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“Jews in Britain: The Rescuers and an Oral History of a Kindertransport Survivor”

Book Essay on: Amy Gottlieb, Men of Vision: : Anglo-Jewry's Aid to Victims of the Nazi Regime 1933-1945.
( London:: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1998), 255pages.
UCSB: ISBN-10: 0297842307

by Daniel Katz
March 23, 2010

for Prof. Marcuse's lecture course
The Holocaust in European History
UC Santa Barbara, Winter 2010

About the Author
& Abstract
Book available at Amazon.com

About Daniel Katz

I am a junior Political Science major and History minor with an interest in 20th century European history. I have many family members who are Holocaust survivors and I naturally took to exploring my family’s history. I knew my grandmother left Germany just before the outbreak of the war but I never really knew her story or understood what she experienced. Therefore, I chose to do an oral history project describing her experience on the Kindertransport and a book essay on the institutions within England that allowed the Kindertransport to occur.

Abstract (back to top)

This was a two part project. The first half is a book essay on Amy Zahl Gottlieb’s book Men of Vision: Anglo-Jewry's Aid to Victims of the Nazi Regime 1933-1945. In the essay I agree with Gottlieb’s argument and in many ways further it by claiming Anglo-Jewry did significant and above adequate work to help Jews in Germany, specifically in the rescuing of Jewish refugees from Germany.

The second portion is an oral history project. My grandmother left Germany a couple of months after Kristallnacht (November 1938) through an organization called the Children’s Movement in the United Kingdom, which was organized ultimately by the Anglo-Jewish community in conjunction with the reluctant British government. Commonly known as the Kindertransport, it rescued 10,000 Jewish children from Germany, relocating them to England to live with foster families. Once in England there was a new set of problems to face including the language barrier, prejudice and even internment. My grandmother was 14 years old when she left a her family in Germany for England in 1939 to live with a strange family. She did not know if she would see her family again. Amazingly they did reunite and endured much of the war in England in a small town near London. Her parents were interned on the Isle of Man but they found menial work to support themselves and the family.

Essay (back to top)

The Underappreciated Rescue Efforts of British Jews

Whether enough was done to help German Jews under the Nazis is a question of much debate. Amy Zahl Gottlieb’s Men of Vision: Anglo-Jewry’s Aid to Victims of the Nazi Regime 1933-1945 tells the story of the Jewish community in the United Kingdom and its work to help rescue Jews from Germany and Austria. Gottlieb’s work sets out to explain the role of the Central British Fund for German Jewry (CBF) in the rescue of German Jews. This book started when Gottlieb received a grant to examine and look through a cabinet full of CBF and related organizations’ documents and to write about the role of the CBF in rescuing Jews (Gottlieb xi). Gottlieb meticulously researched these documents as well as government documents in search of a definitive answer to the question of what the CBF actually did. Gottlieb claims the CBF and the Anglo Jewish community are the primary reason for the rescue of German and Austrian Jews. The epitome of this rescue effort was the formation of the Movement for the care of Children from Germany which ran the Kindertransport, rescuing and relocating 10,000 Jewish youth under the age of 17 from Germany and Austria to families in Britain. Gottlieb’s claim that it was the work of a select few men and good hearted people that broke through internal politics to bring German and Austrian Jews to safety in England rings true. In many ways, the British government hindered these efforts more than did Anglo-Jewry as some critics contend. Gottlieb claims the outreach of Anglo-Jewry, while political and seemingly lacking in some situations, was still a great success. In terms of asking the larger question of whether the efforts were enough or adequate, it is clear the CBF did all they could do, as can be seen with the massive rescue of Jewish children from Germany and Austria shortly after Kristallnacht.

