Rabbis' Relief and Rescue: A Case Study of the Activities of the Vaad ha-Hatzala (Rescue Committee) of the American Orthodox Rabbis, 1942-1943

Efraim Zuroff


During the past decade, much research has been published on the response of the American government to the persecution and destruction of European Jewry. Several monographs and many articles have dealt with the reactions of American politicians and officials to the Holocaust.1 Although contemporary Holocaust historiography has seriously attempted to cover the response of the American government, we still lack a major monograph on the reaction of the American Jewish community. Given the highly fragmented nature of American Jewry, this is hardly surprising. American Jews were not united in their opinion, and thus before the community's response can be adequately portrayed, the reaction of its various factions must be researched. While an in-depth study of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (hereafter J.D.C. or Joint) has been published,2 we still lack in-depth analyses of most of the key organizations and segments of American Jewry.

Relatively little has been published about the role of Orthodox Jews in the United States during the Holocaust although their activities aroused considerable controversy and their reactions afford us valuable insight into the problematics of the rescue efforts attempted by the American Jewish relief organizations.3 The following article describes and analyzes the work of the Vaad ha-Hatzala (hereafter Vaad or Rescue Committee), the major Orthodox relief organization during the years 1942 and 1943.

The Establishment of the Vaad ha-Hatzala and Its Initial Activities

Unlike the majority of the American Jewish organizations involved in overseas relief work, the Vaad ha-Hatzala was founded only after World War 11 began. Established in November 1939 by the Union of Orthodox Rabbis of the United States and Canada (Agudat haRabbanim), the major American Orthodox rabbinic association, its initial goal was to rescue rabbinic leaders, especially the faculties and student bodies of the East European Talmudic academies (yeshivot).

The establishment of the Vaad caused considerable controversy in the American Jewish community. Opposition to the Vaad was based on two major issues-fundraising and rescue priority. The community had recently agreed to unify fundraising through the United Jewish Appeal and did not welcome the introduction of an additional, separate fundraising effort. Moreover, the people whom the Vaad sought to rescue were already being assisted by the JDC, the agency entrusted by the community with the task of alleviating the plight of European Jews (and therefore already one of the two major beneficiaries of funds raised by the United Appeal). The Vaad, however, claimed that since the rabbis and students constituted the spiritual elite of the Jewish people, they deserved priority. Moreover, as Orthodox rabbis and students, they had special needs that could only be satisfactorily dealt with by their own organization. This debate raged in the American Jewish community throughout 1940- 1941. During this period, the Vaad concentrated on aiding Polish rabbis, students, and members of their families who had fled to Lithuania and worked for their emigration to havens of safety. With the assistance of the Vaad and the JDC, approximately 625 of these refugees reached the Far East in 1941. Approximately 125 were subsequently able to emigrate to the United States and Canada, while the other 500 people ended up in the International Settlement of Shanghai.4

The Vaad's Activities Following America's Entry into World War II

America's entry into the war created many difficulties for rescue work. The commitment to their coreligionists in enemy-occupied territory remained unchanged, although the expansion of armed conflict meant that the possibilities of rescue were drastically reduced.

During 1942 and 1943, the Vaad concentrated on assisting two groups of refugees: the rabbis and students in Shanghai and several hundred Talmudic scholars stranded in Soviet Central Asia. The latter were among the more than one-and-a half million people deported by the Russians from the territories annexed in 1940 and 1941 (i.e., eastern Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Bessarabia, and Bukovina) to labor camps and rural settlements in Siberia and the Arctic Circle. The Poles among them were released following the Sikorski- Stalin agreement of August 1941 5 and many of the Jewish deportees travelled south and settled in the Soviet republics of Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Tadzhikistan, Kazakhstan, and Kirghizstan, especially in the cities of Tashkent, Samarkand, and Bukhara.6

Several points must be clarified before proceeding. The first is that the Orthodox rabbis and students were part of larger groups of Jewish refugees; they and their families in Shanghai constituted nearly 3 percent of the 18,000 Jewish refugees who found shelter in that city following the Nazis' rise to power.7 The approximately 900 scholars in Central Asia 8 were only a miniscule percentage of the hundreds of thousands of Polish Jews stranded in the Soviet Union.9

The second point concerns the plight of these scholars in comparison to that of their fellow refugees. Both in Shanghai and Central Asia, refugees faced extremely harsh conditions. The Chinese port of Shanghai was overcrowded and the cost of living was rising steadily. It thus became increasingly difficult to feed and clothe the Jewish refugees. While starvation was not rampant, it certainly posed an imminent threat.10 Physical conditions were very difficult and attempts to supply aid were bogged down by bureaucratic and technical problems. In Central Asia, the situation was similar.11

Neither group of refugees faced conditions as harsh as those in which the overwhelming majority of the Jews under Axis rule lived, nor were they in immediate danger of being caught by the Nazis. However, their status respectively under Soviet rule and Japanese occupation in Shanghai was precarious. Thus the efforts of the Vaad aroused numerous questions, since the rabbis' contention that these refugees should be accorded special assistance was not universally accepted by the entire American Jewish community.12

