A Travel Report By Rabbi Eliezer Silver
Greetings from the Surviving Remnants of the Jewish People recounts Rabbi Eliezer Silver’s (1882–1968) incredible journey across postwar Europe to help the Jewish communities recover from the war. During his journeys, Rabbi Silver interceded with European government leaders to deliver Jewish children out of the homes of non-Jews. He visited yeshivas where he examined boys who had been previously rescued from churches wearing crosses around their necks. He took out loans in his own name to fund his trip and help Jewish communities. He went hungry, living off matzo alone, and even traveled in an open-cockpit airplane just to spend time with Jewish survivors in Poland. Greetings from the Surviving Remnants of the Jewish People is the fulfillment of Rabbi Silver’s promise to the Jewish survivors to let America know of their troubles.
Rabbi Silver employed the services of Yiddish writer and journalist Z. H. Wachsman, who was known for his correspondence during the war, to cover his heroic mission work. According to Zalman Reyzen’s Leksikon (pp. 302–303, Volume 3), Wachsman was a New York correspondent for several papers, including Der yidisher zhurnal (know as the “Daily Hebrew Journal” in English) in Toronto, where this report was printed. He was an associate in New York for the foreign office of propaganda of the Czechoslovakian government.
“I bear the belief and faith of the Jews in the camps, as well as the sanctity of the Land of Israel.”
—Rabbi Eliezer Silver
A monumental report on the Jews in France, Belgium, Holland, Czechoslovakia, Poland, Italy, [and] the DP camps in Austria, Germany, and Italy. Compelling con-versations with government officials throughout Europe, [the] ransoming of Jewish prisoners in Egypt, a historical visit to the Land of Israel, important political con-versations with the High Commissioner of the Holy Land. Interesting episodes and tense moments during Rabbi Silver’s 15-week journey across half the world. A report of conviction, strength, and faith.
Rabbi Eliezer Silver [visits] the Queen of Holland
During the banquet in honor of Rabbi Eliezer Silver’s departure on his mission work, the rabbi made a toast in which he promised to not just observe other people’s misfortunes but rather to seek comfort and positivity in the midst of Europe’s mayhem. At the airport, he whispered to me: “It seems that I jumped the gun on my promise. I just hope that I can follow through . . .” and that is exactly what he did. He did not encounter a single desperate person there but rather true spiritual giants, people with faith and perseverance.
There was one other Jew on the airplane, reports Rabbi Silver, who sat by him while the rabbi was praying in his tallis and tefillin. In regards to the question as to whether this Jew had also prayed on the airplane, Rabbi Silver gives an indirect response: “It is possible that he had prayed before I did . . . but he sat behind me, so I was unable to see what he had been doing.”
At the residence of the Queen of Holland
His first destination was Amsterdam, where he met the Chief Rabbi of the Land of Israel, Dr. Yitzchok-Isaac [haLevi] Herzog. These two towering figures devoted all their time and energy to the world’s cause. They were both doing relief work, both were traveling for the benefit of Jewish children, and both had one singular aim in mind: [providing] spiritual and material support to our surviving remnants.
Out of the more than 120,000 Jews in Holland, few had survived; and the Jewish community of Amsterdam, which had totaled nearly 80,000 Jews before the war, was left orphaned. The city itself was kept mostly intact. However, the large Ashkenazi synagogues were left mostly in ruins. Only the Portuguese synagogue remained standing. The townsfolk say that this was due to the enthusiastic intervention of the Portuguese consul, as well as a number of the city’s eminent non-Jews. Rabbi Yaakov Tal, the former chief rabbi of the Dutch Jewish community in Utrecht (the only city where the most Jews survived), is now the chief rabbi of Holland. With the help of the office of the chief rabbi of London and with America’s help, yet most importantly because of their own efforts, Jewish life had more or less reorganized. That said, there are many Jewish children who are still living in homes of non-Jews, and that fact alone, says Rabbi Silver, is what compelled him to meet with the queen of Holland, Wilhelmina.
