ONE OF THE MOST interesting, yet least known, of the various rescue projects attempted by Jewish organizations in Allied territory during the Holocaust was the partially successful attempt to rescue several thousand Polish rabbis and yeshivah students. They had escaped to Lithuania shortly after the outbreak of World War II and sought to emigrate from there to the West. This episode deserves careful scrutiny because of the unique circumstances and the relatively large number of people rescued. An analysis of these events helps explain the complex issues of Jewish response and rescue efforts during the Holocaust.


During the interwar period, Poland was the most important center of Jewish learning in the world. After World War I and the establishment of the Polish republic, it became the home of the majority of the world's foremost institutions of higher Talmudic learning (yeshivot), most of which were located in the Kresy region on Poland's eastern border with the Soviet Union.

Most of these yeshivot had been established prior to World War I, among them: Mir (founded 1817), Radin (1859), Lomza (1883), and Kamenetz (1897). Others, such as Grodno and Pinsk, were relatively new, established during the interwar period. It should be noted that during World War I, many of these institutions (for example, Mir, Radin, and Nowogrudok) had fled to Russia and returned to Poland after the war. Among the reasons for their return was the establishment of the communist regime, which they knew would not allow them to exist on Soviet soil. Other yeshivot, such as Ez Hayim, originally located in Slutzk, preferred when Slutzk became part of the Soviet Union, to move to Poland, where Jewish religious and educational activities were permitted.

The interwar period was a time of unprecedented growth for the Polish yeshivot, both in the size of the student body and in the physical expansion of the various institutions.1 Hundreds of students from all over the world travelled to eastern Poland to engage in intensive Torah study, among them many students from western Europe and the United States.2 In 1938, over 4,600 young men were enrolled in the yeshivol of eastern Poland;3 this figure indicated the significant increase in the number of students enrolled in these institutions.4 Moreover, this development occurred despite the rapid deterioration in the political and economic situation of Polish Jewry during this period.

The young men enrolled in the yeshivot of eastern Poland undoubtedly constituted the elite of those engaged in fulltime Torah studies. The Polish yeshivot, and the Lithuanian yeshivot (Telshe, Ponevez, and Slobodka), influenced Jewry the world over with their high level of studies and the subsequent work of their graduates. The overwhelming majority of the rabbis and religious leaders active in the orthodox community or in leadership positions in Europe and America were the products of these institutions.5

Throughout the interwar period, most of the yeshivot in eastern Poland received substantial financial assistance from Jewish communities in Europe and the United States.6 Funds were transmitted by individuals as well as by the American Jewish joint Distribution Committee (JDC). To a lesser extent, funds also came from Ezrat Torah, a philanthropic agency established by the Union of Orthodox Rabbis of the United States and Canada (Agudat haRabbanim). The funds sent to these institutions covered a significant part of their budgets.7 In addition, the various Polish roshei yeshivot (deans of the yeshivot) frequently travelled abroad to raise funds.8 In fact, most of the yeshivot even opened offices in New York to facilitate their fund-raising activities in the United States.9

These activities reinforced the ties between the yeshivot and the Jewish communities in western Europe and the United States. As a result, students from abroad went to Poland to study in Mir, Kamenetz, Grodno, Baranowitz, and other yeshivot, as well as to Lithuania to study in Telshe and Slobodka.10

Another important factor in the relationship between these yeshivot and the Jewish communities in the United States was that despite their ostensible orthodoxy most religious Jews in the United States were far removed from the exacting level of religious observance prescribed by the yeshivot. All the leading rabbis and political leaders in the orthodox community in the United States, however, had studied in these yeshivot and fully identified with the philosophy espoused by these institutions. The rabbis felt that because of the inroads made by assimilation, it was incumbent upon them to support institutions that were of such vital importance to the growth of what they considered to be the only authentic form of Judaism. The ties between Polish yeshivot and Jewish communities in the West were important; they were one reason for rescue efforts during the Holocaust that saved the lives of hundreds of rabbis and their yeshivah students.11


Seventeen days after the Nazi invasion of Poland, the Soviets also invaded Poland from the east. Within a short time they occupied the eastern half of Poland in accordance with the terms of the Molotov- Ribbentrop agreement (August 1939). The yeshivot located in eastern Poland now found themselves under Soviet rule. The rabbis and yeshivah students-many of whom had directly experienced the Soviets' negative attitude to Judaism and Jewish culture- considered the future of their educational institutions to be in jeopardy. Fearing that the Torah centers of eastern Poland would be closed by the Soviet authorities,12 they began to look for possible escape routes.13 The news that the Soviets planned to return Vilna (under Polish sovereignty during the interwar period and subsequently in independent and neutral Lithuania) caused many yeshiva students to try to reach Vilna.

The news that Vilna was transferred to Lithuania was announced in early October.14 Within a week, the first yeshivah students set out for Vilna. Among the first to leave were the students of the Kletzk yeshivah who left on October 14, 1939 (on the Hebrew calendar: Rosh Hodesh Heshvan, the traditional first day of the winter semester following the High Holiday vacation),15 and the students of the Mir yeshivah, who set out a day later.16 Each yeshivah made its own decision to flee; there was no coordinated planning among the various institutions. A series of similar decisions made by numerous individuals coincided, and, in most cases, the decision was not made by the roshei yeshivot or by the yeshivah's administration on behalf of all the students. Based on the testimonies of those who escaped, almost identical developments took place independently in each yeshivah prior to the decision to flee.17 The news that Vilna was transferred to Lithuania and that transportation, albeit overcrowded, still existed between eastern Poland and Vilna, galvanized the students into action. In several places, as, for example, at the Mir yeshivah, travel fever was widespread among the students.18

It is important to note that students normally did not play a role in determining yeshivah policy. The rosh yeshivah decided crucial questions, and his word was binding on both students and faculty. In this particular case, the students generally turned to the roshel' yeshivot for advice. In most instances, however, the question was rhetorical and was posed only after the decision to go to Vilna had already been made.19 In effect, the students dragged the rabbis and administrators with them. The latter, due to age, status, and circumstances, were more conservative and less likely to implement rapid or daring moves. It should also be noted that all the roshei yeshivot, in contrast to the overwhelming majority of yeshivah students, were married and had children,20 a factor that contributed to their doubts and hesitations about moving. Moreover, many other people also doubted the wisdom of moving to Vilna; this sentiment was reflected in popular jokes circulatinig in eastern Poland: for example, "Vilna has indeed been handed over to Kovno (the capital of Lithuania), but Kovno will soon be taken over by Moscow" or "Vilna does not belong to Lithuania, it's just the opposite."21 Others thought it was a Soviet ploy to discover those opposed to the Communist regime.22 Despite these doubts, many students regarded the reincorporation of Vilna in Lithuania as a fortuitous opportunity that ought to be exploited quickly before the border was closed. Some considered the matter so pressing that they travelled to Vilna even on the Sabbath.23

The decision to flee was made spontaneously; most yeshivot did not pursue a policy established by the roshei yeshlvot. Groups of students began running away; others followed; the roshei yeshivot, faculty, administration, and members of their families went in their wake. Apparently, only in the Kamenetz yeshivah were the roles reversed: the students followed their rosh yeshivah, Rabbi Boruch Ber Leibowitz.24

The Lithuanians entered Vilna on October 28, 1939. During the first half of November, the new border between Lithuania and Soviet-occupied Poland was established, and, subsequently civilian travel between the two regions was stopped.25 At that point, over 1,500 rabbis and yeshivah students had reached Vina, among them the entire student body and faculty of several yeshivot, including Mir (approximately 300 students), Baranowitz (more than 200), Kletzk (approximately 200), Kamenetz (about 200), and Raclin and Grodno (statistics unavailable). Several students of the Volozhin yeshivah also arrived in Vilna simultaneously with students from most major yeshivot in eastern Poland. Other arrivals included prominent rabbis,25 for example, Rabbi Yitzchak Zeev Soloveitchik of Brisk, and also many other communal rabbis from eastern Poland.26