It should be noted that most of the relief funds collected by the United Jewish Appeal during the years 1942-1943 were allocated to refugees who had already reached neutral or Allied territory as it was extremely difficult to send aid to areas under Nazi rule.13Throughout this period, the ability to transmit funds to Jews in distress depended to a large extent on the use of tactics, which was a source of controversy between the Vaad and the JDC from early 1940 until the end of the war.14

Assistance to Shanghai 1942-1943

The major obstacle faced by the Vaad in assisting scholars stranded in Shanghai was the "Trading With The Enemy Act" that prohibited the transfer of funds and goods between the United States and those in enemy territory. Once the war broke out, even communications were barred, and thus the Vaad was forced to establish alternate channels for contact with the refugee scholars. This was initially done via rabbis in neutral Sweden 15 and Uruguay, especially Rabbi Aaron Milewsky of Montevideo.16 However, in the spring of 1942, Uruguay severed relations with Japan and thus Rabbi Milewsky rerouted communications via Argentina.

This intermediary not only supplied information on the stranded scholars but also provided the refugees with financial aid. An arrangement was worked out whereby wealthy Shanghai residents would give local currency to refugee scholars, and dollars would be deposited by the Vaad in the bank accounts of their relatives or friends in New York. This arrangement contravened the spirit though not the letter of American regulations, and thus a special code was devised to evade censorship. The code was based on Exodus Chapter 1, verses 2-4, which named Jacob's children in Egypt. Each name received a numerical value at intervals of one hundred dollars. Thus Reuben, the first son, meant $100, Simon $200, etc. In addition, various terms were often used to indicate that the reference was to sums of money and Hebrew words were sometimes substituted for numbers.17

Thus, for example, on 16 January 1942, Rabbi Chaim Shmulewitz, the unofficial head of the refugee scholars in Shanghai, cabled Milewsky that he was to cable the Vaad as follows: "Poneveskys Epsteins Shmoinogud visit Feldman 235 West 29."18 The explanation of the instructions from Shanghai is as follows: David Ponevesky, a wealthy Shanghailander, is willing to give the refugee scholars $8,000 in return for the same amount, which was raised on their behalf by Rabbi Ephraim Epstein of Chicago. In order to effect the transaction you are to give the said sum to Aaron Feldman whose address is 235 West 29th Street, New York City.19

This arrangement for the transfer of funds proved quite successful. In the spring of 1942, Rabbi Kalmanowitz arranged for the transfer of $22,200 to the refugee scholars in Shanghai 20 and in the fall and winter he arranged for the remittance of an additional $39,000,21 Most of this earmarked for the Mir Yeshivah.22 From December 1941 to late March 1943, the Vaad raised ca. $69,000 for the support of the refugee scholars and their families in Shanghai; this sum was almost 31 percent of the total funds the Vaad spent for relief and rescue during this period.23 Throughout 1943, approximately $90,000 was given to refugee scholars. These sums were subsequently covered by the Vaad's deposits in the United States.24

Aid by the JDC to Shanghai 1942-1943

In addition to funds sent from the Vaad to the rabbis and students in Shanghai, aid also came from the JDC which sent almost $400,000 to Shanghai from December 1941 until contact with New York resumed 25 via Switzerland in December 1943. The refugee scholars, however, only received a minor portion of these sums (approximately $60,000),26 and thus the funds provided by the Vaad were of primary importance. During the same period the Vaad provided at least $120,000 for the rabbis and students,27 and without the funds "sent" from New York, it is highly unlikely that the scholars could have maintained their unique style of life (as they were able to do) under the difficult conditions that existed in Shanghai during the war.

Controversy Over Relief to Shanghai

The question of aid to Shanghai resulted in fights between the Vaad and the JDC during 1942 and 1943. The controversy centered on three issues: the validity of the Vaad's campaign, the legality of the Vaad's tactics, and rescue priorities. The JDC viewed the Vaad's fundraising as a threat and therefore stressed in their letters to local federations that it was already assisting the same refugees aided by the Vaad.28 Although JDC officials did grudgingly admit that the Orthodox organization provided more than "merely a supplementation of the relief work of the JDC,"29 and that "the Vaad has a valid claim for community support,"30 they consistently sought to discourage contributions to the Vaad and often minimized its work in reply to inquiries from local communities.31

The other issue was the legality of the Vaad's methods of transferring money to Shanghai. The JDC representative in Shanghai accepted money in return for the promise of payment after the war, whereas the Vaad paid upon receipt of the funds in Shanghai, a practice of dubious legality. JDC officials were quick to point out to federation officers that such "remittances are prohibited by our government under war laws, and we as an American organization cannot be involved in anything that has the remotest color of trading with the enemy. . . . We are debarred from communicating with our own representatives by the war regulations of our own Government. "32

The allegation was serious and indicated the tense relations between these two Jewish relief organizations. The Vaad never refuted this charge and this issue illuminates the different approaches to relief and rescue adopted by these organizations. While the JDC strove to meet the needs of the entire Jewish refugee population legally, the Vaad concentrated exclusively on assisting refugee scholars and adopted legally questionable methods to achieve this goal.