Despite Holland having withstood the Germans’ first murderous attack on Western Europe, the rabbi has the impression that this country, with some exceptions, such as Rotterdam and the industrial sector, came out nearly unscathed. The electric train travels from Amsterdam to the official capital, Den Haag. Everything in the country feels at peace, and the people are cheerful and upbeat, as if the world had never experienced the war.
In the years prior to 1939, before the deluge, kosher sandwiches, bearing the rabbi’s seal, were sold on the trains; and gentile boys, who would sell these sandwiches, could recognize Jews from miles away. The cellophane bags were called reor (ritual, i.e., kosher food during the ride). However, these days that’s no longer necessary, as Dutch Jewry has shrunken so significantly and since people travel much less and eat very little . . .
The trains are clean and comfortable. These are truly peaceful times. It is hard to tell that people lived through five difficult years of German occupation. It was clear that passengers make it a point to be friendly to us Orthodox rabbis, and they show this in any way that they can.
The royal castle was left practically undamaged. We were let in without any difficulty or any special ceremonies. Her Majesty Queen Wilhelmina, with her maternal appearance about her, had been informed of our coming and, once there, Rabbi Silver went straight to business, setting all formalities aside, as was his custom. He was concerned about one distressing issue: the thousands of Jewish children still in non-Jewish homes and institutions in Holland who cannot be easily returned to the Jewish way of life.
Do not believe in promises
“Your Majesty,” said Rabbi Silver, addressing the queen. “We are mourning the loss of millions of Jews in Europe. We consider every child that is returned to us a big win, for children are our future and our only hope. In the name of the great Jewish community of America, I am turning to you today just as your great-great-grandfather William the Silent did when he turned to the people of the world. I am coming to you, as the mother of Holland that you are, with this request: to help our people regain their children . . . [and] I must add”—the rabbi continued—“that we have received more promises than the world can or intends to keep, but that does not stop us from demanding justice and fairness . . .”
Queen Wilhelmina listened attentively to the rabbi and promised him that she would do everything in her power to remove Jewish children from non-Jewish custody. However, the rabbi was not convinced. Rabbi Dr. Yitzchok-Isaac haLevi Herzog had visited the queen at an earlier period and had received a similar promise but had yet to see any actual results.
Trust in the Lord
Gaon Silver thanked the Queen of Holland, in the name of traditional Jews, for her goodwill. He said to her in more or less the following words: “Your Majesty, it is a great honor and delight to present you with the concerns and requests of Orthodox Jews, and it is uplifting to hear your promise to help us. However, our request is addressed to the Lord above, for on every Passover we say, ‘Vehi She’amda, La’avotainu Velanu Shelo Echad Bilvad, Amad Aleinu Lechaloteinu . . . V’HaKadosh Baruch Hu Matzilenu Miyadam’—many evil men have sought to destroy us, but the Lord rescued us from their hands. We believe in the eternalness of the Jewish people. Your Excellency, we have an old covenant that is called ‘Veaf gam zot’ [“And yet for all that,” from Leviticus 26:44], wherein the Lord of the Universe promised us that He would not abandon us in our times of trouble; and it is for this reason that I believe in your promises to help us save these Jewish children by returning them to our people.”
Americans are our Jews
The queen reminded the rabbi that the first Jewish community in America, or better put, in New York, were Dutch Jewish refugees who faced similar challenges; and it was only thanks to the Dutch Crown that they successfully overcame the cruelty of that time and went on to help build the first Jewish community on American soil. New York Jews are our Jews, and if you are their representative, [we want them to know that] we feel a responsibility to them, and to all Jews, for that mat-ter.
Rabbi Silver promised to relay her message to American Jews, but he left with the feeling that no government will help them if they do not help themselves. At any rate, Rabbi Silver believes that Dutch Jews can accomplish more on their own and, with the Lord’s help, will recover whatever possible.
You are not alone
The leaders of what remained of Dutch Jewry assembled for Rabbi Silver’s departure. Teary-eyed, he said his good-byes, reassuring them that they have the full support of the great Jewish community of America. He left them a sum of money and said, “You are not alone. We stand by your side and will assist you in your difficult task of rebuilding one of the most beautiful traditional Jewish communities, one of the finest centers of [religious] learning in the Diaspora.”