The closing of the Lithuanian border in mid-November 1939 made it difficult to reach Vilna. Many who tried were apprehended and arrested by either the Lithuanian or the Soviet border guards. In addition, the winter of 1939-40 was one of the coldest Europe had experienced in the twentieth century. Severe weather conditions impeded travel, a fact reflected in the small number of women and children among the refugees reaching Vilna.27 Nevertheless, by the end of 1939, approximately 2, 100 rabbis and yeshivah students had reached the "Jerusalem of Lithuania,"28 where they were welcomed by the Jewish community. Their friendly reception undoubtedly encouraged those still in occupied Poland to attempt flight there.29 Indeed, according to several oral sources, Rabbi Chaim Ozer Grodzinski, the leader of the orthodox community in Vilna and chairman of the local Vaad ha-Yeshivot, sent emissaries to Poland to encourage yeshivah students to flee; there is, however, no documentary evidence to support this.30

In January 1940, the Russians tried to seal the border between Lithuania and Soviet-occupied Poland, a factor that resulted in a reduced number of refugees. Many refugees hired professional smugglers and sometimes paid exorbitant fees to cross the border. Despite the numerous obstacles, Jews fled from Poland to Lithuania from late 1939 to June 1940, when Lithuania lost its independence. A total of ca. 14, 000 Jewish refugees arrived in Vilna, including many Polish Zionist leaders, e.g., Moshe Kleinbaurn (Sneh), Menachem Begin, and Zerach Warhaftig; members of Zionist youth movements;31 2,440 yeshivah students;32 and 171 rabbis.33 The rabbis included well-known roshei yeshivot, for example, Rabbi Aaron Kotler (Ez Hayim. of Kletzk), Rabbi Eliezer Yehuda Finkel (Mir), Rabbi Echanan Wasserman (Ohel Torah of Baranowitz), Rabbi Abraham Yaphin (Beit Yoseph of Bialystok), Rabbi Mendel Zacks (Radin), and Rabbi Shabtai Yogel (Slonim).34


Upon arrival in Vilna, the generally penniless rabbis and yeshivah students turned to Rabbi Chaim Ozer Grodzinski for aid. He wrote and cabled colleagues and former students throughout the world soliciting funds. The refugee scholars were housed temporarily in local synagogues and houses of study where they continued their studies.35 The United Refugee Committee, consisting of representatives from all refugee groups, was established in Vilna. Headed by Dr. Jacob Robinson, this committee distributed the aid received from the JDC and represented the refugees before Lithuanian authorities. (The Vaad ha-Yeshivot represented the rabbis and yeshivah students on the United Refugee Committee.)36 The JDC allocated $22 (US) per refugee per month 37 and Rabbi Grodzinski attempted to obtain additional sums for the rabbis and yeshivah students.

Rabbi Grodzinski's appeal resulted in donations from Jewish communities throughout the world.38 Clothing was collected in Lithuania and abroad and sent to Vilna for the refugee scholars.39 Rabbi Grodzinski turned to his former student Rabbi Eliezer Silver of Cincinnati for assistance. Eliezer Silver was a prominent figure in the American orthodox community and a leader of the Aguclat ha-Rabbanim, the leading orthodox organization in the United States at that time. Agudat ha-Rabbanim decided at an emergency meeting held in mid-November 1940 to establish an Emergency Committee for war-torn yeshivot. The goal of this committee, which eventually became the Vaad ha-Hatzalah (or Vaad Hatzolah, as it was popularly referred to), was to transfer the yeshivot from Lithuania to safety abroad; half were to go to Erez Israel, half to the United States. From its inception, the Vaad had two major tasks: 1) fund raising for assisting students and rabbis in Vilna; and 2) arranging for the emigration of the yeshivot.40

The financial situation of the refugees was relatively difficult until the committee and various independent individuals raised and sent money to Vilna. Nevertheless, the scholars could continue their studies.41 Most of the yeshivot that had moved to Vilna continued their work. Students from those yeshivot that had remained in Poland now attended others.42 In addition, two kollels of refugee Polish rabbis were established in Vilna.43 Besides financial assistance, Rabbi Grodzinski and the members of the Vaad ha-Yeshivot obtained the necessary permits to allow them to remain in Vilna. Funds were also allocated to help smuggle additional family members from Soviet-occupied Poland into Vilna.44

In January 1940, the Lithuanian government decreed that all refugees who had arrived in Vilna after it was annexed by Lithuania had to leave the city. The decree was not directed specifically against Jews but was designed to ensure the demographic and cultural hegemony of the Lithuanians, who had constituted only a relatively small percentage of the city's population during the interwar period.45 Rabbi Grodzinski and the Vaad ha-Yeshivot actually welcomed this decree.46 Although relocating the yeshivot entailed numerous difficulties (such as their distance from the center of activity in Vilna), they believed that the atmosphere in rural Lithuania would be more conducive to intensive study and therefore beneficial to the students.47

During the winter months, the yeshivot began their move to the countryside, and each yeshivah usually moved into a different small village. Thus, for example, the Mir yeshivah moved to Kedainiai; Kamenetz moved to Raseiniai; Baranowitz to Troki; and Beit Yoseph from Bialystok to Birz. In several instances, students from one yeshivah were divided and sent to several different localities. The yeshivot forced to relocate their students in different towns were the Radin yeshivah, which moved to Otian and Eisiskiai, and the Ez Hayim yeshivah of Kletzk, which divided its students between Janova, Dushat, and Salok. Many smaller yeshivot and some of the independent refugee scholars stayed in Vilna.48 According to JDC statistics, 1,370 yeshivah students relocated to rural villages, while 607 remained in the city of Vilna; an additional 240 students stayed in the district of Vilna.49

Although the roshei yeshivot approved the transfer of their institutions to the countryside, they realized that this move was only a temporary expedient. They hoped to relocate to more permanent academies abroad in Erez Israel and the United States. In fact, several roshei yeshivot attempted to obtain visas for either destination immediately upon their arrival in Vilna. For example, as early as mid-November 1939, Rabbi Grodzinski wrote to Rabbi Herzog, the chief rabbi of Palestine, that the Mir and Kamenetz yeshivot were ready to go to Palestine.50 One month later, Rabbi Grodzinski wrote to Rabbi Meir Karelitz in Palestine that Rabbi Aaron Kotler of the Kletzk yeshivah was also interested in immigration to Erez Israel.51 During the winter of 1939-40, Rabbi Herzog received many requests for Palestine certificates.52

Rabbi Herzog and the Agudat Israel (in Palestine) tried to help rabbis and students stranded in Vilna. Rabbi Herzog proposed a special plan to facilitate the entry of hundreds of rabbis into Palestine. His proposal was rejected by the British, who refused to deviate from their immigration policies under the 1939 White Paper, although Rabbi Herzog had obtained financial guarantees for supporting the prospective immigrants from the American Agudat ha-Rabbanim.