The Vaad and Aid to Central Asia, 1942-1943

The other major concern for the leaders of the Vaad was assistance to refugee scholars stranded in Central Asia. A campaign on their behalf was launched on 9 December 1941.33 The assistance provided by the Vaad came in two forms: cash remittances and the shipment of food and clothing.

This project faced formidable technical obstacles since it was often difficult to locate the individuals whom the Vaad sought to aid and, moreover, the Soviet government's regulations hampered relief work. The most important directive stipulated that all mass aid to Polish citizens in the Soviet Union had to be channelled through agencies of the Polish government-in-exile. While assistance could be directed to specific individuals, there could be no special aid programs for Jews qua Jews. Thus aid sent to Russia had to be distributed among the Polish refugees-Jews and non-Jews-by Polish officials. 34 This measure put Jewish refugees at the mercy of the Polish officials, many of whom were antisemitic,35 and it consequently created a problem for Jewish relief organizations trying to alleviate the suffering of their coreligionists overseas.

Due to the special nature of its program, the Vaad was able to circumvent some of these bureaucratic obstacles. The Vaad sent parcels and funds directly to individuals in 1942 and 1943. The one disadvantage to this procedure was that only those scholars whose addresses were already known could be assisted by the Vaad. Thus the Vaad tried to collect the addresses of as many refugee scholars as possible, a difficult task dependent on communication with the Soviet Union.

During the first half of 1942, these names and addresses came in slowly to the New York office of the Vaad. On 13 July 1942, for example, the Vaad sent the Ashkenazic Chief Rabbi of Palestine, Isaac Herzog, a list of 113 names of rabbis and students in the Soviet Unions.36 Five months later, a list of approximately 600 names was sent to Rafael Shafar, the Jewish Agency's emissary in Iran,37 and by early 1944 a comprehensive list of 896 rabbis and yeshiva students 38 had been compiled by the Vaad's representative in Teheran. It is interesting to note that throughout this period there were discrepancies between the statistics used in the Vaad's publicity and appeals and the actual lists of the Vaad. Thus in early July 1942 an appeal was addressed to Polish premier Wladyslaw Sikorski on behalf of 250 refugee scholars,39 whereas 11 days later a list of only 113 names was sent to Rabbi Herzog.40

Some of these discrepancies were undoubtedly based on misguided optimism. Thus, according to a bulletin issued in early 1942 by the Council of Jewish Federations and Welfare Funds (the umbrella organization for the various local communities) about the activities of the Vaad, the Vaad presumed "that since 4,000 Yeshivoth people were registered as prospective immigrants from Lithuania in 1941, and 1,202 of this number were resettled in other countries, the remainder (2,798) were evacuated to Siberia."41 This no doubt explains why the statistic of 3,000 scholars and the members of their families appears in the Vaad's public appeals for funds42 at a time when the relief organization only held a few hundred names. (In reality, only about one- third of those unable to immigrate ended up in Central Asia, while the others remained in Lithuania where the overwhelming majority were murdered by the Nazis and their Lithuanian collaborators. At that time there were only sporadic reports on mass murders, and few Jewish leaders actually realized the scope of the ongoing catastrophe.)43

The Vaad initiated relief shipments to refugee scholars in Central Asia from three different localities: Iran, Palestine, and the United States. The first shipments sent from the United States consisted of food and clothing parcels sent to Russia in July 1942 with the assistance of the Jewish Labor Committee,44 as well as remittances of funds to individuals via American Express and similar agencies.45 These arrangements, however, were unsatisfactory, and simultaneously the Vaad began sending parcels to Central Asia via Palestine.46 When several weeks passed without any acknowledgment of the parcels receipt, the Vaad then sent remittances through the Polish government-in-exile. In September 1942, $5,000 was sent in this manner.47

Aid via Teheran

The rabbis had no guarantee that funds earmarked for "rabbinical students of Polish nationality" would be delivered to the scholars and thus they continued to seek other means of sending assistance. In the fall of 1942, the Vaad therefore made arrangements to send parcels of food and clothing from Teheran through the offices of the Jewish Agency for Palestine. 48 In addition, arrangements were later made to send parcels through Peltours, a travel and shipping agency with an office in Teheran.49

By the end of June 1943, the Vaad had sent $25,000 to Teheran for the shipment of parcels to the refugee scholars in the Soviet Union.50 According to the figures of the Vaad's representatives in Palestine, this sum should have been sufficient to send about 1,000 parcels to Russia, yet only about 285 were sent by the Jewish Agency to the refugee scholars because of regulations in Teheran that limited the Agency's monthly shipments to 600 parcels. Obviously, the packages for refugee scholars were only a small part of this figure.51

