David P. Boder Interviews Joseph Ferber; September 8, 1946; Bellevue, France

  • David Boder: [In English:] Spool 117. Bellevue, a suburb of Paris. A home of displaced children. September 7, 1946. [Incorrect date -- should be Spetember 8]. We are going to interview Mr. Joseph Ferber, 33 years old, a teacher of sports and a general instructor at the school for displaced children under the direction of Miss Lena Kuechler.
  • David Boder: [In Yiddish:] And so, Mr. Ferber, would you tell me again where you are from and where you were when the war began?
  • Joseph Ferber: I was born in Brody,Brody (Yid. Brod) was in the Tarnopol district of Poland (then southeastern Poland, now northwestern Ukraine). The town was a center of nineteenth century Jewish progressive thinking and had a strong Zionist movement. In September, 1939, the Soviets occupied the city, but the Germans took over shortly after the beginning of their invasion of the Soviet Union on June, 22, 1941. During the German occupation, the Jews of Brody were terrorized, persecuted, ghettoized and then murdered. Only about 250 of the 9,000 Jews in Brody on the eve of World War II survived.1 on the former Austro-Russian border. Later the town belonged to Poland. There I went to school, gymnasium [middle-level schools] and then I went to Cracow, where I was working until the year 1939.Located in southern Poland, the historic city was for several centuries the capital of the early Polish kingdom. Jewish settlement in Kraków dates from at least the early fourteenth century. During the German occupation, the city became the seat of the Nazi General Government run by the notorious Hans Frank.2
  • David Boder: At what were you working?
  • Joseph Ferber: As a bookkeeper.
  • David Boder: Hm.
  • Joseph Ferber: When the German-Polish war began I returned to Brody. There I...the Soviets had come there on the seventeenth of September, 1939. Under them I also worked as a teller in a bank, as inspector, and then also as a bookkeeper.Mr. Ferber is referring to the outbreak of World War II which began with the German invasion of Poland on September 1, 1939. Two days later France and Great Britain declared war on Germany.3
  • David Boder: And so tell me, Mr. Ferber, how did that suddenly change from the Polish government to the Soviet? Did they immediately install in your place the whole Soviet regime?
  • Joseph Ferber: No. Following the escape in September, during the war, of the Polish government to Rumania, the Soviet government declared that all political and diplomatic relations between them are terminated. On the 17th of September the Red Army received an order to march into West Ukraine and West White Russia in order to liberate the people who were living there as a part of the people of Great Ukraine and of White Russia. After the Soviets were there a month they made a plebiscite, elections. The elections took place in all cities, towns, and villages. Then in Lemberg, during the assembly of all the elected deputies, it was decided to turn to the highest council of Soviet Russia with the request that these countries should be recognized as a part of Soviet Russia. And by this procedure these countries were accepted into the Soviet Union, and they became recognized as part of the country. [Pause.]In fact, the Soviet Union occupied eastern Poland in accordance with a secret protocol in the Nazi Soviet pact signed on August 23, 1939 between the foreign ministers of the two totalitarian powers. The protocol called for the division of Poland between them by force of arms.4
  • David Boder: Go on.
  • Joseph Ferber: Well, [the conditions] there were quite good. One cannot say that it was not good. Social justice was established. Everybody had to work. Large private fortunes, factories, and large estates became nationalized; that means were transferred as property of the state. Everybody had to go to work. Everyone had a right to work, everyone had a right to an education. The Jews had every right, not like it was before under the Polish government where Jewish students in the universities used to be beaten with sticks and pummeled, where there were many victims. Now everyone had equal rights and equal chances for a life. Treatment of the Jewish population under Soviet rule was certainly better than under the German occupation. However, in the part of Poland under their control, the Soviets nationalized large Jewish businesses and factories, confiscated and collectivized land, ended any semblance of Jewish political and social autonomy, and deported the "hostile class element" to Siberia. These policies impacted the general population as well.5
  • David Boder: The Poles, however, still remained there in Poland. Did they express any anti-Semitism?
  • Joseph Ferber: The majority of such rabid Poles who had been planted there by the Polish government that they should polonize the land were taken out deep into Russia. And the rest had to sit quietly. They waited until the war started on June 22, 1941.Eastern Poland during the interwar period was home to many Ukrainians as well as Jews. This accounted for the efforts of the Polish government to "polonize" the area.6
  • David Boder: Hm.
