Unknown Story Of American Rescues Of Children Of The Holocaust

January 2014
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American Rescue Of Children Of The Holocaust: A Network Of Resistance And Cooperation

By Iris Posner 2013


In 1933, with persecution of Jews rising in Germany, Jewish groups met to devise a plan to bring Jewish children from Germany to America. Given restrictive immigration laws, economic pressure of the Depression, isolationist and anti-foreigner sentiment, and persistent anti-semitism, they reasoned Americans would be sympathetic to children and would not be seen as competitors for jobs. Also, American regulations would allow the Secretary of Labor, Frances Perkins, to accept bonds for unaccompanied children.

A proposal was brought to the government by representatives of Jewish organizations and interested persons. It was agreed that a privately funded organization could bring 250 Jewish German children to the US under the German immigration quota. It would post a bond of $500. for each child, preventing them from becoming public charges, arrange for their transport, and care for them after arrival.

In addition to laws controlling immigration quotas, bonds and affadavits, additional requirements relating to resettlement included -- placement of Jewish children with Jewish families, (this was not the case with the British Kindertransports), and placement in homes meeting minimum standards including no more than 2 children to a room. Also, foster families had to be committed to seeing the child was educated, would not become a public charge, and would if necessary, assume their care until age 21. Local social workers would be assigned to oversee the resettlement and progress of each child. These laws and regulations, economically pressed families, and a required low profile regarding the press and fundraising, made it very difficult to find and obtain support for acceptable families and homes.

The organization formed to implement the operation, the German Jewish Children's Aid (GJCA,) was committed to operating within the law and abiding by government regulations, for fear of providing those opposed to its goals with a basis to call for the end of its operations.

The GJCA was an umbrella organization founded by the: American Jewish Congress, American Jewish Committee, Bnai Brith, National Council of Jewish Women, HIAS, American Joint Distribution Committee (also known as The Joint), National Conference of Jewish Social Workers and the Committee on German Jewish Immigration Policy. A document announcing formation of the GJCA, was quietly circulated to relevant organizations asking for donations to transport the children to the US, and the names of families willing to accept refugee children. It ends with a stern instruction to carry out this work with no publicity!

At the center of child rescue operations was Cecilia Razovsky, (called CR), a social worker experienced in immigration and refugee resettlement and having contacts in the US and abroad. CR simultaneously held leadership positions in multiple organizations involved in the rescue and resettlement of children and adult refugees and became the Director of the GJCA, later known as the European Jewish Children's Aid. Her work in refugee and immigration affairs is described in, "Cecilia Razovsky and the American Jewish Women's Rescue Operations in the Second World War," by Dr. Bat-Ami Zucker.

The Director of Placement for the GJCA, Lotte Marcuse, also a social worker, was responsible for the placement of each child and was a major figure in the OTC history. She often met the ships at the dock, and is remembered fondly by many of the children we have interviewed.

In the US between 1934 and 1945, dozens of national organizations were involved in the transfer and resettlement of European refugees. A small number focused on children. All generally maintained contact with each other and formed a network with many formal and informal connections, relationships and shared as well distributed responsibilities. Together they constituted a non-governmental American-based "network" that conducted active resistance to Nazism.

Among US groups participating in the "network of cooperation" to rescue children was, -- the American Friends Service Committee (the Quakers), the National Coordinating Committee, the Unitarian Service Committee, the National Refugee Service, the US Committee for the Care of Refugee Children, American OSE organization and the US Children's Bureau -- all non-governmental except for the Bureau which set standards for the care of child refugees. Among famous names associated with these organizations were Eleanor Roosevelt and Albert Einstein. Less famous was Martha and Waitstill Sharp of the Unitarian group.

For 2 years beginning in 1939, the Sharps, leaving their own children, made multiple and dangerous trips to Europe often one step ahead of the Gestapo. Working with others in the "rescue network," they arranged for the transport and escorted to America, many at risk adults and over 25 unaccompanied children. For their work Yad Vashem recognized them as "Righteous Among the Nations."

US organizations involved in child rescues had counterparts around the world including Germany and Austria. In southern France, OSE, supported by the Joint sheltered Jewish children in chateaus. When Vichy fell over 250 of these children were brought to America in three groups and placed in foster homes. These were the single largest OTC groups with two transports of children each numbering over 100.

In 1934 in Berlin, Razovsky's counterparts were receiving requests from parents wanting to send their children out of harm's way. Kate Rosenheim, Director of the Children's Emigration Department of the Central Organization of the Jews in Germany, coordinated with organizations worldwide.

CR visited Rosenheim in Germany multiple times as well others throughout Europe, working out a system of cooperation. She continued travel to Europe after the war started and was badly injured when a bomb landed near the jeep in which she was traveling. Returning home, she continued communicating with organizations worldwide to support, expand and help manage the network of cooperation she and others had built. Not surprisingly, among network participants, there were instances of counterproductive personal rivalries, resentments and intrigues. After studying this maze of organizations with multiple ties and levels of communications, Dr Baumel-Schwartz explains that ."only by understanding the ponderous .. machinery (and I would add politics) of rescue and resettlement, can one comprehend the difficulty of implementing any child rescue scheme."