The leaders of Dutch Jewry accompanied the gaon to the Belgian border. A couple hours later, the rabbi arrived in Antwerp, one of the finest Jewish communities in postwar Europe.
From church to yeshiva . . .
Belgium and France—where Jewishness is being revived
People claim that Belgium is a kind of “free American colony”; Belgium and America have the best economic relationships, and both countries have made the most lasting economic concessions. Belgium is doing well for itself. It is the only country that gave America several million dollars more of “lend-lease” materials than [Belgium] received from [America] . . . Countries and peoples, even more than individuals, are consumed by jealousy and envy. For the same reason that Belgium grants America certain clearances in her yards and ports, America gives Belgium more goods and better credit. The Belgians are a practical people. They do not dabble in nationalism or so-called sovereignty, and it does not bother them when their neighbors say that Belgium is a “free American colony.”
The Belgian government, says Rabbi Silver, got into contact with their Jews immediately after the war. Most of them were not even Belgian citizens but rather good diamond merchants, qualified diamond cutters, skilled tanners, and specialists in other fields. [The Belgian government] asked them to return home. Many of them did in fact return and settled back into their old way of life.
Jewishness is flowering in Belgium
The Jews of Antwerp gave the co-president of the Union of Orthodox Rabbis of America a great reception. Belgian Jews had a lot to boast about to an Orthodox figure. Belgium has many of its own yeshivas and other religious schools for boys and girls. The Jewish community of Antwerp is reorganized and functioning just like it did in the good old days. There is already talk of publishing a Jewish paper. The rabbi pledged to support Jewish letters in America and did not set any conditions.
Rabbi Silver, who stresses the importance of education, went around to Jewish schools to examine the children himself. He wept when the leaders of one yeshiva introduced him to boys who were recently taken out of Belgian churches and brought to yeshiva with crosses around their necks. This is a twofold miracle, says the rabbi. It is a miracle that they were rescued, but it is an even greater miracle that, after a number of weeks, they became genuine Jews and were filled with faith and knowledge of Jewishness. In a matter of months they mastered everything and forgot the instruction they had learned for years among non-Jews. They received the letters, says the rabbi, that flew out of the burning Sefer Torahs; for our tradition has it that holy books cannot be burned, just as it is [written], “Gevilin nis-rafim ve-otiyot porkhot”—only the parchment can be burned, but letters fly out [of the page] undisturbed. This is to say that the Torah is eternal and thus cannot be burned or destroyed . . .
Belgium is the only country . . .
Rabbi Silver promised the Belgian Jews that the Torah-observant Jewish communities of America and Canada will be by their side. He promised to send them an able staff that will continue the great work of rebuilding Judaism, which Belgian Jews had already successfully begun [doing] with their own resources.
The Jews of Belgium thanked the rabbi for the transports of Sefer Torahs, religious books, and other holy items that the Union of Orthodox Rabbis had sent to Belgium a year earlier. They told him about how thrilled they all were when his personal gift of three hundred boxes of matzoth arrived.
The rabbi met with the representatives of the government and thanked them, on behalf of American Jewry, for their cooperation in rescuing Jewish children from non-Jewish hands. Incidentally, Belgium is the only country where the court ruled that Jewish children must be returned to Jews without exception. During the war, the Belgian people did the most to save Jewish children, and not only children but adults as well. Now a younger generation of Torah-observant Jews is emerging in Belgium, and all of Europe is looking on with anticipation and hope.
However, the rabbi continues, despite economic prosperity and the fact that Belgian Jewry is bouncing back, their eyes are nonetheless fixed on Zion and Jerusalem. They are giving the little money that they have to Israel, and all of their energy is focused on the Jewish homeland. The rabbi, who is the president of Agu-dath Israel in America, is inspired by the love and devotion that all Belgian Jews, regardless of their politics, have for the Land of Israel. For me, says Rabbi Silver, it was quite the treat to get to know the Belgian Jews. These are Jews who do not belong to one particular party but ascribe to all sorts of parties and political orientations, or none at all. This [experience] gave me the courage to trudge forward on the dark journey ahead, or better put, on my ‘flight’ across the world. May God bless these faithful community leaders who are a living example of the resilience and eternalness of the Jewish people and their Torah.