Despite increased support for immigration to Palestine or the United States, many roshei yeshivot preferred to stay in Lithuania. They believed, or hoped, that it would be possible to stay where they were for the duration of the war. They hoped that Lithuania would not be overrun by either the Nazis or the Soviets. Rabbi Grodzinski supported this position, although he actively tried to obtain visas to Erez Israel both for himself and others.53 It is possible that Rabbi Grodzinski's public stand supporting remaining in Lithuania stemmed from the pragmatic wish to avoid panic and despair among the refugees. He knew that it was virtually impossible to obtain visas for all of the rabbis and students, and thus he publicly opposed efforts for mass emigration. In a letter to Rabbi Silver, Grodzinski stated: "Meanwhile, Torah is lying in the corner."54 [The reference is to Lithuania.] Apparently, Rabbi Grodzinski believed that the yeshivot were temporarily safe, but that this haven could also become a potential trap. Rabbi Joseph Shub, the secretary of the Vaad ha-Yeshivot, also opposed emigration, and the public position of these two leaders moderated communal pressure to leave.55

It is likely that several factors affected the yeshiva students: lack of funds to purchase visas and passports, the large amount of time required to deal with bureaucracies, and the absence of simple solutions to the growing threat for those remaining in Lithuania.56 Throughout the entire period of Lithuanian independence, there were no collective or large- scale attempts by the yeshivot to obtain immigration documents. It is noteworthy that the Vaad ha-Hatzalah sent a special emissary to Lithuania to deal with immigrationrelated issues.57

SOVIET INVASION OF LITHUANIA AND EMIGRATION FROM THE SOVIET UNION, JUNE 1940 JUNE 1941 The situation changed drastically in June 1940, when the Russians invaded Lithuania; two months later, the independent Baltic republic was formally annexed to the Soviet Union. As a result, many of the roshei yeshivot and their students began more urgent attempts to leave Lithuania. Aid from outside organizations for the Torah scholars, the limited number of available Palestine certificates, and the difficulty of obtaining American visas were only a few of the difficulties they faced. There were also many other technical problems: obtaining necessary transit visas, locating adequate means of transportation, and finding safe travel routes from Lithuania to new homes abroad. The technical problems involved in organizing this emigration were magnified when the Russians decreed that all foreign diplomatic offices in Lithuania were to cease operations by September 1,1940. Another problem was securing Soviet exit permits. The Soviet authorities did not allow free emigration, and the Torah scholars' chances of leaving Russia were not promising. Despite the seemingly hopeless situation, a new and unexpected rescue possibility developed.

In early summer 1940, after the Soviet occupation of Lithuania, Nathan Gutwirth, a Dutch citizen studying at the Telshe yeshivah, sought asylum in one of the overseas Dutch colonies since he could not return to Holland, which had already been conquered by the Nazis in May 1940. Before his departure, Gutwirth approached Jan Zwartendijk, the honorary Dutch consul in Kovno, and they decided that Gutwirth would go to the Carribean island of Curacao. Since Zwartendijk was only an honorary consul, he could not issue the required visa. Therefore, he turned to L.P. Decker, the Dutch consul in Riga (capital of Latvia). Decker informed Zwartendijk that entry to Curacao was contingent only upon approval of the island's governor and that Gutwirth did not need a visa. Zwartendijk thereupon agreed to give Gutwirth a document confirming that he was allowed to enter Curacao for the regular visa fee of 11 Lithuanian lits (equivalent to $2). At Gutwirth's request, Zwartendijk omitted the qualification stipulating that permission to enter Curacao was contingent upon approval by the island's governor.

Gutwirth showed this visa to Zerach Warhaftig, a prominent religious Zionist in the Polish Mizrachi and one of the leaders of Polish refugees in Lithuania. Warhaftig suggested that Gutwirth ask Zwartendijk if he would be willing to issue such "visas" to non-Dutch individuals. Zwartendijk agreed to help, and Warhaftig informed the Polish refugees of this propitious development. Within a short time, the Dutch consul was deluged with requests for visas to Curacao. The Dutch consulate had, however, received Soviet orders to close, limiting the time when refugees could obtain such visas. Despite the problems, Zwartendijk issued between 1,200 and 1,400 Curacao visas to Jewish refugees, including many to rabbis and yeshivah studenta.58

Once Curacao visas were obtained, the next problem was identifying an exit route. The only route still open to Curacao was via the Far East. Western Europe was already occupied by the Nazis, and thus refugees would have to travel through the Soviet Union and Japan. Several Jewish refugees approached the Japanese consulate in Kovno and applied for transit visas to Curacao. Senpo Sugihara, the local Japanese consul, cabled Tokyo for instructions but did not receive an answer. On August 11, he began issuing japanese transit visas to all applicants, even to those lacking Curacao visas or other travel documents. Nine days later-on August 20-Sugihara received an emergency cable from the Japanese Foreign Office instructing him immediately to cease issuing transit visas. Sugihara had already planned to close the Japanese consulate at the end of August pursuant to the new Soviet directives, but he continued issuing visas until the end of the month. By August 31, 1940, Sugihara and his two assistants (an ethnic German named Gecke and a student from the Mir yeshivah) distributed visas to almost 3,500 refugees, including many rabbis and yeshivah students.59

Once these Japanese transit visas had been obtained, only one obstacle to emigration remained: absence of the Soviet exit permit. This was, however, a formidable obstacle. Several attempts to convince Soviet authorities to allow the refugees to emigrate ensued: Zerach Warhaftig met with the new deputy prime minister of Lithuania, Globetski, and also simultaneously tried to convince the Soviet official in charge of Lithuania affairs, Pozniakov, through the mediation of Pozniakov's Jewish physician, Dr. Elkes. Rabbi Herzog also tried to influence the Russians and corresponded with Ivan Maisky, Soviet ambassador in London; Herzog had met Maisky in February 1940 during his earlier efforts helping Talmud scholars emigrate from Lithuania to Palestine.

Globetski asked Warhaftig to submit a memorandum on the situation of the Polish refugees in Lithuania as well as a list of all potential emigrants from the Soviet Union. Since it was unclear whether those listed would be allowed to leave or would be deported to Siberia, the list was submitted with much trepidation to Soviet authorities. Fortunately, their fears were unfounded, and in August 1940, Globetski and Pozniakov informed them that Soviet exit permits would be given to any Polish refugee possessing a visa. Prospective emigrants were investigated by the secret police and were required to write lengthy essays explaining their desire to leave Russia. Although these bureaucratic procedures were cumbersome and often intimidating, permits were granted enabling departure from the Soviet Union.60

The sole remaining problem was raising money for the journey. After granting exit permits, the Soviet authorities decided that travel expenses had to be paid in dollars, although it was illegal to possess foreign currency in the Soviet Union. Under these circumstances, the refugees were once again forced to turn for help to overseas Jewish relief organizations, especially the JDC and the Vaad ha-Hatzalah. These two organizations immediately sent funds to Lithuania to facilitate emigration. Those who obtained the necessary documents and funds set out by train from Kovno to Vladivostok. From there they sailed to the Japanese port of Tsoruga and were afterwards transferred to Kobe, home of Japan's largest Jewish community, which consisted of about fifty families. The refugees were welcomed by representatives from this community and the Committee for Assistance to Refugees (commonly referred to as the Jewcom), which assumed responsibility for the newcomers with the Japanese authorities and also attempted to help the material plight of these refugees.

During the same period, new opportunities also emerged for emigration to Palestine: once the Soviets had agreed to grant exit permits to Polish refugees with visas, those with Palestine certificates were permitted to leave. From August 1940 to April 1941, approximately 1,200 persons went to Palestine via Odessa and Istanbul.61 This group included several well-known rabbinic personalities, such as Rabbi Eliezer Yehuda Finkel of the Mir yeshivah; Rabbi Shabtai Yogel of Slonim; and Rabbi Eliezer Shach of Kletzk.62

The number of certificates allocated to rabbis and yeshivah students was limited; moreover, few Torah scholars had a completely free choice about where to relocate. Although many, perhaps even the majority, of these refugee scholars preferred Erez Israel over other destinations, few could go there.63 Despite the efforts of Rabbi Herzog and the Palestinian branch of Agudat Israel, the British refused to increase the allocation of certificates to rabbis. Apart from the previously mentioned roshei yeshivot (Rabbis Finkel, Yogel, and Shach), none of the other outstanding Polish roshei yeshivot reached Palestine, even though many held valid certificates.64 Since their students were not granted permits by the British government, their sense of responsibility precluded emigration, unless the entire yeshivah could emigrate together as a unit.65 It was often already too late to obtain Curacao visas, and the only available option was to route travel via the Far East. Many were thus stuck in Lithuania. Several roshei yeshivot succeeded in emigrating to the United States; these held American visas and obviously did not need visas for Curacao or Japan.66 Their choice was not between Erez Israel and the Diaspora. In most instances, the pattern of emigration was determined by individual circumstance rather than by ideological considerations.