In late June 1943, the situation improved after Rabbi Isaac Mayer Levi cabled Jerusalem that after prolonged negotiation he had obtained the right to send 500 parcels to the rabbis and yeshiva students in Russia. This was considered significant because: 1) it constituted a substantial increase in the number of parcels; 2) the parcels sent from Teheran reached Russia much faster; and 3) the packages sent from Persia were 1/3 cheaper than similar ones sent from Palestine ($22 per package from Teheran compared to $32 per package from Palestine).52

Controversy Over Aid to Central Asia

Despite the considerable sums that the Vaad sent to Rabbi Levi and to the Peltours representative Gershon Shilony, hardly any parcels were sent from Teheran during the summer of 1943, despite approval for shipping 500 packages. The relief program had been curtailed because of a bitter feud between the representatives of Vaad and the Jewish Agency over who should receive parcels. Dr. Moshe Yishai, the Jewish Agency representative, claimed that many individuals on the Vaad list had already received several packages, whereas other refugees had not received any. Moreover he contended that the list of rabbis did not include only rabbis. The sons of rabbis, their relatives, their relatives' relatives, members of religious parties who never were rabbis and acquaintances [were on Vaad's list]. The list of rabbis did not have the addresses of families, but rather of individuals, and they presented each individual as the head of a family. Thus, each was listed separately: the father, his wife, each son and daughter. There were quite a few cases in which the same person was listed at several different addresses. We would find this out from the receipts for the packages and by a comparison of the handwritings. But this was a holy list and no one was allowed to doubt the sanctity of each and every address.53

While Dr. Yishai's assertion that the Vaad sought to send packages to families as well as to the rabbis is unquestionably correct (a fact which the Vaad never sought to disguise), the key issue was how each agency viewed its own responsibilities. The Jewish Agency considered itself responsible for all the thousands of Jewish refugees in the Soviet Union. The Vaad, however, was solely concerned with the welfare of the several hundred rabbis, students, and their families whom they considered their own personal responsibility. Since the number of parcels was limited by the Persian government, each extra package sent to the same individual was at the expense of another person. Moshe Yishai stated "If you [Vaadl send an extra package to a rabbi on your list-that package will be denied another Jew. The empty stomach is the same, whether it is of a rabbi or of a Jew who was not lucky enough to be included on the list of rabbis."54

The Vaad nevertheless continued to pursue its policy despite Yishai's indignation. He therefore ignored cables from his superiors in Jerusalem to send 350 parcels a month to rabbis and finally reached agreement with Rabbi Levi in summer 1943 to send the scholars 100 packages in August and 150 a month after September.55 The leaders of the Vaad, however, were gravely disturbed by the new arrangements, which they felt discriminated against refugee scholars. According to the Vaad, the parcels sent by the Agency should be distributed equally among all the refugees including rabbis and students, whereas those sent by the Vaad constituted a special supplement for Torah scholars and their families.56

Despite this controversy with the Jewish Agency, the restrictions imposed by the Persian authorities, and the endless technical difficulties, Rabbi Levi managed to send significant help to large numbers of refugee rabbis and students. By early January 1944, he had already compiled a list of 896 names of refugee scholars in Russia, and during 1943, a total of 1,463 parcels was sent from Teheran. The sums sent directly by the Vaad paid for 797 parcels; the other packages were sent with funds provided by the Jewish Agency, the representatives of Vaad in Palestine (most of whose funds were supplied by the headquarters of the rabbinic rescue organization in New York), and the American Jewish Congress.57

Aid via Palestine

While Teheran was the major center for shipping parcels to Polish Jewish refugees in the Soviet Union, aid was also sent from other places. The Vaad's representatives in Palestine, headed by prominent scholars of local Talmudic academies, were also active. A committee raised funds locally and also received funds from the Vaad and Orthodox agencies in New York and London. During 1942 and the first half of 1943 approximately $20,000 was used to send 821 parcels to the refugees.58

Aid via the United States

Relief was sent from the United States to Talmudic scholars in the Soviet Union. Cash remittances were sent to individuals via authorized American agencies (e.g., American Express, Amalgamated Bank, etc.) and the offices of the Polish Ministry of Finance in New York and parcels of food and clothing were also mailed. The dispatch of cash was initiated in the summer of 1942 and continued throughout 1943. During 1943, just under $50,000 was sent to the refugee rabbis and students in Russia. 59

The shipping of relief parcels was initiated later. Despite numerous technical difficulties 60 and the high insurance (43 percent of the value of the merchandise), duty, and inspection fees, the Vaad made arrangements to send relief parcels directly to the Soviet Union. The first shipment, consisting of 311 packages, was mailed in July 1943 61 and this program continued throughout the year. An average parcel contained: milk powder, egg powder, socks, cocoa, Crisco, thread, needles, bandaids, and underwear62 all of which were in short supply in Central Asia and which were useful for barter.

