Transplanted into new soil: activities of the European Jewish Children's Aid with young Holocaust survivors, 1945-1953.

Author:Ostrovsky, Michal
Position:Essay
 
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Hundreds of thousands of Europe's children will die this winter of hunger, cold and privation unless we get help to them and get it there swiftly. To give this help is not to play Santa Claus. On the contrary, it is in accordance with the only foreign policy that has a chance to save our own country and the world from utter destruction and to lay the foundation for peace, order and justice. (1) Katharine F. Lenroot Katharine F. Lenroot, chief of the Children's Bureau of the U.S. Department of Labor, proposed this mission of mercy when she visited the displaced persons camps in Europe at the end of World War II. At the end of the war, about 10 million displaced persons crowded Europe's roads and cities. It was clear to all that the termination of hostilities was only the first step toward the reconstruction of Europe's economic, social and cultural capital.

Unfortunately, only a fraction of those who survived the war were Jews--a fact made clear as the Allies' victory exposed the devastating extent of Nazi atrocities. Out of the 3 million Jews who had lived in Poland before the war, approximately 100,000 survived. (2) It was estimated that only 60,000 Jewish children and youths survived out of the 1.5 million who had lived in Europe before the war. (3) Most of the survivors were teenagers and young adults between the ages of 16 and 18 who were able to stay alive as forced laborers. (4) Children under the age of 12 rarely survived. (5) Of the young survivors, 72 percent were Jewish, with the remainder non-Jewish Poles, Czechs, Latvians and other nationalities. (6) They were "nameless orphans," wrote author Dorothy Macardle, "many of these known only by the numbers tattooed on their arms." (7)

Refugee organizations and humanitarian movements came forward to assist with the rescue and rehabilitation of the survivors. For example, Oeuvre de Secours aux Enfants (OSE), a French-Jewish child welfare organization saved refugee children and young adults by placing them into boarding houses in France, Switzerland and other hospitable countries in Europe and overseas. For the remainder, the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA) opened special camps in Germany and Austria. (8)

An American-Jewish organization, the European Jewish Children's Aid (EJCA), was among the first to respond to the call. This rapid response was possible because, by 1945, the organization had already handled the rescue of thousands of European-Jewish children and young people for more than 10 years. Established in 1934 as the German Jewish Children's Aid (GJCA), the organization focused on the rescue of German-Jewish children through emigration. Prior to the war, the GJCA had brought more than 1,000 children to the United States.

In 1941, the GJCA became the EJCA to mark its change of focus from the rescue of German-Jewish children to the rescue of young Jewish refugees from across Europe. The EJCA developed elaborate immigration and placement procedures in cooperation with international Jewish and non-Jewish welfare agencies and refugee organizations, as well as various American government branches and numerous local American-Jewish communities. This work continued throughout the war years until mid-1944, and resumed once the war was over.

In recent years, scholarly attention has concentrated on the fate of postwar Europe's displaced persons in general, on Jewish displaced persons in particular, and on various aspects of the life and accomplishments of the She'erit Hapletah (Surviving Remnant) in the wake of the Flolocaust. The displaced persons' gradual return to normal life became possible in the wake of the efforts of the Allied military forces and, to a large extent, the activities of humanitarian and refugee organizations. (9)

Young survivors soon occupied a significant part of the rescue and resettlement efforts. In two recent studies, contemporary researchers have acknowledged the important work of nongovernmental organizations (one of which was the EJCA) with Europe's displaced children and youth. This postwar activity contributed to the development of new psychological theories and child-rearing methods. It is considered a moment when fundamental ideals of family and childhood not only reshaped the nature of family, but also genuinely promoted the restoration of democracy and human rights--ideals that triumphed over the values and ideologies of the national-socialist and fascist movements. (10)

As most of the Jewish displaced persons concentrated in the American zone, so did the work carried out by the American-Jewish nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). (11) Organizations such as the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) and the American Committee for the Rehabilitation of European Jewish Children endeavored to improve the quality of life of young Jewish Holocaust survivors in the DP camps. They built homes and schools for the orphaned children and youths, where they received shelter and education. This activity was fueled by the rescuers' strong belief that the future of the Jewish people resided in the surviving children. (12)

However, despite the considerable interest among contemporary historians in the experiences of the Jewish displaced persons in general and the surviving children and youths in particular, still missing is an in-depth analysis of the activities of the EJCA, a prominent representative of American NGO postwar activity, and its unique method of operation: the recue, resettlement and rehabilitation of thousands of young survivors through immigration to the United States.