Gottlieb highlights the individual efforts that led Anglo-Jewry in its initial rescue methods of German-Jewish refugees. The CBF was already laying roots in 1933 led by Otto Schiff who could see far enough into the future to realize the appointment of Hitler would mean an increase in Jewish refugees (Gottlieb 8). However, most criticism of Anglo-Jewry comes in this very initial foundation. Schiff, initially president of the Jews’ temporary shelter in Stepney, called a meeting realizing there was no method of taking in an increase in Jewish refugees (Gottlieb 8). Therefore, partnering with the National board of German Jews (Reichsvertretung der deutschen Juden) and other notable Jewish individuals, the group formed the Jewish Refugees Committee (JRC) to offer a discreet way to take in Jews and non-Aryan Christian Germans refugees, into England (Gottlieb 10). Early antisemitic legislation in Germany barring Jews from state employment immediately caused an influx of Jewish refugees into England and the British Home Office quickly notified Schiff of this increase (Gottlieb 11). Antisemitic press was nationally published in England at this time so as to not raise further problems, Schiff and other members of the JRC met with Lionel Cohen, the King’s Counsel and Sir Ernest Holderness, the head of the British Government’s Aliens Department. They were brought together by the prominent Jewish co-chairmen of the Joint Foreign Committee Leonard Montefiore and Neville Laski, (Laski was also president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews) (Gottlieb 12-13). In order for the British government to allow German Jews to land in Germany without discrimination and for these Jews to be allowed to stay indefinitely until the emergency situation in Germany ended, the Anglo-Jewish designation proposed “all expense, whether in respect of temporary or permanent accommodation or maintenance, will be borne by the Jewish community without ultimate charge to the state” (Gottlieb 13). Objections to this political move were numerous.

Some claim this was simply a cowardly move and as Professor Geoffrey Aldermann states, “it really meant the community prevented itself from being able to call upon the government to admit more Jewish refugees than Anglo-Jewry itself could support…and played into the hands of anti-Jewish elements” (Gottlieb 15). However, it is likely this agreement was made because the escalation in Jewish persecution in Germany was unimaginable at the time and the increase in Jewish refugees that eventually occurred starting with Kristallnacht, was not something the Jewish organization anticipated. Additionally, as Gottlieb states, there was a fear that having the government support Jewish refugees financially could incite more antisemitism in Great Britain as it would cost British taxpayers (Gottlieb 15). Regardless, the JRC and its leaders worked closely with the government to ensure that German Jewish refugees would be let into the country with special exception. The British Government unloaded the entire Jewish refugee responsibility into the hands of the Anglo-Jewish community. Offering more help would mean the government recognized a refugee problem, potentially insulting Germany, which they were trying to appease (Gottlieb 18). Therefore, it is not likely the British Government would take on much responsibility regardless, showing Anglo-Jewry attempts to get funds from the government would be futile. It cannot be said Jewish efforts were inadequate or cowardly. Gottlieb does not really discuss the role of other organizations in her work, but that is due to her focus on the CBF and Anglo-Jewry’s efforts. It was not truly the English government that made these rescue efforts possible, but just a few people like Otto Schiff. Additionally, the British government decided to provide funding only after Britain declared war and appeasement o Germany was no longer an issue. The individuals involved with the CBF were the reason so many Jews could be rescued. There are those like Aldermann who claim the Anglo-Jewish efforts to pressure the British government for support were minimal. The book Holocaust and Rescue: Impotent or Indifferent? Anglo Jewry 1938-1945 by Pamela Shatzkes explains some of these criticisms.. One of the criticisms mentioned in conjunction with Aldermann’s is that “had there been a more united front vis-à-vis the government and less time wasted on organizational friction, more could have been done to save European Jewry” (Shatzkes 38). Perhaps the biggest conflict within the JRC and its funding partner the CBF, was the friction between Zionists and anti-Zionists. Additionally, Anglo Jewry needed the major Zionist organization in Britain, the Keren Hayesod, and the prominent Zionist Dr. Chaim Weismann, to put aside their own goals for fundraising so as not to have competing fundraising organizations for Jews (Gottlieb 21). This would detract from the money going to help Jews under the Nazis. Initially, it seemed, politics would interfere with humanitarianism.

Simon Marks, the chairman of the Hayesod, was a skilled negotiator and in fact related to many of the members of the ‘cousinhood,’ or the wealthy and related leaders of Anglo Jewry. Unifying with the Hayesod was not an easy task but it came to fruition under Simon Marks, where it was agreed the organization would receive “a mutually agreed annual allocation of funds equal to its average income in each of the proceeding three years on condition that it did not exceed 25% of the money raised for German Jews in any one year” (Gottlieb 22). This agreement angered many non-Zionists and Anthony de Rothschild noted that this did hurt the purpose of Anglo-Jewry in helping German Jews (Gottlieb 22). While this clearly showed some efforts were not of unanimous political satisfaction, this agreement was made in 1933. The Nuremberg laws had not even been enacted yet. This is not evidence that Anglo-Jewish efforts were lackluster, playing to political preference or even cowardly, as this actually shows a realization that massive amounts of money would be needed quickly. Thus, 10 men, including Schiff, Lionel and Anthony de Rothschild, Neville Laski and Leonard Montefiore met to fund the founding of the Central British Fund for German Jewry (CBF), which would cease to exist once the “German-Jewish crisis came to an end” which they expected to be rather soon (Gottlieb 23). Showing that Anglo-Jewry was generally willing to unite to help German Jews is revealed by the fact the Rothschilds were rather against Zionism, but were willing to do everything they could to help the cause of German Jews. Immediately, the organization began fundraising efforts by approaching the Jewish community and not the government. The government would not give funds to the CBF to help the refugee problem for Anglo-Jewry was force to take that role on its own.

