Friday, February 09, 2007

Book tells of Lubavitcher Rebbe’s deliverance

by morton i. teicher

Adding to the sparse list of stories about Jews being saved from the Nazis, historian Bryan Mark Rigg has written “Rescued From the Reich,” a remarkable saga about the rescue of Joseph Isaac Schneersohn, the sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe.

Schneerson arrived in New York on March 19, 1940, a little more than six months after the German army invaded Poland. The Rebbe had been trapped in Warsaw and the chances of his being saved were slim.

Using a variety of sources, Rigg has pieced together the unusual tale of how American influence joined with a few Nazi soldiers and officials to transport the Rebbe and his entourage out of Warsaw, through Germany and on to Riga in Latvia.

After a lengthy delay because of the Rebbe’s health problems and the difficulty in obtaining American visas, the group finally reached Sweden, where they boarded a ship bound for New York. The trans-Atlantic voyage was hazardous because of U-boats, but the Rebbe reached New York.

Rigg tells how the Rebbe’s escape had been facilitated by pressure from American Lubavitchers, which had reached the three branches of the American government. Senators, congressmen, cabinet officials and Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis all became involved.

Robert T. Pell, assistant chief of the State Department’s European Affairs Division, was asked to help save the Rebbe by using his contacts with German officials. He appealed to Helmut Wohlthat, a Nazi party member who had studied at Columbia University from 1929 to 1933. Wohlthat apparently thought that freedom for the Rebbe would be in Germany’s best interest and succeeded in involving Admiral Wilhelm Canaris, head of Nazi military intelligence, who had helped Jews and who opposed some of Hitler’s policies.

They enlisted Major Ernst Bloch, a half-Jewish army officer who had fought in World War I and was declared to be an Aryan by Hitler despite Bloch’s Jewish father. Three other German soldiers who also had Jewish ancestry joined Bloch in the mission to rescue the Rebbe.

The efforts of these four German soldiers to find the Rebbe in Warsaw almost failed because the Jews to whom they talked understandably refused to give information about where the Rebbe was hiding. When the Germans found the Rebbe they swiftly spirited him, his family and his followers out of Poland.

Once in America, the Rebbe worked to bring his followers to the United States, but ran into the same kind of visa problems that he had experienced in Riga. Rigg clearly identifies Breckinridge Long and Avra Warren as anti-Semitic State Department officers who blocked Jewish refugees from entering the United States.

Rigg also describes the strenuous efforts of Max Rhoade, a lawyer hired by the American Lubavitchers, to cope with visa and other legal issues. He spent endless hours on these matters with little or no compensation and is one of the unsung heroes in the rescue.

“Rescued From The Reich: How One of Hitler’s Soldiers Saved the Lubavitcher Rebbe” By Bryan Mark Rigg. Yale University Press, 2006. 304 Pages. $17

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