Hasidic People: A Place in the New World

By Jerome R. Mintz | Go to book overview

3
Satmar in America

Rabbi Joel Teitelbaum, the Satmar Rebbe

In December 1944 a trainload of Hungarian Jews, ransomed for one thousand dollars for each person, pulled out of the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. Their number included Rabbi Joel Teitelbaum, the Satmar Rebbe, one of the 1,368 rescued and sent to Switzerland and then to Palestine and the United States.

Hasidism undoubtedly would have continued to be a force in contemporary European life had it not been for the rise of Nazism. Most of the Hasidim of Eastern and Central Europe were among the six million Jews who perished in the Holocaust. The fate of the Jews in each country depended in part on geography and the number of years they were under direct Nazi domination. Those close to the Russian border could flee to the relative safety of the Soviet Union. Time was an essential factor in the survival of those who remained behind. In Hungary, an Axis ally, the worst excesses of the Nazis were delayed until March 1944, when German troops entered the country and the SS assumed full authority. In Hungary "over 450,000 Jews, 70 percent of the Jews of Greater Hungary, were deported, were murdered, or died under German occupation." 1 Negotiations with the Germans to ransom as many Jews as possible--Blut fuer Ware (Blood for Goods), R. R. Kasztner's bargain with the Germans--for the most part failed, but the shorter period in the camps under Nazi control helped to save a proportionately larger remnant of the Hasidic population. These twists of fate in the war account for the relatively large percentage of Hungarian Hasidim in New York today, for as terrible as were the losses in Hungary, the situation was still worse in countries that fell early to the Nazis. Poland was defeated in September 1939, and three million Polish Jews (go percent of Polish Jewry) perished in the six years of starvation and liquidation that followed. Fewer than 300,000 Polish Jews survived the war. 2 Few Hasidim were among them, and there are practically no Hasidim of Polish origin in the New York community.

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