In November 1943, the Vaad was responsible for the purchase and packaging of goods and Russian War Relief handled their transport to the Soviet Union. By late December 1943, the first consignment of 1,200 parcels was ready for shipment.63 It should be noted, however, that not all the packages sent through Russian War Relief were intended for rabbis and students. Apparently Vaad could not fill the quota of packages and thus agreed to send parcels for the Jewish Labor Committee. Thus in December the Vaad accepted a list of 160 names and addresses of Jewish refugees in the Soviet Union from this organization.64

In 1943 the Vaad sent a total of more than $113,000 worth of parcels to the refugee rabbis and students in the Soviet Union. In addition approximately $49,000 was remitted directly to individuals. The rabbinic rescue organization channelled over 43 percent of its total income ($372,607.49) to the scholars in Russia.65

Differences of Opinion Between the Vaad and the JDC

As in the case of the assistance sent by the Vaad to Shanghai, the Orthodox organization's aid program to the scholars in the Soviet Union was marked by controversy with other Jewish relief organizations. While the JDC acknowledged the Vaad's "special intensive aid to maintain the several yeshivoth in exile re-established in the various Soviet provinces-Siberia, Turkestan, Bukhara, Samarkand, and inother areas,"66 it nonetheless viewed the matter differently. Joseph Hyman, Vice-President of the JDC stated:

... when the JDC faces the greatest catastrophe in Jewish history with an income of five to five and a half million dollars and in the course of that has to deal with the mass problems of starvation, destitution, emigration, forced child-care, medical service, transportation, and all of the emergent problems that require enormous sums of money to be spent almost without notice, obviously there is no possibility for the JDC to meet in toto or 100 percent any of the requirements that are so close to the needs and to the heart of Jewish life . . . "67

Besides the basic issue of who would be rescued, tension between the two relief organizations also related to fundraising. The JDC was wary of separate appeals that might reduce its income and therefore, JDC officials often minimized the Vaad's activities and questioned the validity of its claims. Thus Moses Leavitt of the JDC wrote to an officer of a local federation in late 1942, in response to an inquiry regarding the Vaad, that "no outside organization is permitted to conduct any relief activities in Russia or supervise the distribution of aid there." Although Leavitt mentioned that the Vaad could indeed send aid to individuals, he noted that the Vaad did not and "cannot conduct a separate relief activity in Russia."68

Relations between the Vaad and JDC continued to be tense throughout the war years. Although the JDC admitted that the Vaad's work was of value, it continued to view the operation of the Orthodox relief organization in a negative light.69

Attempts to Evacuate the Scholars

Throughout this period, the Vaad actively sought to effect the evacuation of refugee scholars in Shanghai and the Soviet Union to Allied territory. Even though the rabbis and students in China and Russia were relatively far from Nazi forces, the leaders of the Orthodox rescue organization sought to relocate them to places where they could continue their Talmud study in tranquility. The Vaad explored many possible sites, such as Mexico,70 Canada,71 and Palestine.72 They proposed the inclusion of rabbis and Yeshiva students in the exchanges of Allied nationals from Japan 73 and of Polish citizens from the Soviet Union,74 as well as evacuation schemes for the groups of scholars.75 Most of these efforts were abortive, although four individuals were included in one exchange from Shanghai.76

Political Activities

The Vaad also engaged in political activities on behalf of Jews in Nazi- occupied Europe. This was a new direction for the Vaad. The revelation of Nazi plans for mass annihilation of the Jews was initially publicized in England in May 1942, confirmed by the U.S. government, and publicized throughout the United States in late 1942.77

As a result, in February 1943 the leaders of the Vaad established a committee designated Vaad le-Pikuach Nefashot (The Committee For Those Whose Lives Are Endangered) under the auspices of the Union of Orthodox Rabbis, whose job was to initiate political activities to aid European Jews.78 Thus the committee sought to influence Congress to pass legislation to help Jews in Nazi-occupied territory, for example, the proposal to establish a special agency to save the Jews of Europe (resulting in the establishment of the War Refugee Board).79

The Vaad also staged the only mass demonstration of Jewish leaders in Washington during the Holocaust. On 7 October 1943 several hundred Orthodox rabbis marched to the White House and asked for immediate measures to rescue the Jews under Nazi domination, including a warning to those who participated in the persecution of Jews that they would be held accountable, International Red Cross shipments of food and medicine to Jews in occupied Europe, the establishment of refugee havens in neutral nations, facilitation of immigration to the U.S. for Jews in Nazi Europe, and the creation of a special agency to rescue them.80

Analysis of the Vaad's Policy

Throughout this period the Vaad continued to devote most of its attention and resources to the plight of the refugee scholars in Central Asia and Shanghai. In fact, only in January 1944 did the Vaad officially decide that it would become involved in general rescue work, i.e., projects designed to save all Jews regardless of religiosity.81 After late 1942, the Vaad's policy ostensibly seems myopic. Why should a rescue organization devote itself almost totally to the maintenance and evacuation of two relatively small groups of scholars at a time when thousands were being murdered?

