Dieter Wisliceny, an SS officer and Nazi governor of Slovakia. Fleischman raised money for this through the Hechalutz movement and the Jewish Joint Distribution Committee in Switzerland.  The deportations were halted from October 1942 to September 1944.  Their success raised the morale of the Working Group members and motivated them to plan a more audacious rescue.  This was called the Europa Plan.

Fleischman and Weissmandel helped to disseminate the Auschwitz report about the murder of Jews in the Auschwitz death camp.  They also tried to have the train tracks to Auschwitz bombed. 

In the beginning of October 1944, Fleischman was sent in one of the last trains to Auschwitz. She was murdered upon arrival. Weissmandel survived the war and died in the United States in 1956.  Weissmandel’s wife and five children perished in the war.

 

Recha Freier, Youth Aliyah

In the summer of 1932, Recha Freier, a Berlin rabbi’s wife and social activist, was made aware of how anti-Semitism affected the lives of Jewish adolescents in German and across Eastern Europe. Freier decided the solution was to help young Jews immigrate to Palestine. Her vision and astute foresight was to develop into a substantial rescue operation for Jewish youth throughout Europe. Freier founded the Aliyat Hanoar (Youth Aliyah), which is still functioning today.

Recha Freier managed to have candidates from Youth Aliyah included in the famous Kindertransport from Germany to England. In the period from November 1938 (Kristallnacht) to May 1940, the invasion of Western Europe, more than 10,000 children and teenagers arrived in England.

By September 1939, 5,000 youngsters had emigrated from Germany and European countries, to Palestine.

Recha Freier continued with her rescue work until the end of 1940, when it was no longer possible for Jews to get out of Germany. Daringly, at the end of 1940, Freier took a group of over 100 children to safe haven in Yugoslavia. With British certificates for Palestine, Freier and the children left by train from Zagreb, reaching Palestine after a long and arduous journey.

 

Isaac Gitterman* (1889-1943), American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee

Isaac Gitterman was active in Jewish relief efforts during World War I.  At the beginning of the World War II, he helped Polish refugees in Lithuania.  Gitterman was a representative of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee in Warsaw, Poland.  (See Isaac Borinstein.)  He administered Jewish welfare organizations in Nazi-occupied Poland, including the General Government.

Gitterman helped keep the JDC office open in Warsaw, Poland, despite Nazi pressures to close it.  He also worked with the Jewish Self-Help Society (JSS) and the Jewish Mutual Aid Society.

Gitterman was also an active member of the Jewish Fighting Organization (ZOB), joining it in October 1942.  He also worked with Emanuel Ringelblum and helped establish the Oneg Shabbat group and a Yiddish cultural organization.

Gitterman was killed on January 18, 1943, during the second action in the Warsaw ghetto.

 

Ira Hirschmann (1901-1989), Emergency Committee to Save the Jewish People in Europe, 1943, and War Refugee Board (WRB) representative in Turkey, 1944-45, Rescue Committee of the Jewish Agency for Paestine in Turkey

Ira Hirschmann was an early American activist in helping to save Jewish refugees in Europe. 

Ira Hirschmann attended the Evian conference in France in July 1938.  Witnessing the hypocrisy of the Western powers and their reluctance to save Jews, he volunteered to go on missions to save Jews as a private citizen.  Later, in July 1938, he went to Vienna, Austria, and vouched for hundreds of Austrian refugees, which allowed them to leave the country.

He volunteered and was appointed with the Emergency Committee to Save the Jewish People in Europe, which was also known as the Bergson Group. 

Hirschmann was later appointed head of the Middle East Delegation of the War Refugee Board (WRB) stationed in Istanbul, Turkey.  Hirschmann worked throughout the period 1944-45 for the rescue of Jews in Nazi occupied territories of Central and Eastern Europe.  He helped Jews throughout the Balkans and in Romania, Bulgaria and Hungary.  He worked with Vatican Cardinal Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli and US Ambassador Laurence Steinhardt and Yishuv representative Chaim Barlas in Turkey to help save Jewish refugees.  Hirschmann was responsible for a success in March 1944 when he persuaded Alexander Cretzianu, the Romanian ambassador to Turkey, to insist that the Romanian government transfer 48,000 Jews in Transnistria to a safe zone in Romania.  In 1946, Hirschmann was appointed to the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA) to inspect Jewish displaced persons (DP) camps. 