The renaissance of French sages
How good are your tents, O Jacob. This is what was on Rabbi Silver’s mind when he was traveling from Belgium to France. How good are your tents, O Jacob, your dwelling places, O Israel [Numbers 24:5]. A flood unleashed upon the Earth and wiped out the best of our people, annihilating the best of our sons and daughters, eradicating our holy communities the world over, and [now] around 20,000 Jews are returning to a small country and are undertaking to restore it back to its original glory, to pick up the seemingly irreparable pieces, to revive the dry bones and prove yet again that it is not one [enemy] alone that arose against us to destroy us [from Vehi She’Amda in the Passover Haggadah] . . .
In Paris, Rabbi Silver encountered organized Jewish life. After London, Paris is the greatest Jewish settlement in Western Europe. Other than the general Jewish community, the so-called Consistoire Israélite, there is a Union of Orthodox Rabbis in Paris. Jewish life there is alive and well. It is teeming with Jewish newspapers and has a Jewish educational system where tradition is greatly stressed.
The rabbi visited several orphanages in which life is kept strictly Jewish. In “Belleville,” which is back to being a Jewish neighborhood, traditional Jewish schools operate like they once did in Poland and Lithuania. Large groups of Jews from Eastern Europe arrive in France on a daily basis and, as a result, new issues and institutions have arisen.
When it comes to immigration, the French government is the most liberal of the European [countries]. It is a place of refuge for Jews—for some on a temporary basis and for others on a permanent one. The economic situation is by no means as regulated and strong as in neighboring Belgium; however, this does not inhibit the revitalization of the Jewish spirit in all its forms.
Immediately after the liberation of France, a yeshiva by the name of Yeshivat Chachmei Tzarfat [Yeshiva of the sages of France] opened in the location of the wonderful spa of Aix-les-Baines. Jewish children and young adults from all over the world study there, some of whom were young boys who stood before the gates of the gas chambers, young adults who had survived unbelievable hell in Buchenwald and Dachau, in Oświęcim and Majdanek. Not since Rashi and Rabbeinu Tam, not since the last French sages who lived before the First Revolution, has the sound of Torah studying been heard.
This yeshiva, which the rabbi uses as an example for other such institutions, is literally located in a palace, surrounded by a garden, and the yeshiva boys are taken good care of there. The French government, as well as the French people, give all due respect and sympathy to these contemporary “French Sages.” The rabbi remarked that [religious] Jews, with their beard and sidelocks, fit well into the landscape, which has not seen such Jews since the 18th century.
Expecting material and moral support from America
When [the yeshiva] first started, around May 1945, the emissaries of the Union of Orthodox Rabbis of America, i.e., the messieurs Dr. Shmuel Schmidt and Rabbi Dr. Yitskhok Levin, came for a visit. Dr. Zerach Warhaftig was there later. The Union of Orthodox Rabbis, and most of all Rabbi Silver, sent for more transports of holy books and other materials. Even though all of these fine institutions strive to become self-reliant, they do not have the means to be independent, and so they expect “unsolicited” aid from the rich and powerful in Jewish America. Rabbi Silver says that these institutions gave him the courage to continue on his mission. He began to see the spiritual giants there, those who survived everything and did not falter but rather grew in their faith. They should serve as a guiding light for us American Jews. By supporting them we get more than we give, because the Jews of Belgium and France give us reason to exist. They need our support in the form of money and kind words, while we need theirs in order to strengthen our spirit and keep our belief in the eternalness of the Jewish people strong.