On November 9,1934, after over a year of planning and negotiations with the Departments of Labor, the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), and the US Children's Bureau, the first group of 9 children, boys aged 11-14, arrived in NY. They were brought to foster families in and around NYC. Later OTC children were placed with families across America. It would cost about $500. yearly per child to maintain rescued children in foster homes that required subsidization, which many did.

A second group of 9 arrived Nov 11, 1934 with 3 girls among them. The third group which arrived on the 24th of Nov had more girls and so it increased until in some groups girls outnumbered boys. A total of 53 children arrived in two months of 1934. Rescues, of boys and girls would continue to the extent allowed by, government, available funds, acceptable families, and events related to the progress of the war.

In1935 as conditions worsened, CR was receiving calls .reporting. [that European relatives could no longer even]. buy bread for their children." The pressure on those working in Europe was worse. Razovsky writes, .."social workers can work in their offices only a certain length of time and break down. You do not know what it means when an American comes in from the outside and shows them what is being done in an effort to help them. At least they realize we have not forgotten them."

1938 was a turning point for organizations and persons concerned about Jewish children in Europe. Five weeks after Kristallnacht, the British began the Kindertransports and in the 9 subsequent months brought 10,000 mostly Jewish unaccompanied children to England. They were placed with Jewish and Christian families and more than half were placed in group homes. At the time of the British Kindertanports, OTC rescues since 1934 numbered about 400.

In 1939, a resolution by Senator Robert Wagner and Representative Edith Rogers proposed admission into the US of 20,000 children from Germany, over and above the existing quota. During hearings many spoke in favor of the bill. Eleanor Roosevelt worked to rally support. Those opposed succeeded in significantly amending the bill which resulted in its withdrawal by sponsors. President Roosevelt never publicly backed it.

European parents were desperate. CR wrote, "We are getting thousands of inquiries about children. We not only are not taking large groups but we are even slowing up on those whom we have [agreed to take] because of the long delays in the quota. We get people coming in all day.. scolding...us.. At the end of the day we are [spent] physically and mentally." Rescuing organizations were deeply concerned with the number and pace of children being rescued, especially after Kristallnacht and pressed for an increase in available visas, but to no avail.

While most of the OTC children were rescued and resettled by a network of cooperating organizations, some unaccompanied children were rescued through family to family arrangements and by non-network groups, such as Brith Shalom. In 1939, a member of the group obtained 50 visas from the government for unaccompanied children which he and his wife selected and escorted to America. Although not the only nor largest group of unaccompanied children rescued and brought to America, this commitment, as we'll as the thousand plus families caring for OTC children, is an example for us all.

Importantly, there is a significant connection between independent rescues and the "network of cooperation:" A 1942 memo by the GJCA Director of Placement, Lotte Marcuse, reports that ."The representative of Brith Sholom .. wanted the GJCA to take over responsibility for service and support of .. cases involving 7 children, because they are short of money and also because in some cases changes in placements may be indicated. Brith Shalom cannot find the money to support them any longer. I asked the gentleman to put his request in writing and I would gladly submit it for action." In such ways did the Network assist organizations, individuals, and operations outside its direct sponsorship and administration.

In 1939, in addition to the Brith Shalom rescuees, Network organizations rescued 24 children before, and 21 after, for a total of 95 unaccompanied children rescued in 1939. Rescue figures figures for other years were 125 in '40, 286 in '41, 106 in '42, 137 in '43, 39 in '44 and 20 unaccompanied children were rescued and resettled in 1945.

By the 40's in Berlin, parents cued up for days in lines blocks long to talk to someone at the Jewish Agency about getting their children out of Europe. The staff which often worked through the night, had to call in the police to protect them from the desperate crowds that had overrun their small offices.

In 1941 and 1942 Nazi roundups included children. The situation was so desperate in 1942, the President of the NCJW wrote to sister organizations: "Grave emergency due to wholesale massacre. Threatened extermination of Jewish children in Europe makes it important . we meet at once.. We are . calling a special meeting of the .. the National Jewish organizations."

Among the heroic figures in OTC history are the parents who painfully decided to send their children to America. Howard Wriggins, working with the Quaker organization in Spain and Portugal related that, "Several heads of families came in to talk with me about this terrible decision [and one woman asked, 'We have already lost so much. Must we now give up even our own children?'" In 1939 the AFSC had agreed to provide services to the GJCA as negotiators between German government officials and Jewish organizations and in 1941 provided staff in Europe, to directly handle rescue operations where it was not possible for Jewish and other organizations to operate openly.

In his studies on non-aryan Christian refugees from Nazism, historian Haim Genizi found that many nonsectarian rescue groups were so in name only, being mostly comprised of members and clients who were Jewish. This allowed for the rescue of non-Aryan Christian children (Jewish through heritage) by Jewish groups and provided some cover against anti-semitic and anti-immigration forces.

What of the OTC children themselves?

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from the January 2014 Edition of the Jewish Magazine

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