Gottlieb very convincingly shows the general support and willingness of Anglo Jewry to help the Jewish German refugees in England and successfully portrays the unification of Anglo-Jewry. It required mass mobilization and came through the efforts of the founders of the CBF. Again disproving criticism, the first step was the statement of unification of Zionists and non-Zionists in public to show the organization transcended these political factions (Gottlieb 30). In fact, by May 1933 the Keren Hayesod integrated with the CBF and “its entire organizational machinery was placed at the disposal of the CBF” (Gottlieb 30). Appeals were made to local Jewish organizations and synagogues and the name of donors were published in the Jewish Chronicle (Gottlieb 31). By the end of 1933, £250,000 had been donated to the CBF and the next year’s funding could be promised to the JRC. The JRC needed constantly to ask the British Government for exceptions to its alien restriction laws which were the result of fear and loathing of Germans after WWI (Gottlieb 4). With Otto Schiff as its primary representative, the JRC constantly convinced the British Government that it needed to allow more and more Jews into Britain from Germany. The government agreed but only because the JRC had to cover all the costs of the Jewish refugees (Gottlieb 33-35). This was fine through 1934 and even a ways into 1935, where the Nazis passed various statutes that were tough on Jews but bearable (Gottlieb 57). While the British government allowed Jews into Britain, it was on the general belief that these were migrants who would continue into a third country, who would stay temporarily. Many came with skills and potentially had money (Gottlieb 53). However, even in 1935 the CBF and the JRC did not think the Jews were in dire straits in Germany. Even Gottlieb mentions “the complacency with which the CBF viewed the position of Jews in Germany is difficult to comprehend. CBF executive members frequently visited Germany and were apprised of the continued harassment” (Gottlieb 56). This was also accompanied by a slight reduction in the movement of refugees. Gottlieb, however, does not contend that this was a failure on the part of the CBF or inadequate work. While the men here were not exactly visionary, they realized they needed to keep working. Beginning with the onset of the tougher requirements of the Nuremberg laws, the CBF view changed.

If there is any doubt that Anglo Jewry did not do enough for the Jews of Germany, that their works were political and Zionist or that these men acted only minimally, the events after Kristallnacht before the outbreak of war in 1939 do much to disprove this and truly make Gottlieb’s points compelling. After Krystallnacht and even right before, German and Austrian Jewish parents became painfully aware there was no hope for their children in Germany and needed to send them to a safe place. Thus the formation of the Movement for the Care of Children and a plan to move German Jewish children was formed in late 1938 (Gottlieb 107). Initially the British government was greatly opposed to the plan, especially prime minster Chamberlain. However, due to the consistent pressuring by prominent British Jews, most notably Chaim Weizmann, Rothschild and Lord Samuel (Rothschild and Samuel provided the loan for the JRC and Children’s Movement in this endeavor), it was decided “children whose maintenance could be guaranteed either by voluntary agencies or by individual sponsors would be admitted without restriction [of tentrance]” (Gottlieb 107). The numerical limit was 10,000 children. The task was massive but help came from the Quakers and Catholics, the Kindertransports began bringing Jewish and non-Aryan children from Germany and Austria to England where they were paid and cared for by Jewish and non-Jewishfamilies, who claimed them before they left (Gottlieb 109).

This was really the epitome of CBF fundraising and work. A total of 10,000 children were brought to England which is an absolutely groundbreaking feat. This cannot be said to be ineffective, impotent or purely political. This was simply about rescuing children from Germany. It came through the goodwill of Anglo-Jewry and not the government of England. In fact, the British government still seemed skeptical of Jews. Jews were allowed to emigrate to England from Germany until 1941 (Gottlieb 127). Further negotiation with the British government was required to further support the JRC and CBF. Schiff and de Rothschild had to continually press the government for allowances but after the Kindertransport they were simply out of money but the government was still reluctant and unwilling to support Jews. Finally, in late 1940 and 1941, the British government was willing to give money to the CBF, albeit reluctantly, while the CBF was forced to continue to fundraise (Gottlieb 164). In fact, in 1940, the British interned Jews coming from Germany and Austria that were between the age of 16 and 60 for fear of German spies and assistance to Germany(Gottlieb 169).