In an open[-cockpit] airplane to Breslov
Rabbi Silver flies to Prague for the reopening of the world-famous Jewish museum; [riding] from Prague to Breslov in the “sidecar” of an open[-cockpit] air-plane; 10,000 Jews in Lodz greet the representative of Orthodox Jewry in America
In Paris, the rabbi was warned that it is dangerous for Orthodox Jews to travel to Eastern Europe, especially to Poland, in their religious garb. The rabbi eventually gave in to his friends pleading to accept an “assignment” from the American army, and as one of the chief rabbis of America he received the theoretical rank of colonel. Immediately thereafter Rabbi Silver flew out to Prague, where the world-famous Jewish museum was reopening. The museum is located at the entrance of the old cemetery, across from the 1,000-year-old “Al Tnay Shul,” better known as the Maharal Shul, which the people of Prague prevented the Germans from destroying.
The opening of a Jewish museum
Jews and Czechoslovakians alike celebrated the opening of the old and historically significant Jewish museum in Prague. They consider it a return to the old system of Czechoslovakian democracy. There were in fact several members of the cabinet ministry in attendance there, and the leaders of Jewish and non-Jewish Prague. After the minister of education finished his celebratory speech, Rabbi Silver took the floor and began with these words: “Today, we are celebrating the resurrection of the Jewish spirit against the evil forces of destruction; we are reopening the Jewish museum, which represents the beautiful [aspects] of our shared history in this country. So let us, at this occasion, have in mind not only the silent witnesses of our distant past but also the living victims of our not-so-distant past . . . allow me to remind you all of the several thousand Jews of the Carpathian mountains who were good Czechoslovakian citizens and are now homeless . . .”
This marked the beginning of Rabbi Silver’s intercession for the Carpathian Jews, over three thousand of whom did not want to return to their old homes, which were now located in Russian-Ukrainian territory. Upon the rabbi’s return, news was received that the Czechoslovakian government recognized the Carpathian Jews as Czechoslovakian citizens. Rabbi Silver, at a special meeting in New York, thanked Jan Masaryk for this act of humanity. (See the picture at the beginning.)
Rabbi Silver participated in a prayer service at the Maharal Shul. “I am one of you,” the rabbi said in his sermon. “My grandfather, Yom-Tov Lipmann Heller, author of the Tosafot Yom-Tov, was the rabbi of the city.” Afterward, the rabbi went to pray at the graves of the Maharal [Judah Loew ben Bezalel] and the Node Biyehudah [Yechezkel Landau]. During a special visit of the Union of Jewish Com-munities, Rabbi Silver listened to a report on the rescue of Jewish children who lived in non-Jewish homes and institutions during the war. [This was] the same case as in France and Belgium but with more tragedy and peril. The rabbi engaged in longer deliberations with the leaders of every segment of Czechoslovakian Jewry but especially with surviving Orthodox Jews, east of the Republic, as well as with representatives of the foreign Jews who are located in large numbers in the Czechoslovakian capital.
Based on the statistics of the Czechoslovakian government, 130,000 Polish Jews have emigrated to Czechoslovakia for the past 13 months. While the rabbi was visiting, this number had not yet been verified. However, Rabbi Silver was aware at the time of the heavy influx of migrants.
In a “sidecar” to Poland
[The word] “sidecar” sounded fine to us at first. However, when we learned what kind of “car” the rabbi actually traveled in, it turned out to be worse than it sounded. The Jews of the former German city of Breslav, which is now a part of Po-land and is called Wroclaw, had invited Rabbi Eliezer Silver, the president of Vaad Hatzalah [Rescue Committee], to spend a Sabbath with them. The rabbi, who had plans to travel to the eastern provinces of Czechoslovakia, decided to postpone the trip for a later date and promised them that he would come. However, transportation fell through at the last minute. The rabbi wanted so much to spend the Sab-bath with the survivors in Wroclaw that he accepted the offer to travel or, better put, to fly in the open “sidecar” of a military airplane. And what a sorry excuse for a sidecar, as the rebbe put it, more of a wooden box mounted to an airplane, which wasn’t so great either . . . and so he boarded this box, or “ark,” as Rabbi Silver ironically called it, on a chilly, unpleasant Friday morning at the airport in Prague on his way to Wroclaw . . .