Parallel to attempts to persuade the Russians to allow Jewish emigration from Lithuania, orthodox organizations lobbied throughout the world to obtain visas for rabbis and students. The most important group was the Vaad ha-Hatzalah, which renewed efforts to bring yeshivot to the United States after the Soviet annexation of Lithuania. The Vaad had previously hoped to divide Torah academies equally between Palestine and America, but after their failure to obtain Palestine certificates, they concentrated on the United States. They attempted to influence the State Department, which was the agency responsible for issuing visas, and they also tried to convince the JDC to assist the transfer of the yeshivot.

The Vaad leaders encountered opposition from almost all major American Jewish organizations to the emigration of approximately 2,500 rabbis, yeshivah students, and family dependents; these American organizations feared that the arrival of such a large group would arouse antisemitism.67 At a meeting of all major American Jewish organizations on August 15, 1940, in the New York offices of JDC, the leaders of the Vaad ha-Hatzalah presented their plan for the evacuation of the yeshivot from Lithuania to the United States. Except for delegates from the orthodox organizations, the others (American Jewish Committee, American Jewish Congress, B'nal B'rith, and HIAS) opposed this proposal for "practical reasons" (in the words of Stephen Wise). The participants decided to establish a committee to study the problem and decide future policies.

This committee recommended that Jewish organizations request only a limited numbers of visas, and rejected implementation of the Vaad ha-Hatzalah plan.68 A delegation subsequently sent to Washington met with Assistant Secretary of State Breckenridge Long and submitted lists of individuals for whom visas were requested. In many instances, visas were received.69 By September 18, 1940, 732 special emergency visas were issued to "leaders of the intellectual thought of the Jewish religion and leading exponents of the Talmudic schools and colleges together with their families," including several roshei yeshivol. The Vaad tried to obtain additional visas, but the State Department responded with increasing inflexibility. Long, who had initially approved several emergency visas for rabbis, was no longer willing to help. He advised a delegation of rabbis that those seeking emergency visas should submit applications for regular visas (a process requiring years and with minimal chances of success). Despite State Department intransigence, the Vaad continued its efforts to obtain U.S. visas and to assemble the required financial affidavits for prospective immigrants. These activities became increasingly urgent because of concurrent developments in Soviet Lithuania.

On January 1, 1941, the Soviet authorities in Lithuania announced that by January 25, all refugees in Lithuania had either to accept Soviet citizenship or become stateless.70 This decree accelerated preparations for departure among many refugee rabbis and students. Very few had already left Lithuania since only a limited number of people had obtained visas for Curacao before the Dutch consulate closed. Although many refugees had obtained Japanese transit visas, these were worthless without visas for a final destination. This problem was solved when the Dutch consul, Decker, prior to his departure from Riga, left instructions that refugees requesting Curacao visas should henceforth submit applications to the Dutch Embassy in Stockholm, which would issue the documents. Consequently, yeshivah students turned for help to Rabbi Schlomo (Wilhelm) Wolbe, a former student of the Mir yeshivah, residing in Stockholm. Rabbi Wolbe contacted A.M. de Jong, the Dutch consul in Stockholm, and submitted applications for refugee rabbis and students. From early January to April 7, 1941, de Jong issued 2,386 Curacao visas; approximately 1,000 of them went to rabbis and students specified by Rabbi Wolbe.71 With these documents in hand, many of the refugees could obtain Soviet exit permits enabling them to leave for the Far East.

The number of refugees leaving the Soviet Union increased. Funds raised primarily by the JDC and the Vaad ha-Hatzalah covered transportation expenses for those with valid emigration documentation."72 Approximately 2,200 refugees, including ca. 650 rabbis, yeshivah students, and their family members left Lithuania for the Far East.73

This is perhaps the most appropriate point to deal in a more comprehensive manner with the attitude of the roshei Yeshivot to emigration attempts via the Far East. As previously mentioned, roshei yeshivot sought to transfer their schools abroad immediately after arrival in Vilna. Developments in Lithuania after Soviet annexation reinforced these trends. Almost all of the roshei yeshivot opposed efforts to obtain visas for Curacao and Japan, even if they favored immigration in principle. This opposition had two causes: 1) fear of the Soviets, and 2) doubts regarding the feasibility of escape via the Far East. Testimonies by former yeshivah students from Lithuania show that many of the rabbis feared that the emigration scheme was a Soviet ruse, designed to uncover opponents of the Communist regime.74 Thus, for example, Rabbi Aaron Kotler said that the entire matter was sakanat nefashot (a matter of life and death) and reprimanded several of his students who had submitted requests for Soviet exit permits. He claimed that they would be deported to Siberia along with their entire yeshivah.75 Many rabbis thought it useless to obtain exit documents because of the enormous expense and large amount of time required.76 A few ridiculed those refugees who obtained such documents and sometimes even tore the documents to pieces, deciding that they were worthless.77

It is possible that the desire of the roshei yeshivot to arrange collective emigration was an added factor contributing to their skepticism."78 Each rosh yeshivah sought to preserve his own yeshivah and considered its survival as an intact unit his personal responsibility. It is likely that they opposed the Curacao scheme because they considered the possibility of transplanting an entire yeshivah to the Caribbean via Japan highly improbable. Moreover, even if their institutions could reach Curacao safely, that remote island was hardly considered an ideal location. Fear and doubt reinforced each other among the Polish refugees in Lithuania, and this, in turn, prevented more active support of emigration through the Far East and the Caribbean.

We must also remember that after January 1940, most yeshivah students were scattered in rural areas and cut off from Vilna. This diffusion made it difficult to organize any mass emigration. Some of the students acted on their own initiative to arrange for their departure from Lithuania. This was especially true in the Mir yeshivah. Rabbi Eliezer Finkel, the rosh yeshivah, began, immediately after his arrival in Vilna, to make arrangements for the transfer of the entire yeshivah to Erez Israel. Even before the Russians arrived, he adopted tactics unusual in the yeshivah world, in order to arrange for the emigration of his students. For example, he gave yeshivah funds to one student, Eliezer Portnoy, instructing him to go to Kovno to explore emigration possibilities, especially to Palestine. Despite Finkel's pro-emigration stance, he initially opposed the Far East travel route. His students, however, approved of the idea and enlisted the aid of Zerach Warhaftig in order to convince their rosh yeshivah that the idea was feasible. In the end, Rabbi Finkel was convinced and issued instructions to obtain visas for all the students. Although they too feared deportation to Siberia, they nevertheless decided to accept the risk. All of the necessary documents were obtained, and practically all of the students were able to leave the Soviet Union for Japan. Mir was the only yeshivah which left Lithuania almost completely intact.79

It is possible that if the roshei yeshivot had made a concerted effort to urge their students to obtain visas, the number of those leaving would have been much greater. It should be noted that several roshei yeshivot rescued via this route were initially opponents of this plan; these rabbis had left Lithuania with special American emergency visas. By the time they reached Japan, however, it was too late to try to obtain either japanese or Curacao visas for their students. When it finally became clear that entry into America or Palestine was impossible, it was too late to rectify their earlier indifference to resettlement via Curacao.