While some may claim the Anglo-Jewish efforts to help German Jews during the Nazi regime were lackluster, inadequate and inefficient due to political ideals and expediency, Amy Zahl Gottlieb tells quite a different story. The CBF was clearly and effective fund raising entity and the Jewish community in Great Britain actually did quite a lot for German-Jews under the Nazi regime. Gottlieb provides a chronological, extremely in depth account of the efforts of Anglo Jewry to take in Jewish refugees from Germany in 1933. While there is not a lot of literature surrounding this topic, it is commonly debated whether enough was done and who did what in rescuing Jewish refugees. While Gottlieb is not taking a major stance on the matter, it is clear she questions the Jewish efforts as well, such as how Anglo-Jewry could be seemingly careless or ignorant when it came to what was going on in Germany. Ultimately, this book effectively shows the CBF and the men surrounding it did much in their power to save German Jews.


Annotated Bibliography and Links (back to top)(links last checked 11/21/10)

Book Reviews

  • Eugene Black, The American Historical Review Reviewed work(s): Men of Vision: Anglo-Jewry's Aid to Victims of the Nazi Regime, 1933-1945 by Amy Zahl Gottlieb. The American Historical Review, Vol. 105, No. 5 (Dec., 2000), pp. 1805-1806.

    Black briefly summarizes Gottlieb’s work and is only slightly critical. His review is generally positive. Black makes claim that Men of Vision is an uncritical account and response to the question of what could have been done to help European Jews during the Holocaust. Gottlieb writes of the British/Anglo Jewish part in helping European Jews during the Nazi regime and the British institutional methods of dealing with the problem. Black reviews Gottlieb’s method of gathering information and data. Black claims Gottlieb’s book is successful in showing the hard work and frustrations of those behind British institutional rescue efforts. Black claims Gottlieb has good experience and an appropriate background to write about the topic as she worked directly on some of these issues during and after WWII. Black notes that Gottlieb’s work could be complemented by two works about the experience of Jewish refugee children, “Jewish Children’s Experience in the Second World War” by Veronica Lelaider and “The Jewish Refugee Children in Great Britain, 1938-1945.” Black says further research by Gottlieb in some areas would have been useful to answer additional questions, although most of her research was extremely extensive and thorough. Black claims this book is good for understanding much of the bureaucracy and data behind British rescue, but to understand what was happening from a personal perspective would require different subject matter.

Books and Articles

  • Wolfganf Benz and Andrea Hammel, Shofar: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Jewish Studies "Emigration as Rescue and Trauma: The Historical Context of the Kindertransport."

    Benz and Hammel describe the difficulties of Jewish emigration from Nazi Germany. The authors pose and answer the oft asked question of why more German Jews did not leave Germany when they still could. They describe the institutional and psychological barriers to leaving Germany under the Nazis. The authors emphasize that leaving Germany was also frightening due to the fear of many German Jews that they would not be able to find work to support themselves in foreign countries, or that the foreign countries simply would not accept them. Overall, this is a straightforward article that emphasizes the challenges many Jews faced in deciding to leave Germany, use the Kindertransport, or once they arrived in a new country.

  • Rebekka Göpfert and Andrea Hammel, Shofar: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Jewish Studies .vol.23 no. 1 "Kindertransport: History and Memory,"

    This article is a relatively simple overview of the Kindertransport. It is very informative and offers interesting accounts. This article is especially interesting in discussing the patterns of memories among those kinder who stayed in England after the war and those who emigrated to the U.S. or Israel (Palestine). The article claims those who emigrated from England seem to have a better understanding of their stories than those who stayed in England. In terms of supplementing my own project, this shows that my grandmother’s story is likely accurate (although, this is a massive generalization). This article also contrasts the stories and memories of child refugees versus adult refugees. Reading this piece shows that experiences among refugees even within the same country were very different.

  • Peter Kurer, Kinderlink "What Quakers did for the Jews of Nazi Europe.” (Winter 2010). pp. 1,7.

