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D

Yehuda Bauer: My Brother's Keeper

A History of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee 1929-1939


[Holocaust preparations in Europe and resistance without solution of the situation]

The Jewish Publication Society of America, Philadelphia 1974

Transcription with subtitles by Michael Palomino (2007)

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Chapter 6. The Beginning of the End
[D.] The refugees

[6.12. German-Polish action against Jews in 1938: Camp at Zbaszyn]

[25 March 1938: Poland declares all passports not valuable from Jewish Poles since 5 years abroad]

On March 25, 1938, the Polish Sejm passed a law according to which any Polish citizen who had not visited Poland for five consecutive years could be deprived of his citizenship, unless he passport was specifically renewed. The original aim of this ruling was (p.243)

to prevent Polish Jews in Vienna from entering Poland after the German occupation of Austria on March 13, 1938.

[15 June: Poland: Announcement that Polish Jews from Vienna will be put into concentration camp]
On June 15 the Polish Telegraphic Agency reported that those Polish Jews from Vienna who had nevertheless succeeded in crossing the Polish border would be put into the Polish concentration camp of Bereza Kartuska.

[1933: NS Germany: 98,747 Jews of foreign nationality - 56,480 Polish Jews]
Among the approximately 500,000 Jews in Germany in 1933 [official counting without 1/4, 1/2 and 3/4 Jews], there were 98,747 Jews of foreign nationality. Of these, 56,480 were Polish Jews.

(End note 62: S. Adler-Rudel: Ostjuden in Deutschland; Tübingen 1959, p. 166)

[Oct 1938: Denationalization of 56,480 Polish Jews in NS Germany]

Frantic attempts by many of these Jews to avoid being declared stateless were of no avail; their denationalization was to take effect at the end of October 1938.

The Nazi government, bent on getting rid of as many Jews as possible, saw the Polish step as a menace to their own anti-Jewish policy. If they did nothing, they might later not be able to expel these Jews into Poland because the Poles would then argue that they were no longer Polish citizens.

One of the main planks of the original Nazi party program in 1920 had been to rid Germany of foreigners, and first and foremost this applied to Jews. Ideologically, therefore, there was every reason for the Nazis to prevent the continuation of Polish Jewish residence in Germany.

[But it seems NS government tolerated the Polish Jews until 1938].

[6 Oct 1938: Poland announces renewal for passports limit for 29 October]
On October 6 [1938] the Polish government decreed that those who did not have their passport renewed by October 29 would lose their Polish citizenship.

[26 Oct 1938: NS Foreign Office requests Gestapo send back Polish Jews from Germany]

On October 26 the German Foreign Office requested the Gestapo to evict as many Polish Jews as possible from Germany.

(End note 63:
-- Ibid. [S. Adler-Rudel: Ostjuden in Deutschland; Tübingen 1959], p.153
-- Raphael Mahler: Ringelblum's Letters from and about Zbaszyn (Hebrew): Yalkut Moreshet 2 (May 1964: 14 ff.)

[27/28 Oct 1938: Reich: 17,000 Polish Jews are deported back to Poland]

The Gestapo obliged with its customary promptness and brutality, and on the night of October 27/8, some 17,000 Polish Jews in Germany were rounded up, some of them in their nightclothes. Many were beaten. They were put on special trains and sent to the Polish border. There some of them were forced by the Germans to cross the border illegally; most, however, were simply shunted across the frontier in railway carriages.

Some of the refugees still had families or other connections in Poland and were able to resettle with some measure of ease. Others were less fortunate. People who had left Poland dozens of years before, or had never been to Poland at all but had inherited their (p.244)

[Nov 1938: 12,800 Jewish homeless deportees from NS Germany in Poland - Zbaszyn open air prison for some 5,500 Polish Jews from NS Germany - figures]

Polish citizenship from their parents, found no place to stay. By early November the JDC office counted 12,800 homeless refugees all over the country. There were small groups of these refugees in the main Jewish centers such as Lodz, Warsaw, and Cracow. Local refugee committees sprang up in these places to look after the people as best they could.

The worst spot, however, was a tiny hamlet of some 4,000 inhabitants, Zbaszyn, on the main railroad between Frankfurt on the Oder and Poznan, which was situated on the Polish side of the border with Germany. At the crossing the Germans expelled some 9,300 men, women, and children; nearly 4,000 managed to get away into Poland within the first 48 hours.

The Poles were unwilling to let the rest, some 5,500, into Poland and forced them to remain in the village. It presented a terrible sight. Since the number of refugees was larger than the total population of the village, they had to be housed in stables, pigsties, and other temporary shelters.

November is a very cold month in Poland, and after the first few days there were problems concerning bedding, heating, warm food, sanitation, and medical attention. The refugees themselves were completely helpless, for the Polish government would not allow any of them to leave Zbaszyn for the interior.

[Zbaszyn became an open air prison for them].