All Jewish refugees arriving in Japan were transferred to Kobe. In most cases, the arriving refugees were practically penniless and in urgent need of financial assistance. The local committee that aided the refugees had limited resources and could not cope with the needs of hundreds of refugees. A more serious problem arose concerning the refugees' presence in Japan. Their entry had been approved on the basis of Curacao visas and the Japanese transit visas issued by Sugihara in Kovno. The latter documents were only valid for two weeks, whereas the former visas were essentially fictitious since the governor of Curacao certainly had no intention of admitting hundreds of Jewish refugees to the island. Most of the refugees were thus stranded illegally in Japan and had no possibility of leaving. The local authorities were aware of their problem, and the refugees feared that the Japanese would deport them to the Soviet Union, stop the entry of additional refugees to Japan, and thereby block any exit channel from the Soviet Union."80

Under these circumstances, the leaders of the "Jewcom" turned to Professor Kotsuji, a Bible scholar considered an expert on Jewish affairs and a former employee of the Japanese Foreign Minister Matsuoko. Kotsuji visited his former employer and asked him to permit the refugees to stay in Japan. Matsuoko initially refused to accede to the professor's entreaty but eventually agreed not to take any steps against the refugees as long as the Kobe local police agreed to their presence in the city. Kotsuji also obtained Matsuoko's agreement to allow the entry into Japan of a refugee group that had already been ordered to return to Vladivostok under the new Japanese decrees. After his meeting with Matsuoko, Kotsuji borrowed 300,000 yen (approximately $60,000) from a rich uncle and bribed the Kobe police, who agreed to permit the refugees to remain in the city until they could emigrate, provided they renewed their visas on a weekly basis. The refugees naturally agreed to this arrangement and were thus saved from expulsion to the Soviet Union.81

With the temporary solution of their residence problems in Japan, the refugees and Jewish relief organizations increased their efforts to find more secure refuge for those already in Japan as well as for the many stranded rabbis and students in the Soviet Union. The Vaad ha-Hatzalah sent a young American businessman, Frank (Efraim) Newman, as their special emissary to Japan to facilitate the emigration of rabbis and yeshivah students. Newman was friendly with the members of the Zeirei Agudat Israel, an organization closely affiliated with the Vaad ha-Hatzalah, which assisted this rabbinic rescue organization. After approximately four and one half months in Japan, Newman was assisting with the procurement of American visas and in all efforts to extricate additional rabbis and students from Lithuania.82 During these months, the Vaad ha-Hatzalah raised funds for refugee scholars' transportation expenses from Lithuania to Japan. Between January and April 1941, the Vaad spent more than $80,000; only the JDC spent more.83 The Vaad ha-Hatzalah specialized in assistance to Torah scholars (with one exception), whereas the JDC helped every Jewish refugee regardless of affiliation or ideology.

In early 1941, the leaders of the refugee community in Japan obtained additional Japanese entry visas by signing an agreement with the Nippon Yushen Kaisha (N.Y.K.) shipping line. This contract allotted a visa for every Jewish refugee purchasing a ticket for one of their ships. N.Y.K. submitted a list of names (provided by refugee leaders in Japan) to the Japanese embassy in Moscow, which then issued the visas. This enabled many refugees, previously unable to obtain Japanese visas from Sugihara during the summer of 1940, to leave the Soviet Union. Technical arrangements with the Japanese stipulated that the Japanese consul in Moscow receive a name list from the shipping company and transmit this list to the Kovno branch of Intourist (the Russian state travel agency), which assumed responsibility for making the necessary travel arrangements to Moscow, where the Japanese visas were finally picked up.84

In March 1941, the Japanese government issued orders to suspend the issuance of all entry visas for Jewish refugees and also halted the distribution of transit visas by the Japanese embassy in Moscow.85 Although this decree did not cause a complete cessation of Jewish immigration to Japan, it did severely hamper efforts to rescue additional Torah scholars. Prior to the issuance of this decree, several hundred rabbis and yeshivah students entered Japan, but an additional 2,000 still remained in Lithuania. Moreover, a group of approximately seventy Jewish refugees (including forty rabbis and students) had reached Vladivostok in the winter of 1940-1941 and were now stranded in the Soviet port city. The Russians threatened to deport them back to Lithuania if they were unable to continue their journey.86 Frank Newman and Zerach Warhaftig hoped to remove this obstacle by going to Shanghai and obtaining entry permits to this city. They believed that Shanghai permits would: 1) convince the Japanese to cancel the order prohibiting Jewish entry to Japan; 2) open a haven that would enable additional Jews to depart from the Soviet Union; and 3) save those refugees stranded in Vladivostok.87 Newman and Warhaftig were aided by a local rabbi, Meir Ashkenazi, and succeeded in obtaining several hundred Shanghai permits. These were, however, insufficient for all the refugee scholars still in Lithuania.88 The first permits were allocated to the refugees in Vladivostok, and most of them arrived in Shanghai as a group on May 1, 1941. It should be noted that this group included several nonobservant Jews as well as rabbis and yeshivah students.89 It is unclear whether the permits were distributed according to any clear rescue priorities. Despite contrary rumors in Japan, the Soviets acknowledged the validity of Shanghai permits, although it is doubtful that any Jewish refugees left the Soviet Union after May 1941.90

Despite decrees prohibiting the entry of Jewish refugees into Japan and the discontinuance of Japanese transit visas by the Japanese Moscow embassy, more than 500 additional Jewish refugees reached Japan by August 1941. During 1940 and 1941, a total of 2,178 Polish Jewish refugees arrived in Japan; this figure included 79 rabbis and 341 yeshivah students as well as their wives and children.91 Adding to this the number of refugees arriving in Shanghai directly from Vladivostok, it is clear that more than 600 rabbis, yeshivah students, and family dependents reached Shanghai. Many in this group were affiliated with the Mir yeshivah. Some of these refugees reached the United States in 1941, including six famous rabbis: Aaron Kotler and Reuven Grazowsky (Kamenetz yeshivah); Mendel Zacks (Radin yeshivah); Abraham Yaphin (Belt Yoseph yeshivah of Bialystok); David Lifschutz (head of the Suwalki rabbinical court); and Moses Schatzkes (head of the Lomza rabbinical court).92

Before American entry into the war, and despite the energetic attempts of the Vaad ha-Hatzalah to secure American visas, very few rabbis and students reached the United States. The Vaad also sought havens in other countries, including Latin American nations. For example, in May 1941, the Vaad sent Dr. Samuel Schmidt to Paraguay, Brazil, and Argentina to obtain entry visas for these countries. Although it was apparently feasible to transfer some refugees to Paraguay, none of the rabbis and yeshivah students went there.93 The plans for emigration to other South American countries were never realized.94

Efforts to have refugee scholars admitted to Canada were somewhat more successful. After extensive lobbying, eighty entry visas for rabbis and yeshivah students were finally obtained.95 The first group, consisting of twenty-nine refugees, sailed from Shanghai to the United States and arrived in Canada on October 24, 1941. The remaining fifty-one refugees in this group delayed their departure until after the Jewish High Holidays but encountered difficulties in booking a later passage and were forced to remain in Shanghai for the duration of the war.96


The Japanese authorities, never pleased by the arrival of hundreds of Jewish refugees, had attempted to stop their entry. As time passed, the Japanese desire to be rid of the refugees increased. In the summer of 1941, as Japan prepared for war with the United States, they took steps to expel all foreigners, including Jewish refugees. From August to October 1941, the refugees were transferred from Kobe to the International Settlement of Shanghai, where the overwhelming majority remained until the end of World War II.97 A small group of rabbis and students emigrated to Canada in the fall of 1941 and four others left as part of the Japanese-Allied population exchange in 1942.98 The remaining 500 refugees remained in Shanghai throughout the war and thus survived. It is important to summarize those aspects of the rescue of rabbis and yeshivah students in the Far East that are of special significance for our understanding of rescue attempts during the Holocaust. A relatively large number of Torah scholars were ultimately rescued through this route, including a large number of students from the Mir yeshivah. Why were so many rabbis and students saved? Several factors were responsible: 1) the ages of the individuals involved; 2) the unique characteristics of this episode, including outside assistance and group solidarity by rabbis and students in Europe and America; and 3) decisions made by refugee leaders. Each factor will be considered briefly.

Age played an important role in rescue. Most of the individuals saved were relatively young single students between the ages of 16 and 25. Their relative mobility influenced several decisions crucial to survival by emigration. They obviously found it easier to make the initial move to Vilna and subsequently to escape to the Far East, a route that appeared risky and threatening because of its unfamiliarity. Such decisions would have been harder to make when entire families were involved.

A number of unique coincidences and special circumstances were involved in this episode: the temporary return of Vilna to Lithuania, the availability of Curacao and Japanese transit visas, and Soviet willingness to grant exit permits. Torah scholars benefitted from these relatively unusual simultaneous occurrences.

Aid provided by the Vaad ha-Hatzalah and the JDC was crucial to the rescue of scholars. The American Jewish relief organizations maintained the refugees in Lithuania and Japan, and also paid for their transportation from Kovno to Kobe. Moreover, the unceasing efforts of the Vaad to obtain American visas and their continuous pressure to take whatever steps considered necessary for the rescue of rabbis and yeshivah students contributed to their success and resulted In the relatively large percentage of survivors.

