Academic journal article American Jewish History

Transplanted into New Soil: Activities of the European Jewish Children's Aid with Young Holocaust Survivors, 1945-1953

Academic journal article American Jewish History

Transplanted into New Soil: Activities of the European Jewish Children's Aid with Young Holocaust Survivors, 1945-1953

Article excerpt

   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. …

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