The explanation for the policy pursued by the Vaad during this period was based on several factors. First was the fact that the leaders of Vaad believed that refugee scholars in Central Asia and Shanghai were in danger of starvation.82 This was certainly true for those in the Soviet Union,83 many of whom died during the war, and also applied to a lesser extent to those in Shanghai.84 Moreover, the Vaad did not consider its task of rescuing the refugee scholars completed as long as they had not been brought to havens where they would be able to study in peace. Russia and Japanese-occupied Shanghai were hardly ideal locations. Moreover, it must be remembered that the members of the Vaad viewed the rescue of the scholars as their personal responsibility. The limited funds at the Vaad's disposal made it unfeasible for the organization to undertake additional projects and responsibilities. In fact, throughout the Vaad's existence, its leaders had been anxious to expand its activities, but had never been able to raise sufficient funds for this purpose.85

The Vaad, however, could expand its work in early 1944 because of its realization that mass murder in Europe called for extraordinary measures and overcoming particularism for a broader rescue program. Furthermore, in early 1944 appeals for help were also received by the Vaad from well-known Orthodox leaders in occupied Europe. These requests enabled the Vaad to expand its rescue program, and led to significant changes in its policy.

The activities of the Vaad during the years 1942 and 1943 show the difficulties of rescue attempts launched by American Jewish relief agencies during the Holocaust despite the legal, technical, and financial obstacles that hampered relief. The Vaad overcame these difficulties to some extent but simultaneously enraged other groups in the American Jewish community, a subject that deserves further investigation by historians of American Jewry and the Holocaust.


1. Henry L. Feingold, Politics of Rescue: The Roosevelt Administration and the Holocaust 1938-1945 (New Brunswick, 1970); Saul S. Friedman, No Haven for the Oppressed: United States Policy Towards Jewish Refugees 1938-1945 (Detroit, 1973); Arthur D. Morse, While Six Million Died: A Chronicle of American Apathy (New York, 1968); David S. Wyman, Paper Walls: America and the Refugee Crisis 1938-1941 (Amherst, 1968); and idem, The Abandonment of the Jews: America and the Holocaust 1941-1945 (New York, 1984).

2. Yehuda Bauer, My Brother's Keeper: A History of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee 1929-1939 (Philadelphia, 1974); idem, American Jewry and the Holocaust: The American Jewish joint Distribution Committee 1939-1945 (Detroit and Jerusalem, 1981).

3. Efraim Zuroff, "Rescue Priorities and Fundraising as Issues During the Holocaust: A Case Study of the Relations between the Vaad ha-Hatzala and the Joint 1939- 1941," American Jewish Historical Quarterly 68 (1979): 305-326; idem, "Attempts to Obtain Shanghai Permits in 1941: A Case of Rescue Priority During the Holocaust," Yad Vashem Studies 13 (1979): 321-51; and idem, "Rescue via the Far East: The Attempt to Save Polish Rabbis and Yeshiva Students, 1939-1941, SWC Annual 1 (1984): 153-84; David H. Kranzler, "Orthodox Ends, Unorthodox Means: The Role of the Vaad Hatzalah and Agudath Israel during the Holocaust," in American Jewry During the Holocaust, ed. Seymour Maxwell Finger (New York, 1984).

4. Zuroff, "Rescue Priority and Fundraising," pp. 305-26; idem, "Rescue via the Far East," pp. 153-84.

5. Edward J. Rozek, Allied Wartime Diplomacy: A Pattern in Poland (New York, 1958) pp. 46-7.

6. Jerusalem, Yad Vashem Archives, Record Group M-2, file 343: Eliyahu Dobkin, "Report Concerning the Refugees Arriving in Teheran," 24 Sept. 1942, Part 1, p. 2 [hereafter cited as Dobkin Report]. Shimon Redlich, "The Jews Under Soviet Rule During World War ll," Ph.D. diss. (New York University, 1968), pp. 81-3.

7. For details on the Jewish refugees in Shanghai see David Kranzler, Japanese, Nazis and Jews: The Jewish Refugee Community of Shanghai 1938-1945 (New York, 1977).

8. New York, Yeshiva University, Archives of the Vaad ha-Hatzala: Rabbi Yitzhak Levi to Rabbis Rosenberg and Kotler, 6 Jan. 1944.

9. Eliyahu Dobkin, Ha-Aliya ve-ha-Hatzala be-Shnot ha-Shoa (Jerusalem, 1946), p. 26.

10. Kranzler, Japanese, Nazis, and Jews, pp. 546-47.

11. Dobkin Report, Part 1, p. 2; Redlich, "Jews Under Soviet Rule," pp. 81-3.

12. New York, joint Distribution Committee Archives, Emergency Committee for War-Torn Yeshivas file: Harry Miller (Chattanooga) to Henrietta Buchman (JDC) 14 June 1941, and Joseph Hyman to Rabbis Rosenberg and Silver, 18 June 1942.