Another factor was the solidarity of the entire yeshivah group. This influenced several decisions, as for example the initial decision to move to Vilna in intact schools. Furthermore, they knew that Rabbi GrodzinskI would do everything possible to rescue them and this undoubtedly influenced student decisions. It can be assumed also that the rabbis and students knew that they could turn to alumni of these yeshivot among orthodox Jews in the United States and Palestine, thereby creating opportunities unavailable to other groups. The group solidarity of the Torah scholars was evident throughout the entire period. After the border between Lithuania and Soviet-occupied Poland was closed, special efforts were made to smuggle Polish rabbis and yeshivah students to Lithuania. Furthermore, the work of the Vaad ha-Hatzalah of the Union of Orthodox Rabbis in the United States, of Rabbi Herzog, Agudat Israel, and other orthodox organizations enhanced the cohesiveness of the yeshivot. Their leaders were motivated by a strong sense of personal responsibility to rescue yeshivot, a feeling stemming from the brotherhood of those who share an ideological commitment to a prescribed way of life. Many advocates of relief and rescue had previously studied in the threatened Polish yeshivot and personally knew the roshei yeshivot and members of their families.

The final factor that contributed significantly to survival was the role of Jewish leaders in the orthodox world. Given the dominant position of the roshei yeshivot, the crucial question is the extent to which their position influenced their students and determined their fate. In most yeshivot, the initiative for action came from the students, while the roshei yeshivot were initially hesitant and only slowly followed their students' lead. This was true not only for the move to Vilna but applied even more to emigration to the Far East, which many rabbis opposed. We must pose the question whether more yeshivah students would have been saved if the roshei yeshivot had not opposed the Curacao scheme. Given their deepseated fears of the Soviet regime, would the roshei yeshivot have been prepared to risk emigration via Japan had they not already held visas to the United States and Palestine, and also had they not hoped that their students could also obtain such visas? The available documentation does not provide unequivocal answers to these questions, but upon careful examination, I believe that we must respond affirmatively.

An analysis of the rescue of Polish rabbis and yeshivah students thus provides us with unique insights into the nature of rescue during the Holocaust. This episode was only one of many initiatives during the period, and a focus on the decision-making problems involved in it helps explain why the number of those rescued was so small. Such analysis contributes crucial elements to our understanding of relief and rescue activities during the Holocaust.


Research for this article was made possible by grants from the Memorial Foundation for Jewish Culture, the National Foundation for Jewish Culture, and an award from the Sir Avigdor d'Goldsmid Scholarship Fund.

1. For background on the Polish yeshivot, see Shmuel Mirsky, Mosdot ha-Torah be-Ayropa be-Binyanam u-be-Churbanam (New York, 1957).

2. In 1937-1938, for example, 100 of the 477 advanced students (ages 17-30) at the Mir yeshivah came from outside Poland: 40 from Germany, 28 from the United States, 12 from England, and the rest from Austria, France, Belgium, Sweden, Hungary, Romania, Czechoslovakia, Latvia, and Switzerland. List of the faculty and students sent to the directors of the Central Relief Committee on March 6, 1938, in possession of the author, received from Rabbi Joseph David Epstein, the personal secretary of Rabbi Eliczcr Ychuda Finkel, the rosh yeshivah of Mir. The author would like to thank Rabbi Epstein for his assistance.

3. Letter of Abraham Horowitz, secretary of the Central Relief Committec to Dr. Cyrus Adler, chairman of the Cultural Committee of the JDC; March 15, 1939; Archives of the JDC, New York [hereafter cited as AJDC].

4. During the 1930s there was a sharp rise in the number of students at several yeshivot, especially Kamenctz (from 122 students in 1928-1929 to 326 in 1937- 1938); Kletzk (from 149 to 244), Mir (from 350 to 477); Beit Joseph Bialystok (from 210 to 317); and Brisk (from 112 to 207). There was a more moderate rise in the number of students matriculated at Baranowitz, Grodno, and Slonim. There was no change in the number of students at the other yeshivot, with the exception of Ramailes and Kobin, where there was a slight decrease. The statistics for 1928-29 arc from "Yekapa" oyf di Churvos fun Milchomes un Mehumos Pinkas fun Gegent Komitet Yekapa in Vilna, 1919-1930 (Vilna, 1931), 699. The figures for 1937-38 are from the "1938 Digest of Data, Orthodox Higher Educational Institutions Supported by the joint Distribution Committee through the Central Relief Committee"; Archives of the Central Relief Committee, Yeshiva University, New York.

5. Thus, for example, all the leaders of Agudat ha-Rabbanim studied in either Polish or Lithuanianyeshi'vot; the same applies to leading Ashkenazic rabbis in Erez Israel. Many of the leaders of orthodox political movements- Mizrachl, Aguclat Israel, Hapoel ha-Mizrachi, and Poalei Aguclat Israel-also studied in these yeshivot.

6. Aaron Sursky, ed., Achiezer: Kovetz Iggrot shel Rabbi Chaim Ozer Grodzinskizil (Bnei Brak, 1970), 134.

7. See the table on aid sent by JDC to Polish yeshivot in 193 7 in Zosa Szajkowski, "Budgeting American Jewish Overseas Relief, 1919-193 9,11 American Jewish Historical Quarterly 59, 1 (Sept. 1969): 111. Figures on the funds sent by Ezrat Torah may be found in jubilee Book of Esras Torah, 1915-1935 (New York, 1936), 26; and Oscar Rand, ed., Eidut le- Yisrael (New York, n.d.), 296.

8. Among the roshei yeshivot who travelled to the United States to raise funds were Rabbis Eliezer Yehuda Finkel from Mir, Yechiel Michael Gordon from Lomza, Aaron Kotler from Kletzk, Shimon Shkopf from Grodno, Elchanan Wasserman from Baranowitz, and Boruch Ber Leibowitz from Kamenetz.

9. See Sefer ha- Yovel shel Agudat ha-Rabban im ha- Orthodoksim de-A rzot ha - Brit ve Kanada (New York, 1928), 196; Mirsky, I 10- 116.

10. See above, n. 2.

11. Thus, for example, Rabbi Jacob Levinson, one of the leaders of the Vaad ha- Hatzalah explained the rationale for the special efforts to rescue the yeshivot:

When things were as they should be, the pipe of influence stretched from Europe via the wide sea to us Jews of America, and all the Torah and loyal rabbinate that we acquire in this country comes from there. The roshei yeshivot, the great Torah scholars who are spreading the light of their Torah in America . . . are products of the yeshivot of Poland and Lithuania . . . . .. Hovat ha-Hatzalah," Ha-Pardes 14, 11 (Feb. 1941): 11-12.

12. The orthodox journalist Shmuel Rothstein described this feeling: "No one doubted that the Soviet regime would place its heavy hand on the yeshivot as it had in Russia. The roshei yeshivot and students would be arrested and exiled and what would happen to the Torah?" Shmuel Rothstein, Achiezer,- ha-Gaon Rabbeinu Chaim Ozer Groazinskirni- Vilna Chayv U-Peulotav (Tel Aviv, 1960), 51-52. It should also be noted that in the past, religious groups had been involved in many controversies with the socialists regarding the kehilla, and, to some extent, this reinforced their apprehensions about the arrival of the Communists.

13. It is interesting to note that after the Soviet occupation, several students of the Kamenetz yeshivah wanted to flee to western Poland, i.e., the German-occupied sector. The Germans had entered Kamenetz at the beginning of the war but subsequently retreated in accordance with the terms of the Molotov-Ribbentrop agreement. During their stay in the city, the Germans had not harmed the yeshivah, and perhaps that explains this strange phenomenon. Yitzhak Edelstein, Ha-Rav Baruch Ber Leibowitz (Tel Aviv, 1957), 45.

