The Response of Orthodox Jewry in the United States to the Holocaust

By Efraim Zuroff

Format: Hardcover



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When hundreds of Polish rabbis and yeshiva students were forced to flee to Lithuania in the wake of the outbreak of World War II and the Soviet invasion of Poland, Orthodox rabbis in the United States responded by establishing a special rescue committee on their behalf called the Emergency Committee for War-Torn Yeshivoth. This committee, which later became known (by its Hebrew name) as the Vaad-ha-Hatzala Rescue Committee emerged as the official rescue and relief agency of American Orthodox Jewry during the Holocaust.
This book records the history of the Vaad-ha-Hatzala, which initially focused exclusively on the rescue of rabbis and yeshiva students, but later expanded its efforts to include all Jews threatened by the Nazis regardless of their religiosity or affiliation. During World War II, the Vaad was able to help rescue hundreds of refugee Torah scholars, most of whom escaped to safety via the Far East, as well as thousands of Jews in Nazi-occupied Europe. The help provided by the Vaad also enabled hundreds of refugee rabbis and yeshiva students to continue intensive Torah studies and maintain their unique life-style.
The establishment of The Vaad-ha-Hatzala in November 1939 aroused considerable controversy in the American Jewish community, because it violated the organizational unity for fundraising purposes which had been achieved for the first time ever ten months previously. The Vaad's initial insistence on rescuing only rabbis and yeshiva students was also a source of conflict within American Jewry. These problems were clearly reflected in the problematic relations between the Vaad-ha-Hatzala and the Joint Distribution Committee and local federations throughout the United States. The difficult dilemmas faced by the leaders of American Jewry and the bitter controversies regarding the rescue efforts are major focus of this study.
This is the first scholarly work which explains how leading Orthodox rabbis made policy decisions on such issues as rescue priority and the attitude towards US rules and regulations which in their opinion were detrimental to their rescue initiatives. The work fully documents the struggles between the various American Jewish rescue agencies over the hearts and pockets of the members of the community and how these battles affected rescue activities. It also describes the role played by Orthodox groups in the efforts to unite American Jewry in the wake of the publication of the news regarding the Final Solution and explains why the Orthodox rabbis ultimately preferred to conduct an independent rescue policy rather than cooperating with the veteran American Jewish establishment.
Based primarily on heretofore unpublished documents from the archives of the Vaad, which are based in Yeshiva University, this book is the first scholarly account and analysis of American Orthodoxy's rescue efforts during the Holocaust-the successes, the failures, the bitter internal debates within the community, the anguish and recriminations in the wake of the realization of the Final Solution-on the background of the response of American Jewry and US rescue policy during World War II.
Dr. Efraim Zuroff is one of the leading Israeli scholars and commentators on the Holocaust.
A native of New York, he completed his undergraduate studies in history at Yeshiva College and obtained his master's and Ph.D. in Holocaust Studies at the Institute of Contemporary Jewry of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. The author of close to one hundred articles on the destruction of European Jewry and its contemporary implications, Zuroff is currently the director of the Israel office of the Simon Wiesenthal Center and the coordinator of the Center's Nazi war crimes research worldwide. Among his previous works are Occupation Nazi Hunter:The Continuing Search for the Perpetrators of the Holocaust (KTAV) and (as editor) Rescue Attempts During the Holocaust (Yad Vashem)