[Polish Jewry about the Polish Jews from Germany - help actions by JDC and others - Ringelblum's help]

Polish Jewry, however, reacted fairly swiftly. On November 4 an aid committee was set up in Warsaw, which collected large amounts of money locally. By July 1939 over 3.5 mio. zloty had been collected, of which JDC contributed 20 %.

(End note 64: Germany-refugees in Poland, report: the Activity of the General Aid Committee for Jewish Refugees from Germany in Poland, 11/1/38-7/1/39 [1 November 1938-1 July 1939]. the total collection was 3,543,299 zloty, of which JDC contributed 721,149, and other foreign sources, 539,725).

This was besides aid in kind, which during this period amounted to over 1 million zloty more.

The struggle over the Zbaszyn refugees had an importance that transcended mere financial considerations. JDC in Poland found itself pursuing a policy quite different from the one it had practiced throughout the 1930s. Giterman and the famous historian Emanuel Ringelblum, who was a JDC employee, rushed to Zbaszyn immediately on receipt of the news of the refugees' arrival. With local aid, they organized the first help.

Throughout the months of (p.245)

November and December, JDC personnel directly supervised the aid activities at Zbaszyn. The usual roles seemed to be reversed: usually, JDC allocated money and the local committees did the actual work; in this case, the local Warsaw committee provided the bulk of the funds, and JDC personnel did the actual work of organizing and supervising the aid.

At first Giterman's policy at Zbaszyn was not to erect more permanent structures for the refugees, since this might encourage the Polish government to regard Zbaszyn as a permanent refugee camp.

(End note 65: 29-Germany, Polish deportations, Zbaszyn, report by Giterman, November 1938)

However, this policy of trying to pressure the Polish government into doing something penalized the refugees rather than the government, which refused even to provide food.

[December 1938: Cold winter in Zbaszyn - aid organized by JDC Ringelblum]

In early December intense cold set in, and there was no choice but to order adequate bedding and food and to construct appropriate shelters.

After the first ten days Giterman left and Ringelblum, with a devoted staff of about ten people, stayed on. In the name of JDC he organized food distribution, heating, first aid, distribution of clothes (collected from all over Poland), emigration advice, and similar essential activities. He also saw to it that there was a library, that the schooling of children was organized, that a Talmud Torah for Orthodox children was set up, that concerts and lectures were held.

Apparently he even collected historical material on the expulsion of Polish Jews from Germany; unfortunately this material has not reached us.

[End 1938: 5,200 Polish Jews from NS Germany in Zbaszyn]
Despite repeated interventions by the Warsaw committee the Poles let very few of the refugees enter the country, and by the end of the year there were still 5,200 refugees at Zbaszyn.

[Finance quarrels about Zbaszyn open air prison]

An aspect of the Zbaszyn crisis was the growing tension between the Polish Jewish committee and JDC. Giterman stated JDC's position in a cable he sent on December 21: "We giving contribution only when approached by local organizations after their funds becoming exhausted." In the U.S., meanwhile, JDC fund raising naturally became geared to the new situation and much money was collected for aid for refugees in Poland. In early 1939 the Warsaw refugee committee complained that only 15 % of the funds so (p.246) far had been spent by foreign organizations, including JDC, while all the rest had come from the impoverished Polish Jewish community.

In New York, Alexander Kahn, chairman of JDC's Polish Committee, was worried. He stated: "Our position is untenable, when we seek and receive substantial contributions here for assistance to German deportees and negligible sums are expended in the face of such dire need."

(End note 66: Ibid. [29-Germany, Polish deportations, Zbaszyn, report by Giterman, November 1938], quoted by Hyman to Paris JDC, 1/20/39 [20 January 1939])

[1939: More money for Zbaszyn]
Possibly as a result of repeated interventions by the New York office, JDC expenditure for Zbaszyn increased in 1939.

[Early June 1939: 4,000 Polish Jewish refugees at Zbaszyn]
By early June [1939] there were still 4,000 Jews at Zbaszyn, and about $ 40,000 monthly was needed there. However, JDC in Poland was careful; it was not completely convinced of the correctness of the Warsaw committee's statistics, and besides, additional issues had arisen in the meantime to complicate the problem considerably.

[Poland's action plans against Germany]
The Polish government was extremely unhappy about the whole situation. Trying to pay the Germans back in their own coin, it threatened to expel German citizens from Poland, especially German Jewish refugees who had arrived from Germany in previous years. In this tragic situation, where the mutual animosity of two anti-Semitic states was typically and brutally expressed by the maltreatment of each other's Jews,

[24 Jan 1939: Agreement for no further expulsion - temporary stay for the expelled in Germany to arrange their affairs]

a way out was found (at least temporarily) when both countries agreed on January 24, 1939, that no further expulsion would take place, and that the Jewish expellees would be granted limited rights to visit Germany to wind up their affairs there or to arrange for final emigration to other countries.







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