14. See Elchanan Herzman, Mofait ha-Dor Uerusalem, 1976), which includcs a section entitled "The Miracle of the Rescue of the Mir Yeshivah," in which the author recounts his recollections. According to Herzman, the news regarding the return of Vilna to the Lithuanians was received on October 9. This date was confirmed in an interview by the author with Rabbi Yaakov Nayman on June 26, 1977 [hereafter cited as Rabbi Nayman interview]. At that time, Rabbi Nayman was a student at the Baranowitz yeshivah.

15. Hillel Seidman, "Yeshivat Ez Hayim de-Kletzk," in Mirsky, Mosdot, 238.

16. Yoseph David Epstein, "Yeshivat Mir," ibid., 117.

17. See the diary of Rabbi Yitzchak Edelstein, "Bi-Yemei Sufa," prepared for publication by Dina Porat, Galed 3: 329-330 [hereafter cited as Edelstein diary].

18. Interviews by the author with Rabbi Asher Czeczyk (student at the Raclin yeshivah), July 5, 1977 [hereafter cited as Rabbi Czeczyk interview]; Rabbi Nayman interview; Rabbi Zelig Epstein (student at the Mir yeshivah), July 7, 1977 [hereafter cited as Rabbi Zelig Epstein interview]; Rabbi Moshe Cohen [student at the Kletzk yeshivah), October 10, 1974 [hereafter cited as Rabbi Cohen interview]; Yad Vashem Archives, 0-31 [hereafter cited as YVA]; and published memoirs such as Herzman, Edelstein diary, and Mirsky.

19. Mirsky, 117; Herzman, 39-40. For information on Kamenetz see Edelstein diary, 326. See also Rabbi Zelig Epstein, "Yeshivah 'Shaar ha-Torah' be-Grodno," Mirsky, 303; Rabbi Moshe Cohen interview; Rabbi Czeczyk interview; and M. Weisbrod, "Beyn ha-Meitzarim," Sefer Zikaron le-Kehillat Lornza, Yom Tov Lewinski, ed. (Tel Aviv, 1952), 83-84.

20. This is evident from lists of Torah scholars whose transportation expenses from Lithuania were paid by the Vaad ha-Hatzalah and from other similar lists submitted for American visas. These lists are located in the archives of the Vaad ha-Hatzalah, Yeshiva University, New York [hereafter cited as AVH], not arranged by file number at the time of access.

21. Edelstein diary, 329.

22. Herzman, 39.

23. Edelstein diary, 330.

24. Ibid., 46.

25. Yitzhak Arad, "Concentration of Refugees in Vilna on the Eve of the Holocaust," Yad Vashem Studies 9 (Jerusalem, 1973): 201-206.

26. Letter from Y.D. Zacks, director of the Center and chairman of the Executive Committee of Zeirel Agudat Israel in Lithuania, to Rabbi Moshe Blau, leader of Aguclat Israel in Palestine, November 17, 1939; Archive of Aguclat Israel in Israel [hereafter AAYEY], file 62; letter of Rabbi Eliyahu Blau, rosh yeshivah of Telshe to Moshe Blau, November 16, 1939, ibid.; Rabbi Nayman interview.

27. Arad, 209; interview with Rabbi Shimon Romm, one of the community rabbis who escaped to Vilna, and formerly a student of the Mir yeshivah, July 27, 1977 [hereafter cited as Rabbi Romm interview].

28. Letter of Rabbi Grodzinski to Dr. Cyrus Adler, December 31, 1939, AJDC.

29. This was true not only for rabbis and yeshivah students, but also for halutzim and members of the Zionist youth movements. See Benzion Benshalom, Be-Salar be- Yom Sufa (Tel Aviv, 1944), 20-24; Moshe Rothenberg, Bikurei Aviv (St. Louis, 1942), 13; Edelstein diary, 335.

30. Rothstein, 53; according to interviews with Rabbi Nayman and Rabbi Zelig Epstein, no emissaries were sent to Poland to encourage the escape of yeshivah students.

31. Arad, 206.

32. Yehuda Bauer, "Rescue Operations through Vilna," Yad Vashem Studies 9 (Jerusalem, 1973): 215. This figure constitutes more than half the students studying in theyeshivot of eastern Poland, which were under the aegis of the Vaad ha-Yeshivot in Vilna.

33. Bauer, 215. It is possible that the number of Torah scholars reaching Vilna was actually higher, since a considerable percentage of the community rabbis (in one interview as high as 90 percent) who reached Lithuania returned to Poland following Grodzinski's advice. According to interviews with those in Vilna at that time, Grodzinski's advice was based partly on the belief that rabbis should not leave either their communities or their families. It is believed that Grodzinski thought Lithuania would be occupied by the Soviet Union and thus escaping to Vilna would not solve any problems, since many rabbis would be forced to return to their villages. Another reason was Grodzinski's personal experience during World War 1, when he had fled from Vilna and was accused when he returned of having abandoned his community, Rabbi Nayman and Rabbi Zelig Epstein interviews.

34. Churbn un Rettung: Die Geshichtefun "Vaad Hatzala " in America (New York, 1957), 156.

35. Ibid., 146.

36. Bauer, 215-217.

37. Edelstein diary, 334.

38. Thus, for example, aid was sent from even relatively small communities in Uruguay. See letter of Rabbi Grodzinski to Rabbi Aaron Milewsky of Montevideo, May 13, 1940; Papers of Rabbi Aaron Milewsky, Jerusalem. The author would like to thank Rabbi Milewsky for his assistance.

39. Rothstein, 56.

40. Eliezer Suvcr,"HatzalatYisrael be-Yamein,"ChurbnunRettung,9-15; "Veida Chatzi-Shanatit Shel Agudat ha-Rabbanim," Ha-Pardes 13, 9 (December 1939): 4- 9.

41. According to reports from Lithuania, the academic level of the students was outstanding. See letter of Rabbi Block to Rabbi Blau, November 16, 1939; AAYEY, file 62.

42. Rothstein, 54.

43. Rabbi Nayman interview.

44. Rothstein, 54.

45. Arad, 209; Bauer, 216.

46. Letter of Rabbi Grodzinski to Rabbi Herzog, January 26, 1940; Archives of Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Halevy Herzog, Heichal Shlomo, Jerusalem [hereafter cited as AYHH]; file of letters from Rabbi Chaim Ozer Grodzinski.

47. Rothstein, 56; Herzman, 47; Rabbi Nayman interview.

48. JDC report, "Refugees Fed as of June 1, 1940," AJDC, Vaad ha-Hatzalah file.

49. Letter of Rabbi Grodzinski to Rabbi Herzog, November 15, 1939, quoted in Sursky, 225-226.

50. Ibid., 226-227.

51. Numerous requests are located in files 32 (aliyah requests by rabbis, Poland and Lithuania) and 33 (requests for the aliyah of rabbis), AYHH.

52. Jacob Goldman, "Rabbi Herzog's First Rescue journey, Niv HaMidrash~a (Winter 1964): 5-7; Dina Porat, "Rikuz ha-Plitim ha-Yehdiim be-Vilna bashanim," 1939-1941 (unpublished M.A. thesis; Tel Aviv University), 59-60 [hereafter cited as Porat]; Churbn un Rettung, 26-27.

53. In February 1940, Rabbi Herzog went to England to persuade the British to allow the entry of rabbis and yeshivah students who had fled from Poland to Lithuania into Palestine. Herzog met with several prominent personalities, including Halifax, Malcolm Macdonald, and the Archbishop of Canterbury, and requested a special allocation of 1,600 certificates (200 for rabbis and 1,400 for yeshivah students). See letters from Aguclat Israel in Palestine to the High Commissioner for Palestine, April 7 and May 7, 1940, about the possibility of enlarging the quotas for rabbis and students; AAYEY, file 106. See also letters from Rabbi Grodzinski to Rabbi Herzog, April 26 and May 3, 1940; AYHH, file 9 and "Rabbinical Certificates Applications, 1940-1941 "; unsigned letter [by Rabbi Moshe Blau] to Jacob Rosenheim, December 17, 1939, AAYEY, file 13; letter from Rabbi Grodzinski to Rabbi Blau, December 15, 1939, AAYEY, file 44. Also Rothstein, 61-62; and Hillel Seidman, Ishim she-Hikarti (Jerusalem, 1970), 257.