 

Otto Albert “Beamish” Hirschmann, Emergency Rescue Committee, 1940-41

Otto Albert Hirschmann was one of Varian Fry’s principal aides in the Emergency Rescue Committee (ERC).  Hirschmann was a German Jewish political refugee.  He was born in Berlin in 1915.  He was a young, enthusiastic Francophile and attended French school in Berlin.  He left Berlin just after Hitler came to power, on his 18th birthday.  Hirschmann had been active in the democratic socialist opposition to the Nazis.  In the fall of 1939, Hirschmann found himself in Paris.  After war was declared, he joined the French army.  After the fall of France, he deserted the French army and took the name of Albert Hermant.  Fry called Hirschmann “Beamish” because of his broad smile. 

According to Fry’s autobiography, “Beamish had had a good deal of experience with underground work already, and, despite his youth (he was only twenty-five), he was a veteran anti-fascist with two wars to his credit.  He had fought in the Spanish Republican army for nearly a year, and had then signed up for service in the French army.”  Fry later adds: “Beamish soon became my specialist on illegal questions.  It was he who found new sources of false passports when the Czech passports were exposed and couldn’t be used any more.  It was he who arranged to change and transfer money on the black bourse when my original stock of dollars gave out.  And it was he who organized the guide service over the frontier when it was no longer possible for people to go down to Cerbère on the train and cross over on foot.”

In addition to his work in guiding refugees over the frontier, Hirschmann did much of the interviewing of refugees, along with Fry and Franzi Hildebrand.  In his autobiography, Fry writes “For a while Beamish, Franzi and I handled all the work.  There was a small writing table and a flat-topped dressing table, with mirror attached, in my room.  We used the writing table as an interviewer’s desk and unscrewed the mirror from the dressing table and used it as a second interviewer’s desk.  Beamish sat at one table and Franzi at the other.  I usually sat on the edge of the bed, or stood up.  The refugees waited in the corridor outside my door, and we let them in one at a time.  I’d talk to them a little first, and then, if there seemed to be any chance at all that they were one of “our cases,” I’d pass them on to Beamish or Franzi, who would take down their names and addresses and other information about them on ordinary white file cards.”

Hirschmann also made contacts with the French underground and the Marseilles mafia for exchanging money on the black market, which was very dangerous work.

 

Herbert Katzki, American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee

Herbert Katzki was a representative of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee in Spain.  In 1943, he was assigned to the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee staff in Lisbon.

At the end of the war, Katzki was appointed as the U.S. War Refugee Board representative in Turkey.

 

Dr. Julius Kuhl, Consul for Polish Government in Exile in Bern, Switzerland, 1938-45

Consul Dr. Julius Kuhl was born to a prominent Jewish family in Sanok, Poland.  Kuhl issued thousands of protective visas and passports to Jews from the Polish embassy in Bern, Switzerland, 1938-45.  Kuhl worked with help and encouragement from Polish ambassador Alexander Lados.  Both Kuhl and Lados gave visas to a number of Jewish relief and rescue agencies working out of Europe.  These precious papers enabled Jews to remain in Switzerland or emigrate to the United States, Canada, South America, Africa, Palestine and other countries. 

 

George Mandel-Mantello, Honorary First Secretary for El Salvador in Geneva, 1942-45

George Mandel was born into an orthodox Jewish family in Romania in 1901.  Because of his business contacts, he was appointed honorary consul of El Salvador in Geneva in 1941.  As early as 1942, George Mandel-Mantello began issuing Salvadoran citizenship papers and documents to Jews in Nazi occupied Europe from his offices in Geneva.  Mantello worked closely with Jewish organizations and neutral legations to develop an elaborate network to distribute these life-saving papers, especially in Hungary.  Many of these were blank forms that could be filled out by the recipients.  Mantello spent thousands of dollars of his own money covering the costs of issuing these life-saving documents. 

Mantello was largely responsible for the widespread dissemination of the Auschwitz Protocols (Auschwitz Report) in Europe.  For this, he was briefly jailed by Swiss government officials for violating Swiss neutrality.

 

Saly Mayer (1882-1950), American Jewish Joint Representative in Europe

Saly Mayer’s family immigrated to Switzerland from southern Germany.  Before the war, Mayer served as head of the Schweizerischer Israelitischer Gemeindebund (SIG).  Starting in early 1938, SIG had the responsibility of taking care of refugees coming from Austria and Germany.  He was the director of SIG until 1942.

Saly Mayer was appointed the European representative of the American Joint Distribution Committee in Switzerland in 1940.  Mayer negotiated with Swiss authorities to allow thousands of German and Austrian Jews to escape to Switzerland. 

Throughout the war, Mayer dealt with Dr. Heinrich Rothmund of the Swiss Alien Police. 

Mayer allocated JDC funds for various rescue and relief operations throughout Nazi occupied Europe.  Funds to help feed, house and rescue Jews were sent to Slovakia, Romania, France, Hungary and Shanghai.  Mayer later became involved in various proposals to ransom Jews from Nazi occupied territories.