Regarding the ride over, Rabbi Silver says that it is better not to ask . . . That said, he arrived in Wroclaw before the Sabbath. Rabbi Silver does not want to discuss the many thousands of dollars that he left in Belgium, France, and Western Czechoslovakia. However, we have learned from reliable sources that he was out of money when he arrived in Poland, and so from his city of Cincinnati he remotely took out a very sizable loan, which he and his friend guaranteed, so that they could do “work” in Poland.
They care more for the Germans than the Jews in the camps
Rabbi Silver alone brings 1,000 Jews from Poland; a visit to the camps of
Austria, Germany, and Italy; Jews are starving while the Germans are gorging themselves; the large “Brichah Aliyah” camp; a branch of the Union of Orthodox Rabbis of America in the DP camps
Having wrapped up in Slovakia, where, the rabbi explains, every city has its own yeshiva and every Jewish community is a replica of past Jewish communities in Lithuania and Poland, the rabbi made another short visit to Prague. He brought along a gift from Poland: namely, a thousand Jews, for whom he assumed financial responsibility. In Prague, the Union of Jewish Communities, headed by Engineer Fresher, gave him considerable help in clothing these Jews and providing them with all their necessities until they were able to continue on their journey to the safety of the West.
Jews are starving in the transit camps
Rabbi Silver is frustrated with the local occupying administration of the allied governments, which he says are more concerned about the welfare of the local Germans than for their Jewish victims. He encountered terrible conditions in every camp but especially in the Austrian transit camps, where Jews are literally starving to death over a morsel of bread while the local Austrian population eats relatively well and is dressed normally. Rabbi Silver is especially upset with the American occupying forces, and he makes no secret of it. In a longer conversation with the commanding American general in the region of Salzburg, he scolded him in his classic way. He told the general that he will bring to America’s attention not only [the fact] that Jews are going hungry in the transit camps but that Americans have learned from the English to look down upon these poor Jewish vagabonds as if they are somehow lower on the totem pole and only trouble . . .
The general, whose name, the rabbi says, he will give to a well-known senator for investigation, made poor excuses, claiming that he is unable to sufficiently care for their needs because he never knows how many Jews will show up at a given time.
Baking bread for Jews in the camps
Being that Rabbi Silver is a practical person and does not count on his intercessions alone, he started by supplying flour and then had the first couple hundred kilos of bread baked for these starving Jews. He sent Dr. Yitskhok Levin to the baker in the nearby town and had an “oven bread” baked for [them]. Rabbi Silver tells of the dramatic scenes that broke out when they were distributing the first portions of bread to children. Adult refugees stood nearby and swallowed their spit. No one, however, dared to get a piece of bread for themselves until all the children were full
. . . [the adults] gathered breadcrumbs from the floor and ate them with the sand while Rabbi Silver stood nearby, drowning in his tears.
There will be food from now on
Long before continuing on his journey, Rabbi Silver met with the American occupying power, the representatives of the large Jewish relief organizations, and the camp-based committees. He worked out a plan for there to be enough food to eat regardless of the amount of transmigrants who come to any one of the camps in Austria. When we asked the rabbi what kind of financial guarantee he had brought with him, he said that first of all there is an ancient promise from the Lord [called] Veaf gam zoys [“And yet for all that,” from Leviticus 26:44], and then he organized the rabbis into a branch of the Union of Orthodox Rabbis of America and Canada. He gave them their first duty of making sure that there is enough food in the transit camps at all times. The rabbi is now showing me a package of telegrams from this [branch] of the “Union of Orthodox Rabbis,” in which they gave a report on their work and . . . asked for money.
What are transit camps?
It is worthwhile to take a moment to talk about transit camps themselves. These are camps without a static “population” of refugees. Jews, who escaped mostly from Poland, arrive there every day in large parties and stay there until they are able to resume travel. Only a small fraction of the campmates actually “reside” there. The camps received aid from UNRRA [The United Nations Relief and Re-habilitation Administration], as well as from American Jewish agencies. Now that the UNRRA is in the process of being dismantled, these camps have become troublesome. There were times when such camps had around 10,000 Jews and only enough food [to feed] a tenth of them.