54. Letter from Rabbi Grodzinski to Rabbi Silver, February 10, 1940; archives of Rabbi Eliezer Silver. The author would like to thank Rabbi Dr. Aaron Rakeffet (Rothkoft) who made these documents available.

55. Seidman, 257-1 Rabbi Romm interview.

56. Testimony of Zerach Warhaftig, interview no. 2, November 30, 1965, 2-3; Oral History Division, Institute of Contemporary Jewry, Hebrew University, Jerusalem [hereafter cited as Warhaftig testimony]; Rabbi Romm interview.

57. The emissary, Dr. Samuel Schmidt, was a close friend of Rabbi Silver. Schmidt's reports on his mission were published in Every Friday, the Cincinnati Jewish newspaper he edited. He departed on February 8, 1940, and returned to the United States on June 6, 1940. A comprehensive report about this trip appeared in "Vaad ha-Hatzalah," Ha-Pardes, 14, 4 (July 1940): 3- 4.

58. "Righteous Among the Nations Department," Yad Vashem: file 977 (Zwartendijk); Warhaftig testimony, 7-8.

59. "Righteous Among the Nations Department," Yad Vashem: File 1054 (Sugihara); Mirsky, 122. Moshe Zupnick told the story that the yeshivah student enlisted by Sugihara to help process the applications did not know Japanese, and therefore stamped the visas upside down.

60. Yaakov Edelstein, "Ha-Masa u-Matan ha-Rishon im Shiltonot Brit ha-Rishon in Shiltonot Brit ha-Moetzot al Yitziat Yehudirn mi-Russya be-Tekufat ha- Milchama," Gesher 1/2, 54-55 (March 1968): 68-72; Warhaftig testimony, 19-23.

61. Bauer, 220.

62. Herzman, 66; "Emergency Committee for war-torn Yeshivot Vaad Hatzala," Budgeting Bulletin for Member Agencies of the Council of Jewish Federations and Welfare Funds, May 1941, AVH [hereafter cited as Federations Report].

63. Letter of Rabbi Grodzinski to Rabbi Herzog, January 26, 1940: AYHH, file "Letters of Chaim Ozer Grodzinski"; Rabbi Hayman interview. Similar information is also found in the numerous requests for certificates submitted to Rabbi Herzog during the war years, and especially in the summer of 1940; AYHH, file 9, "Rabbinical Certificates Applications, 1940-4l."

64. See the lists of those granted certificates as rabbis and religious functionaries, AAYEY, file 14; and AYHH, file 9, "Rabbinical Certificates and Applications, 1940-1941. "

65. For example, Rabbi Elchonon Wasserman wanted to emigrate to Palestine only if he could bring his students with him. See letter from Rabbi Bloch to Rabbi Moshe Blau, November 16, 1939: AAYEY, file 62.

66. "Vaad ha-Hatzalah," Ha-Pardes, 15, 4 (July 1941): 3-4.

67. Bauer, 222.

68. Letter of Moses Leavitt to Samuel Goldsmith, January 27, 1941, AJDC: "Vaad ha-Hatzalah" file.

69. Churbn un Rettung, 203, 205.

70. Letter of Breckenridge Long to President Roosevelt, September 18, 1940, Foreign Relations of the United States [1940] (Washington, D.C., 1957), 2: 238-240. See also Fred Israel, ed., The War Diary of Breckenridge Long: Selections from the Years 1939-1944 (Lincoln, Nebraska, 1966), 165.

71. Letter of Moses Leavitt to Samuel Goldsmith, January 27, 1941, AJDC, "Vaad ha-Hatzalah" file; and "Righteous Among the Nations Department, " Yad Vashem, file 3 7 7 (De Jong); also testimony of Rabbi Schlomo Wolbe, YVA, 0- 3/3044, pp. 1-2.

72. During the initial four months of 1941, when the majority of refugees left Soviet Lithuania, the Vaad ha-Hatzalah spent almost $80,000 to cover the transportation expenses of rabbis, students, and family members. During that period, the JDC spent approximately $150,000 for the same purpose. See Federations Report, May 1941, 1-3.

73. Report of the Activity of the Committee for Assistance to Refugees. The Jewish community of Kobe, July 1940-September 1941, 8 [hereafter cited as Jewcom Report]. The author received the report from Rabbi Marvin Tokayer, formerly of Tokyo, and thanks him for his assistance.

74. Rabbi Zelig Epstein interview.

75. Rabbi Moshe Cohen interview.

76. Edelstein diary; Rabbi Romm interview; Epstein as in n. 74.

77. Edelstein diary; Rabbi Nayman interview.

78. For example, Rabbi Finkel initially opposed Curacao visas because he still hoped to organize the emigration of the entire yeshivah to Palestine. Mirsky, 121.

79. Mirsky, 119-124; Herzman, 63-70; Warhaftig testimony, 2-5; Rabbi Zelig Epstein interview; and Rabbi Romm interview.

80. Jewcom Report, 4-22; Porat, 85-88; Warhaftig testimony, interview no. 3, 18.

81. Abraham Kotsuji, From Tokyo tojerusalern (New York, 1964), 162-169.

82. Letter from Frank to author, February 5, 1975; cables from Newman to Vaad ha-Hatzalah headquarters in New York, YIVO Archives, New York, Shanghai file, no. 49.

83. See n. 72.

84. Porat, 90; Warhaftig testimony, interview no. 4, 4-17; Baruch Oren, " Mi- Vilna derech Yapan elha-Olam ha-Chofshi, " Yalkut Moreshet 11 (November 1969): 44-45.

85. "Japanese transit visas stopped until congestion is eased," Every Friday (March 28, 1941), 5.

86. "Report submitted by Rabbi M. Ashkenazi on aid given to European refugees in Shanghai by Vaad Hatzala," February 19, 1948, AVH.

87. Letter from Newman to the author, February 5, 1975; Warhaftig testimony, interview no. 4, 21-24.

88. Approximately 600 permits were received prior to the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union. See list of Shanghai permit recipients.

89. Letter from Josef Tugendhaft (Rabbi Ashkenazi's assistant) to Newman, May 4, 1941. The author received this letter from Mr. Newman, whom he thanks for his assistance.

90. For an analysis of this problem, see Efraim Zuroff, "The Attempts to obtain Shanghai Permits in 1941: A Case of Rescue Priority during the Holocaust," Yad Vashem Studies 13 (Jerusalem, 1979): 322-351.

91. Jewcom Report, 8, 13, 22a.

92. This is evident from documents about the emigration of Torah scholars, such as receipts for ship and train tickets, visa applications, in the AVH collections.

93. "Vaad ha-Hatzalah," Ha-Pardes 15, 4 (July 1941): 3-4.

94. Cable of Rabbi Shmulewitz to Rabbi Finkel, July 26, 1941, AYHH, file 8.

95. See Jewcom Report, 22a.

96. Cable from Peters (Federation of Polish Jews in Canada) to Vaad ha-Hatzalah, August 14, 1941, AVH. See letter of Henrietta Buchman (JDC) to David Gross (leader of the Fall River, Massachusetts Jewish community), October 24, 1941, AJDC, Vaad ha-Hatzalah file; "Vaad Ha-hatzala," Budgeting Bulletin No. B-13 of the Council of Jewish Federations and Welfare Funds, February 1943, p. 2, AJDC, Vaad haHatzalah file; Rabbi Zelig Epstein interview.

97. David Kranzler, Japanese Nazis andjews: theJewish Refugee Community of Shanghai', 1938-1945 (New York, 1977), 347; letter Of Jewcom to Louis Margolis (JDC emissary to Shanghai), August 12, 1941, AJDC, Shanghai file.

98. Rabbi Romm interview. Romm was among the citizens included in the Allied- Japanese exchange of nationals in 1942. His lengthy journey included stops in Lourence Marques and South Africa before he reached Palestine.

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