    This article is a simplistic read on the role of Quakers in helping the Kindertransport to happen. While the article’s primary purpose is for further recognition by Yad Vashem of the Quakers, the article describes what Quakers did in Germany and England to help Jewish refugee children on the Kindertransport.

  • Maxine Schwartz Seller, We Built Up Our Lives: Education and Community among Jewish Refugees Interned by Britain in World War II (London: Greenwood Press 2001) 243 pages. UCSB: DS 135.E5S452001.

    Seller’s book describes another side of internment. The English interned many German Jewish refugees due to suspicion they would help the Nazis, especially as the fear the Nazis would invade England increased. It describes life in these internment camps and provides a great description of often neglected portion of history. The book is interesting and gives more insight into British refugee policy during WWII. The writing is straightforward and not complicated. This a good book to explore the German Jewish culture in England and how the German Jews literally built up their lives.

  • Pamela Shatzkes, Holocaust and Rescue: Impotent or Indifferent? Anglo-Jewry 1938-1945 (New York: Palgrave, 2002) 239 pages. UCSB: DS135.E5S5 2002.

    Shatzkes’s book explores the argument that British Jews did not do enough to help the Jews of Nazi Germany. It weighs the help of the Jews and other organizations and compares it with the argument they did not do enough due to incompetence or indifference. The book ultimately seems to conclude that the Jews or England did a lot to help but had such a large responsibility could not entirely fulfill their duties. It also looks into the bureaucracy and organization behind the transportation of Jewish refugees to England. The book is effective in letting the reader come up with their own conclusion but does provide interesting insight into the Anglo-Jewish community’s involvement in helping the Jews of Europe and specifically Nazi Germany.

Relevant Websites

  • British Association of Jewish Refugees, Kindertransport http://www.ajr.org.uk/kindertransport (archive.org: created August 23, 2002, last updated: June 21, 2008).

    This is a page on the British Association of Jewish Refugees website. The organization’s purpose is to provide information about these Jewish refugees from Nazi Germany and to provide these refugees with help and services. The page has basic information about the Kindertransport. The organization also publishes a newsletter, most recently in November 2009. It is simply laid out and a good place to start research.

  • Paul M. Kohn, The Kindertransports (archive.org: created July 11, 2006, last revised May 28, 2008).

    This is a well written story of Kohn’s personal experience as one of the Kindertransport children. It is an effective way to compare experiences of various transports. It takes readers from his childhood in Hamburg and describes the outbreak of war and his experiences in Nazi Germany. This story effectively portrays the view of antisemitism from the perspective of a young teenager. While the story is a bit simplistic, it portrays a view from the inside of Nazi Germany well. It also describes the Jewish community in his part of Hamburg, which shows how they coped with antisemitism especially starting in the 1930s.

  • , Quakers in Britain (archive.org: created December 2, 1998, last revised August 22, 1998).

    Quakers were heavily involved in the Kindertransport in England. This website has a list of stories of Kindertransports related to Quaker involvement. This is a good website for personal stories and memoirs of the Kindertransport children.

  • The Kindertransport Association, (archive.org: created November 1999, last revised, May 2009).

    This is the website of a nonprofit group working to unite survivors of the Kindertransport. It has lists of meetings and reunions as well as a list of resources on the topic. Its goal is to educate as many people as possible about the Kindertransport and raise funds for children in need. The website has a list of resources on the topic and is a good starting place to find books, websites and scholarly works and various oral history projects from Kindertransports. An extensive list of web sources can be found. It is extremely useful to start any research here.

  • Sonja Wirwohl, The Kindertransport http://www.wienerlibrary.co.uk/wls/stories/kinder/settingupthetransports.aspx

    This is an extremely extensive history website of the Kindertransport. It is in depth, well researched and well written. It covers everything from the setting up of the Kindertransport, to the operation, to what life was like in England for the children and their hosts. This is not a good place to get individual stories but is a great site for a general overview of the history of the Kindertransport. It is well organized, easy to navigate and straightforward reading.

(back to top)

Any student tempted to use this paper for an assignment in another course or school should be aware of the serious consequences for plagiarism. Here is what I write in my syllabi:

Plagiarism—presenting someone else's work as your own, or deliberately failing to credit or attribute the work of others on whom you draw (including materials found on the web)—is a serious academic offense, punishable by dismissal from the university. It hurts the one who commits it most of all, by cheating them out of an education. I report offenses to the Office of the Dean of Students for disciplinary action.

prepared for web by Daniel Katz on 3/23/10; last updated: 11/21/10
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