 

Henry Morgenthau, Jr. (1891-1967), Secretary of the Treasury

Henry Morgenthau, Jr., was a prominent American Jewish leader who became Secretary of the US Treasury under Franklin Roosevelt. 

After the persecution of Jews began in Germany, Morgenthau proposed a number of rescue and aid plans to help German and other European Jews.

After Treasury agents discovered that the State Department was inhibiting rescue activities and blocking relief funds, Morgenthau supervised a major report submitted to Roosevelt entitled “The Complicity in the Murder of Jews.”  This scathing report indicted the State Department.

Morgenthau then met with Roosevelt in late December 1943.  As a result, Roosevelt created the US War Refugee Board (WRB).  Rescue activities were taken out of the hands of the State Department and were supervised by Morgenthau and his agents in the Treasury Department. 

Some estimates say that 200,000 Jews were rescued as a result of WRB efforts.

 

Dr. William Perl, Af-Al-Pi

Dr. William Perl organized a massive rescue operation called AF-AL-PI (“In Spite of Everything”).  He was able to organize transport for thousands of Jews throughout Europe to Palestine and other destinations.

Dr. Perl appointed himself a Liberian diplomat.  He then counterfeited hundreds of Liberian passports and distributed them to Jewish refugees to help them pass international frontiers.  He also counterfeited Paraguayan visas.

 

Rabbi Solomon Schonfeld (1912-1982), Chief Rabbi’s Religious Emergency Council (CRREC)

Rabbi Solomon Schonfeld was an important rescue activist operating out of Great Britain during World War II.  Schonfeld established the Chief Rabbi’s Religious Emergency Council (CRREC) in early 1938.  The CRREC was created to rescue Orthodox rabbis, teachers and religious leaders from Nazi occupied Europe.  In late 1938, Schonfeld established two children’s rescue transports of 300 Jewish children from Vienna.  Through his lobbying efforts, Schonfeld was able to obtain entry permits from British officials for more than 3,700 Jews.

During the war, Schonfeld was an advocate for establishing Mauritius as a safe haven for Jews.

 

Joseph J. Schwartz (1899-1975), American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee

Joseph J. Schwartz was the European wartime director of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee in Europe.  Schwartz helped produce reports on the persecution and murder of Jews throughout Europe.  He allocated millions of dollars for various rescue and relief operations.  After January 1944, Schwartz worked with the War Refugee Board for the rescue of Jews.  JDC money was the main financial support for the WRB. 

After the war, Schwartz helped in the mass emigration to Palestine, 1948-1950.

 

Rabbi Abba Hillel Silver (1893-1963), Zionist Emergency Council

Rabbi Silver was a prominent Zionist Reform rabbi in the United States.  In 1943, he was elected head of the Zionist Emergency Council.  Silver lobbied the US administration and Congressional officials for the creation of a Jewish state in Palestine as a safe haven for the beleaguered Jews of Europe.  He was ardently opposed to Rabbi Stephen S. Wise, of the World Jewish Congress, who he felt did not demand enough of Roosevelt and the US government. 

 

Laurence A. Steinhardt, US Ambassador to USSR 1939-1941, and  Turkey 1942-45

Laurence Steinhardt was the only Jewish senior member of the US State Department prior to and during World War II.  In 1939, President Roosevelt appointed Laurence Steinhardt Ambassador to the Soviet Union.  This was a crucial and sensitive appointment, particularly in light of the recently signed Nazi-Soviet pact.  With the outbreak of war and the Nazi invasion of Poland, Steinhardt took secret steps to help Eastern European Jews escape the Nazis.  Aware, however, that the Soviets were planting agents among refugees seeking admission to the U.S., Steinhardt opposed their indiscriminate admission, urging careful screening.  He was instrumental in negotiating the first lend-lease agreement with the Soviets and transferred the Embassy to Kuybyshev when Stalin moved the Soviet government thence from threatened Moscow.  Early in 1942, Steinhardt was made Ambassador to Turkey, and for the next three years played a vital part in helping to win the Turkish republic to the Allied cause.  Steinhardt was further instrumental in completing lend-lease agreements with Turkey.  While in Turkey, Steinhardt was responsible for helping Jews throughout Eastern Europe.  He worked with Jewish rescue and relief agencies and other diplomats, including Papal representative in Ankara Cardinal Roncalli, later Pope John XXIII, in helping to save Jews.  Steinhardt also worked with the newly-established War Refugee Board, founded in January 1944.  He worked closely with board representative Ira Hirschmann.  As a result of this successful collaboration, nearly 50,000 Jews were saved.  In 1950, he was killed in a place crash while on a mission for the State Department. 