Two main sources provide information about the EJCA. The first tells the story of the life and work of Cecilia Razovsky, the first executive director of the GJCA. (13) The second is a comprehensive study of the rescue and resettlement activities of Jewish refugee children and youths in the United States between 1934 and 1945. (14) These sources discuss GJCA activities among other organizations, and they deal only with its prewar and wartime activities.

Other studies focus on the resettlement process. One describes the EJCA's work with young Elolocaust survivors in two of its local branches. (15) Another provides a firsthand account of the young survivors' complicated experiences once in the United States as part of a general study of postwar Jewish America's ambivalent approach toward Holocaust survivors. (16)

Research into the EJCA's postwar activity provides new information, supporting Hasia Diner's important work and refuting views that, in postwar America, the Holocaust was invisible, and that American Jews were indifferent to or incompetent in dealing with it. (17)

As Diner argues in We Remember with Reverence and Love, "millions of American Jews wove the catastrophe deeply into the basic fabric of community life and ... they considered what they said and did as monuments to Europe's destroyed Jewish life." (18) Whereas this significant study analyzes the verbal expressions indicating American Jewry's involvement and concern for its European brethren in the post-Holocaust era, research into the activities of the EJCA clearly demonstrates the existence of an active involvement, not just a verbal one--an involvement that resulted in the actual rescue of thousands of young Jewish lives.

A study of the EJCA also indicates the organization's long-term commitment to rescue. The EJCA's effort was not an ad-hoc, hasty reaction to the catastrophe. It was an elaborate effort, beginning in the 1930s with the Nazis' rise to power and continuing throughout World War II and beyond. Additionally, it stood in stark contrast to the efforts of other prominent child rescue and resettlement operations, such as Youth Aliyah to Palestine and the Kindertransport to Britain, whose child rescue activities ceased following the declaration of war in September 1939.

Moreover, the scope of this active American-Jewish response to the Holocaust is less known. Current historiography holds the EJCA responsible for the rescue of approximately 1,000 children and youths who had immigrated to America under its auspices prior to 1941, and of another 350 young Jews who had immigrated before the end of the war. In fact, during the seven years from V-E Day in May 1945 until 1953, when the EJCA terminated its activities, 2,849 unaccompanied European children and youths arrived in the United States. More than 1,500 of them were Jews who were cared for by the EJCA. (19) Another 2,071 youngsters arrived under the auspices of the United Service for New Americans (USNA). The EJCA was also responsible for placing them in homes and overseeing their care until they reached maturity.

Furthermore, study of the EJCA divulges the unique measures taken to allow this rescue operation to continue throughout the war--mainly, the EJCA's fruitful cooperation with two other American organizations, the nonsectarian United States Committee for the Care of European Children (USCOM) and the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), a Quaker organization. Both organizations coordinated the emigration of groups of children and youths from concentration camps in the French "free zone," and also of young Jews who had stolen across the French-Spanish border and arrived in Lisbon. Once in the United States, these minors were cared for by the EJCA. These professional ties, woven together throughout the war, became invaluable after the war ended. Then, the two non-Jewish organizations were able to assist with the immigration of young Holocaust survivors in the DP camps to the United States.

A study of the EJCA offers a glimpse into one of the earliest responses to the Holocaust. It was an active response that facilitated the immigration of children and youths under the least favorable conditions. The young survivors' lengthy plight made their assimilation a challenge--one that the EJCA, its cooperative childcare agencies across America and, evidently, numerous...

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