13. Oscar Handlin, A Continuing Task: The American Jewish joint Distribution Committee 1914-1964 (New York, 1964), pp. 86-9; Bauer, American Jewry and the Holocaust, pp. 197-216.

14. Zuroff, "Rescue Priority and Fundraising," pp. 305-26.

15. Yeshiva University, Archives of the Vaad ha-Hatzala: Rabbi Kalmanowitz to Rabbi Wolbe, 22 Jan. 1942.

16. lbid.: Rabbi Kalmanowitz to Rabbi Milewsky, 21 Jan. 1942.

17. Interview of the author with Rabbi Milewsky, 7 Sept. 1975.

18. Jerusalem, Personal Papers of Rabbi Milewsky: Rabbi Shmulewitz to Rabbi Milewsky, 16 Jan. 1942 [in private possession of Rabbi Milewsky in Jerusalem].

19. Milewsky interview; Gad (Jacob's tenth son) was the code for one thousand; shmoino is the Hebrew word for eight.

20. Personal Papers of Rabbi Milewsky: Rabbi Milewsky to Vaad ha-Hatzala, 23 Oct. 1942.

21. Papers of Rabbi Milewsky: Rabbi Klein (Buenos Aires) to Rabbi Shmulewitz, 23 and 28 Oct. and 17 and 27 Nov. 1942.

22. Ibid.: Rabbi Klein to Rabbi Shmulewitz, 14 Oct. 1942; Rabbi Shmulewitz to Rabbi Klein, 16 Dec. 1942.

23. Yeshiva University, Archives of the Vaad ha-Hatzala: "Vaad Hatzala Statement of Income and Expenses Dec. 11, 1941 to March 31, 1943."

24. Ibid.: "Financial Statement by Certified Public Accountant for Year Ending December 31, 1943."

25. Kranzler, Japanese, Nazis and Jews, pp. 458-68, 558-62.

26. The figure is based on the following calculation: $5 per refugee per month for 24 months. joint Distribution Committee Archives, Emergency Committee for War- Torn Yeshivas file: Laura Margolis to Robert Pilpel, 26 Oct. 1941.

27. This calculation is based on the Vaad's financial figures for the period from Dec. 1941-Dec. 1943 and cables in the papers of Rabbi Milewsky.

28. joint Distribution Committee Archives, Emergency Committee for War- Torn Yeshivas file: Henrietta Buchman to Philip Bernstein (Cleveland), 14 May 1942.

29. Ibid.: Joseph Hyman to Rabbis Rosenberg and Silver, 18 June 1942.

30. Ibid.: Moses Leavitt to George Sherman (Philadelphia), 25 June 1942.

31. See, for example, ibid.: Joseph Hyman to Rabbi Chavel and Charles Strull (Louisville), 27 Aug. 1942.

32. Ibid.: Henrietta Buchman to Henry Fainberg (Wyoming Valley, Pa.), 22 Dec. 1942.

33. "Aseifat Vaad ha-hatzala," Ha-Pardes 15(1941): 2-3.

34. joint Distribution Committee Archives, Emergency Committee for WarTorn Yeshivas file: Moses Leavitt to Leo Gallin, 18 Nov. 1942.

35. Yad Vashern Archives, Record Group M-2, File 343: Eliyahu Rudnitzki, "Report to the Jewish Agency," 8 Sept. 1942.

36. Yeshiva University, Archives of the Vaad ha-Hatzala: Rabbi Silver to Rabbis Herzog and Mishkowski, 13 July 1942.

37. Ibid.: Agudat ha-Rabbanim to Rafael Shafar, 10 Dec. 1942; and "Application For A License to Engage in a Foreign Exchange Transaction," filed by the Union of Orthodox Rabbis of the United States, 6 Nov. 1942.

38. Ibid.: Rabbi Levi to Rabbis Rosenberg and Silver, 6 Jan. 1944.

39. Ibid.: Rabbis Rosenberg, Silver, Kotler, and Kalmanowitz to Vladimir [sic] Sikorski, 2 July 1942.

40. See n. 36.

41. Joint Distribution Committee Archives, Emergency Committee for WarTorn Yeshivas file: "Vaad Hahatzala," Budgeting Bulletin No. B-13 of the Council of Jewish Federations and Welfare Funds, Feb. 1942, p. 2.

42. "Kriya Nilhava mi-Vaad ha-Hatzala," Ha-Pardes 16 (1942): 4.

43. Yehuda Bauer, "When Did They Know?" Midstream 14 (1968): 51-59.

44. Yeshiva University, Archives of the Vaad ha-Hatzala: Tamar Kosher Meat Company to Vaad ha-Hatzala, 9 June 1942 and Jacob Pat to Rabbi Kalmanowitz, 23 June 1942.

