Letter of Appeal to Support the Children of European Refugees, 1938
The letter appeals for donations to place European refugee children in traditional Jewish homes in the Land of Israel. The letter was distributed by the "Child Home Placement Bureau – To Support European Refugees Children in Traditional Jewish Homes in the Holy Land" and was signed by many dignitaries including Rabbi Isaac Herzog, the Chief Rabbi of Israel at the time, and some writers, doctors, and lawyers.
The letter appeals to the local Jewish community to help parents who are trying to save their children from the dangers facing them in Europe:
“In their great despair, they quite naturally stretch out their hand to the National Homeland of the Jewish people for help.”
The authors of the letter call on the religious sentiments of readers, claiming that it is their religious and moral imperative to help these Jews:
“Dare we step aside, and by so doing aid in the destruction of the future of our race? Their cries in this terrible hour rend the very Heavens. How can we then, 'Rachmonim Bnai Rachmonim,' do other than attune our hearts to their cries, and with mercy and understanding come to their rescue?”
The authors are referring here to a quote from the Sefer HaChinuch, a thirteenth-century work about the 613 commandments, in which mercy for others is seen as one of the most noble Jewish characteristics.
The letter outlines the plans to take care of the children until they can be reunited with their families and the large sums of money that will be required. The letter ends with the following vision:
“Children saved from the ruins of present European Jewry, and nurtured in the tenets of their ancient faith in the Land of Israel, are a pledge for the salvation and the future rebirth of the People of Israel.”
This letter was written in December 1938 at a time when German Jews were desperate to get out of Germany. Hitler had been in power for five years, and the situation for German Jews had deteriorated. Two months earlier, in October, their passports had been declared invalid, and the previous month, on November 10-11, Kristallnacht (the night of broken glass) had taken place when many Jewish shops, homes, and synagogues were destroyed. Many Jews had been arrested and imprisoned in concentration camps.
This letter could be used by History teachers when discussing the efforts of international Jewry and others to assist German refugees in escaping Nazi Germany. Teachers could also use this document to focus on the specific efforts to assist child refugees. Teachers are invited to use other sources relating to Youth Aliyah in our Henrietta Szold Resource Pack.
They could also refer to the Kindertransport, using this resource, from the London Jewish Museum.
Teachers of Civics and Social Studies could use this resource in discussions about granting asylum to refugees, both past and present.
English teachers could use this source as an example of persuasive writing.
Who was this letter directed at?
What was the purpose of this letter?
Which sentences describe the difficult situation of the Jews in Germany? (Highlight the text or copy them into your notebook.)
According to the letter, what was the vision for the future of the rescued children?
Who signed this letter?
Reading Between the Lines
Why did this organisation publish this appeal?
What was happening in Europe at this time?
This letter was distributed in 1938. How did the situation of the Jews in Europe change in the following years?
The letter laid out plans to take care of the children until they were reunited with their families. Considering the events in Europe in the following years, do you think that these children were actually reunited with their loved ones? Explain your answer.
The letter uses the words “step-mother lands” to describe the countries from which these Jews were fleeing.
What is the significance of this phrase? Why do you think that the authors used this term?
What phrase is used to describe Israel in this letter?
Take a look at the names of the people who signed the letter. See if you can find information about these figures on the internet or in other sources.
Do you know anyone who fled from Europe before or during the Second World War? Have you seen a video about these refugees or read a book about their experiences?
If so, what were their feelings before fleeing their home country?
What were their experiences during the escape?
How did they feel when they arrived in their new country?
Did people help them?
Many Jewish children escaped to Britain in an organised rescue effort named the Kindertransport. Look up information about the Kindertransport on the internet or in other information sources.
Today thousands of refugees are fleeing their countries on a daily basis.
Give an example of one of these countries.
Do you know of any organisations working to help these refugees?
The Torah contains the phrase warning us “not to mistreat or oppress the stranger in your land” many times. What does this teach us about the responsibility of the Jewish people towards refugees?
Imagine that you were living in Israel in 1938 and you heard about the terrible situation of the European Jews. Design a poster appealing to people to help the refugees.
The office of the Child Home Placement Bureau was located at 9, Nehemia Street, Jerusalem. Look at this map of Jerusalem from the 1930s and compare it to a modern-day map. How has the city changed?
Research the Anglo-Palestine Bank. What is the name of the bank today?
Have Rabbis and other leaders of the Jewish community today addressed the current refugee issue?
Read these articles to find out more and discuss the issue in class.