 

Isaac and Recha Sternbuch, Relief Organization for the Jewish Refugees Abroad

The Sternbuch’s were Orthodox Jews living in Bern, Switzerland.  They ran a major Jewish rescue operation out of Switzerland throughout the war, the Hilfsverein für Jüdische Flüchtlinge in Shanghai (Relief Organization for the Jewish Refugees Abroad), which was established in 1941.  The Sternbuch’s expanded their rescue activities and changed the name to the Hilfsverein für Jüdische Flüchtlinge im Ausland (Relief Organization for Jewish Refugees Abroad).   Thousands of Jews were saved by the Sternbuch’s. 

The Sternbuch’s began numerous rescue and relief activities throughout Europe, including sending supplies to Jews in Poland and Czechoslovakia.

The Sternbuch’s also were actively engaged in collecting and disseminating intelligence on the deportations and murder of Jews throughout Europe.  They also took part in negotiations that helped rescue 1,200 Jews from the Theresienstadt ghetto.

Recha Sternbuch was arrested for her activities by Swiss authorities and was later released from jail.  She got a Paraguayan visa from the local consulate in Bern.

Isaac and Recha Sternbuch worked with Chinese Consul General Dr. Feng Shan Ho, from his office in Vienna, and with Polish Ambassador Alexander Lados and his assistant Julius Kuhl, from their office in Bern.

 

Gertrude van Tijn-Cohn

Gertrude van Tijn-Cohn was a German Jew who emigrated to Holland during World War I.  After 1933, she organized a Dutch refugee committee to assist German Jews fleeing to the Netherlands.  She worked with David Cohn, a prominent Zionist activist.

She worked closely with the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, distributing funds and providing them with reports from 1933 to September 1943.

After Germany conquered the Netherlands in June 1940, van Tijn-Cohn increased her efforts to help Jews escape.  In April 1941, she went to Lisbon to meet with Morris Troper, of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC), to obtain funds to help Jews leaving Holland.  She also used JDC funds to aid Jews in hiding in Holland.  Van Tijn was also helped by Swiss Vice Consul Ernst Prodolliet to obtain money for her refugees. Van Tijn distributed 2,500 Palestine Certificates to Jews in Holland.

She worked to help Jews until she was arrested and sent to the Westerbork deportation camp in Holland.  She was then deported to Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in Germany in March 1944.  She was released in September 1944, along with 285 Jewish prisoners and their families, in exchange for German prisoners of war.

 

Zorach Wahrhaftig, 1906-2002, Zionist Mizrachi, Hehalutz Hamizrachi, Palestine Office

Dr. Zorach Wahrhaftig was a leader of the Zionist Mizrachi, the Chairman of the Hehalutz Hamizrachi and vice-chairman of the Palestine Office in Warsaw. When the Germans invaded Poland on September 1, 1939, and divided the country between them and the Soviet Union, about 10,000 Jews in the eastern part of the country fled to the still neutral Lithuania. Vilna was the seat of the most distinguished Talmudic academies in Europe. It became the last safe refuge for Polish Jews.  Wahrhaftig encouraged thousands of Polish Jews to flee to Vilna.

Wahrhaftig, with the help of Japanese diplomat Chiune Sugihara and Dutch honorary consul Jan Zwartendijk, was able to secure thousands of visas for the Polish Jews to escape Lithuania.

The Jews journeyed across the Soviet Union, first to Kobe, Japan, and then to Shanghai, China. 

With the help of Wahrhaftig, the entire Mir Yeshiva survived the war intact, one of the very few Jewish religious schools to survive.

 

Rabbi Michael Dov Weissmandel (1903-1956), Co-Founder “Working Group”

In the early months of 1942, two Jewish community leaders began operating to save Jews in Slovakia. They were Gisi Fleischman and Rabbi Michael Dov Weissmandel.  At first, they called their group to save Jews the “Action Committee.” They later called themselves “The Working Group.”  They attempted to prevent the deportation of Jews in part by bribing Slovakian officials. 

After the beginning of deportations from Slovakia in March 1942, the Working Group was able to thwart the deportation by bribing Dieter Wisliceny, an SS officer and Nazi governor of Slovakia. Fleischman raised money for this through the Hechalutz movement and the Jewish Joint Distribution Committee in Switzerland.  The deportations were halted from October 1942 to September 1944.  Their success raised the morale of the Working Group members and motivated them to plan a more audacious rescue.  This was called the Europa Plan.

Fleischman and Weissmandel helped to disseminate the Auschwitz report about the murder of Jews in the Auschwitz death camp.  They also tried to have the train tracks to Auschwitz bombed.

In the beginning of October 1944, Fleischman was sent in one of the last trainloads to Auschwitz. She was murdered upon arrival. Weissmandel survived the war and died in the United States in 1956.  Weissmandel’s wife and five children perished in the war.