45. Ibid.: Reuben Levovitz to the Foreign Control Division of the Federal Reserve Bank, 24 Aug. 1942.

46. Ibid.: Rabbi Silver to Rabbi Mishkowski, 10 July 1942.

47. Ibid.: "Application For A License to Engage in a Foreign Exchange Transaction . 30 Oct. 1942.

48. Ibid.: Rabbis Rosenberg and Silver to Rabbi Mishkowsky, 2 Oct. 1942.

49. Ibid.: Rabbi Rosenberg to Rafael Shafar, 29 Mar. 1943.

50. Ibid.: Rabbi Rosenberg to Shilony and Hercberg, 6 July 1943.

51. Ibid.: Rabbis Sarne, Finkel and Kahana to Vaad ha-Hatzala, 25 June 1943.

52. Ibid.

53. Moshe Yishai, Tzie be-Lo To'ar (Tel-Aviv, 1950), pp. 150-51.

54. Ibid.

55. Ibid.

56. Yeshiva University, Archives of the Vaad ha-Hatzala: Rabbis Rosenberg and Kotler to Shilony and Rabbi Levi, 23 Oct. 1943.

57. Ibid.: Rabbi Levi to Rabbis Rosenberg and Kotler, 6 Jan. 1944.

58. Ibid.: Rabbis Sarne, Finkel and Kahana to Vaad ha-Hatzala, 25 June 1943.

59. Ibid.: "Financial Statement by Certified Public Accountant for Year Ending December 31, 1943."

60. Ibid.: J.N. Golos to Rabbi Yarmish, 27 May 1943.

61. Ibid.: 'Vaad Hahatzala' Budgeting Bulletin No. B-49 of the Council of Jewish Federations and Welfare Funds, 24 Aug. 1943.

62. Ibid.: "Current Needs and Activities of the Vaad Hahatzala."

63. Ibid.

64. Ibid.: Lazar Epstein to Vaad ha-Hatzala, 27 and 29 Dec. 1943.

65. Ibid.: "Statement of Income and Payments for Year Ending December 31, 1943."

66. joint Distribution Committee Archives, Emergency Committee for WarTorn Yeshivas file: Joseph Hyman to Rabbis Silver and Rosenberg, 18 June 1942.

67. Ibid.: Joseph Hyman to Rabbis Silver and Rosenberg, 18 June 1942.

68. Ibid.: Moses Leavitt to Leo Gallin, 18 Nov. 1942.

69. See , for example, ibid.: Joseph Hyman to Rabbi Chavel and Charles Strull, 27 Aug. 1942.

70. Yeshiva University, Archives of the Vaad ha-Hatzala: J. Ciechanowski to the Union of Orthodox Rabbis of the United States, 16 Feb. 1943.

71. Ibid.: Rabbi Kalmanowitz to Victor Podoski, 22 Nov. 1943.

72. Ibid.: Rabbis Kotler and Silver to Rabbis Mishkowski and Herzog, 8 Oct. 1942; Rabbis Rosenberg and Silver to Moshe Shapiro, 12 Oct. 1942.

73. Jerusalem, Yad Vashem Archives, Record Group M-2, file 772: Ignacy Schwarzbart Diary, 5 May 1943.

74. Yeshiva University, Archives of the Vaad ha-Hatzala: Loy Henderson to Rabbi Rosenberg, 31 May 1943.

75. See, for example, ibid.: Solomon Schonfeld to Rabbis Rosenberg and Kotler, 21 July 1943; Le Saint Siege et les Victims de la Guerre 9 (Jan.-Dec. 1943) (Rome, 1975), p. 448.

76. Interview of the author with Rabbi Shmuel Romm.

77. Friedman, No Haven for the Oppressed, p. 142.

78. New York City, Archives of the Union of Orthodox Rabbis of the United States and Canada: Gedalia Bublick, Zerach Warhaftig and Dr. Lewin to Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik, 12 Feb. 1943; "Vaad le-Pikuach Nefashot Me-Agudat ha- Rabbanim," Ha-Pardes 16 (Mar. 1943): 2.

79. "Memshelet Amerika le-Hatzalat Yehudei Airopa," Ha-Pardes 17 (Dec. 1943): 2.

80. Churbn un Rettung (New York, 1959), pp. 281-90.

81. Yeshiva University, Archives of the Vaad ha-Hatzala: "Statement on the resolutions adopted by the annual conference of Vaad Hatzala January 5th and 6th, 1944."

82. See, for example, "Ha-hitragshut ha-gedola be-aseifa shel Aguclat haRabbanim," Ha-Pardes 16 (Jan. 1943): 8; "Kol Tziaka le-Ezra," Ha-Pardes 16 (Feb. 1943): 4- 6.

83. "Michtav Ayom re-Nora," Ha-Pardes 17 (July 1943): 4.

84. Kranzler, Japanese, Nazis, and Jews, p. 546.

85. "Aseifat Vaad Hatzala," Ha-Pardes 16 (Jan. 1943): 6.

In This Section

Buy Tickets Contact Us

Become a Member Volunteer Calendar

Sign up for E-News


Do you have confidence in the strength of democratic institutions in this country?