From Rome to Egypt to Jerusalem
Negotiations with the Italian government; ransoming of Jews in Egypt; a conversation with the high commissioner of the Land of Israel; the holiness of our land
Rabbi Silver believes that too much has already been written on the camps in Germany. He too visited every one of these camps, and he came to the conclusion that no good camps exist—rather, there are bad ones and worse ones. All of the talk about improving the conditions [in the camps] have only to do with the present moment.
It is imperative, says the co-president of the Union of Orthodox Rabbis, that we get the Jews out of every camp. They will not have to say twice where they are going. The path is straight and leads to one place: the Land of Israel.
Sympathy for Italy
Rabbi Eliezer Silver visited all the camps and Jewish settlements in Italy. He provided help where needed and met with the camp leaders. Rabbi Silver noticed in Italy how well the average Italian gets along with the refugees within and outside of the camps. He also noted that the Italian has just as much to eat as the refugee and sometimes less. This is why the Italians get along so well with the Jews.
A Jewish representative of the ministry and a leader of the Italian Jews relayed a semiofficial memorandum to the rabbi regarding the conditions in Italy, and he asked [him] to let his friends in America know about the situation there. Rabbi Eliezer Silver promised him this much, but he asked that Italy keep its gates open to the Jews. Italy needs to be reminded of how exile tastes, and if they want sympathy they need to prove that they are worthy of that sympathy, and that applies not only to the people [of Italy] but of course to the government itself. These people deserve our sympathy and aid.
A small exodus
The rabbi flew from Rome to Egypt, not so he could get some rest but rather to negotiate the ransom of Jews—he traveled there to organize an exodus in miniature. While in Rome, he received outside news that the Egyptian government had arrested more than 30 yeshiva boys, refugees from Shanghai, on account of their visas, which the Egyptian government had nullified in the process. The rabbi inter-ceded on their behalf and delivered them out of Egypt. At the same time, he visited the Jewish communities in Egypt and was impressed by the fine education the children there are receiving from teachers from the Land of Israel, who teach them in the spirit and sanctity of the Holy Land.
Old Jerusalem has never before witnessed such a welcome
Lying before me is the Israeli press, which had produced long descriptions of Rabbi Silver’s visit to the Holy Land. Old Jerusalem, writes Kol Israel [Voice of Israel], had never before seen such a welcome. The experts of Jewish Law in the Holy Land gathered in the large auditorium of Hotel Tel Aviv to greet this gaon of America. Everyone who was anyone was there. The reception felt both celebratory and serious. It began with the prayer, “As for our brothers, the whole house of Israel, who are given over to trouble or captivity . . . ,” which was perfect for the occasion.
After several welcoming speeches, Rabbi Silver gave a lengthy speech in which he reported on his long journey, as well as on the conditions of the Jewish people in the Diaspora. His leitmotif was that all eyes are turned to the Holy Land and that the Land of Israel needs to prepare for the ingathering of the exiled.
The entire press of the Land of Israel devoted considerable space to Rabbi Silver’s historical visit, and the Jerusalem radio station delivered reports on the rabbi’s activities both in and outside of the Land of Israel. Suffice it to say that the rabbi was enthusiastically received in all the towns and colonies of the Holy Land. The rabbi held long conferences with Jewish leaders there and says that he absorbed as much holiness as he could. And he prays to the Lord that he will be able to continue to keep the holiness of the Land of Israel within himself.
A historic conversation between the rabbi and High Commissioner of the Land of Israel
A couple days after his arrival, he was invited by the High Commissioner to his palace on Mount Scopus; and what the rabbi said to the representative of the English Crown, only a few radicals ever dared say to him. Rabbi Silver spoke to him in his usual manner, which is direct and to the point. The rabbi firstly joked around with the High Commissioner, saying that he was unsure whether he should say a blessing, Baruch Ata Adonai Eloheinu Melekh Ha’Olam Shenatan Mikvo-do L’Basar Vadam [Blessed are You God, King of the universe, who has given of His honor to flesh and blood], which a Jew is supposed to say in the presence of a prince. Whatever the case may be, a prince is an elected person, and he must follow in the Lord’s ways and not torment His creation . . .
After the rabbi and the High Commissioner greeted each other, the rabbi de-scribed to Sir Alan Cunningham the conditions of the Jews in Europe—the desperation of the Jewish refugees and their determination to reach the shores of the Jewish homeland.
They say that you are a friend of the Jewish people
I was told that you, says the rabbi to the High Commissioner, are a friend of the Jewish people. I would like to believe it when you give me the opportunity, continued the rabbi. I would like to tell America of your friendship to Jews but not only with words.
The High Commissioner felt somewhat embarrassed and told the rabbi that there are higher priorities and that they must take into account the circumstances. He then asked the rabbi if he really believes that the refugees are dead-set on coming to the Land of Israel and not somewhere else.
The rabbi told the High Commissioner that Jews will come to the Land of Israel from all directions, and nothing in the world will get in their way. The rabbi added: as a spiritual leader I can tell you that settling in the Land of Israel is a commandment of the Torah. There is a commandment in Judaism, remarked the rabbi, to establish a Jewish government in the Land of Israel . . . there is a long list of commandments that apply only when one lives in the Land of Israel and we consider all hindrances to entering the Holy Land as an attack against the Torah, which we do not have to spell out.
Against “terror” but also against “slander”
The High Commissioner gave a friendly smile and asked another question: Are you for terror in the Land of Israel?
The rabbi did not miss a beat and answered: I am, as a religious person, against terror. But I will also tell you that I am against denunciation as well, which is to say I am against the Jews cooperating with your police . . . we can agree and disagree about the methods of a certain segment of the Jewish settlement, but we are decidedly against slander and denunciation. Our inner conflicts are of no one’s concern. We do not fight with Jews, not even our opponents.
The rabbi then went on the attack: tell me, Mr. High Commissioner, do priests need certificates to enter the Land of Israel?
It seems to me as not, answered the High Commissioner.
If not, concluded Rabbi Silver, I think it is only right for you to grant all religions the same rights and to let rabbis in without certificates. In America, the representatives of all religions enjoy the same rights . . . England and America are friends, and I would hope that we Jews will continue to help solidify this friendship, just like we did during the war, when mortal danger hung over England . . .
After the High Commissioner promised to seriously consider the rabbi’s re-quests, he expressed gratitude for the rabbi’s visit and for his spirited explanations, and he accompanied him to his automobile.
Will reorganize aid
The rabbi flew to America from the Land of Israel with the firm decision to reorganize aid from Orthodox Jews for Jews in and outside of Israel. He is actually working on this issue as we speak, and before he makes a second trip, he will send forth a number of emissaries, who will carry out his decisions in Europe and Israel.
The rabbi is persuaded of one thing, and he is working toward achieving that
goal: namely, for a large amount of Jews to reach the shores of the Land of Israel as quickly as possible.
Rabbi Silver believes that this is a case of all or nothing at all. If the Land of Israel is to become the Jewish land, and a Jewish land in the fullest sense of the word, it will only be possible when Jews can go there without any interference from non-Jews. Settling in the Land of Israel and governing Israel are commanded by God and in our present situation is the only recourse.
Z. H. WACHSMAN (1900–1948) prepared and edited this travel report. He is the author of three Yiddish books on the subject of Jews in Nazi Europe. They include In land fun maharal un masaryk (1936); Yidn nokhn nitsokhn: di go-les-regirungen un zeyer shtelung tsu yidn (1943); and Yan masaryk: a fraynd fun yidishn folk (1943).
NOAH BARRERA is a Yiddish translator, writer, and educator. His writings have appeared in the Yiddish Forverts, Afn Shvel, and Der Veker. Barrera is preparing an academic translation of Abraham Rechtman’s memoirs, Yidishe etnografye un folklor, which describes Sh. An-sky’s Jewish Ethnographic Expedition. The vol-ume will be published by Indiana University Press. He is currently writing his first Yiddish novella, Der nekhtiker tegnik (The Grave Whisperer), which is running as a serial in the Forverts.