  • Joseph Ferber: At that time, on the first day, I was drafted into the Red Army. At that time, one can say, emerged anew all those Polish anti-Soviet elements which, in the first days of the war, carried out sabotage, who had shot [sniped] from the windows and from the roofs at the...at our...at the Red army, so that there was a great chaos and the Red Army had to retreat. Retreated far, until, until Stalingrad. I, too, went with the Red army as far as Stalingrad, and there I have been during the whole time . During all that time I took part in the heavy battles, for which I also received a medal, for the defense of Stalingrad.The Soviets drafted a number of Jews from Brody into the Red army. In total, about half a million Jews served in the Red army during World War II, and approximately 200,000 fell in battle. Some 160,000, including Mr. Ferber, were awarded medals for bravery. The German invasion of the Soviet Union came as a great shock to Stalin, who believed that Hitler would honor the August 1939 non-aggression treaty signed between the two countries. News of German atrocities against Jews in their zone of occupation from 1939-1941 was deliberately withheld from Soviet Jewry who were unprepared for the Nazi onslaught, as was the Red army which was overwhelmed in the early phase of the brutal war. The battle of Stalingrad, lasting from late summer 1942 until the German surrender on February 2, 1943, marked the turning point of the war on the eastern front.7
  • David Boder: How long were you in the Red army?
  • Joseph Ferber: I was in the Red army close to four and a half years, since the first day of the war until at this time a year ago when I was released as a former Polish citizen. I was discharged and I went back to Cracow, but before that I had gone through with the Red army, taking part in the offensive. From Stalingrad, we went through all Russia, the Ukraine, and together with the Second Ukrainian front of Marshal Ross... Rokossovsky, no...pardon, Malinovski, I came to...we went through Hungary, through Rumania, through Czechoslavakia and finally Austria. There, on the 9th of May, 1945, we finished the war.
  • David Boder: Hm. There you were demobilized?
  • Joseph Ferber: No, I was demobilized still later, when I returned to Soviet Russia, to Chernovtsy.Chernevtsky was a town located in western Ukraine. It was occupied by Romania, Germany's World War II ally. During the Romanian occupation, the Jews of Chernevtsky were persecuted and ghettoized, and their population was decimated.9
  • David Boder: Hm.
  • Joseph Ferber: There I was freed. From there I went back to Poland, to Cracow.
  • David Boder: Did they permit anyone to leave who wanted to?
  • Joseph Ferber: Yes. All former Polish citizens had a right to be set free according to the treaty which was effected by the Soviet and Polish governments, of the 6th of July, 1945.
  • David Boder: '45.
  • Joseph Ferber: Had a right to return to Poland. On this ground many, many former Polish citizens are even today returning from Soviet Russia to Poland.
  • David Boder: They are still returning now?
  • Joseph Ferber: Even now there is going on...which is called repatriation.
  • David Boder: Hm.
  • Joseph Ferber: The great repatriation which is going on even today.
  • David Boder: They are returning from Siberia and from...
  • Joseph Ferber: From Siberia...and from whole Russia. All those who were...who had escaped during the war to Soviet Russia and were in the defense deep in the country, all those have remained alive. In contrast, when we were advancing with the offensive, in all the countries, in all the towns where we had passed, where once had lived Jewish masses, we found nobody, only destruction and graves. Often, not even graves, because the majority of the Jews, nearly all without exceptions, also my whole family, all had been taken away either to Belzec, or to Treblinka, or to Auschwitz and to other lagers, where they were burned in the crematories. So that returning home -- I was in my native town -- I did not find anybody.About 165,000 Polish Jews were repatriated under the Polish/Soviet repatriation agreement of July 1945. Some 20,000 went back to Poland under a subsequent agreement. About seven percent of the prewar Polish Jewish population was saved within the Soviet Union. Belzec and Treblinka were Nazi extermination camps designed to annihilate the Jews of the General Government. Auschwitz was the largest of the extermination camps and also a concentration camp. It had some forty subcamps. Like Mr. Ferber, many survivors experienced the loss of their entire families. 10
  • David Boder: Your native town was what?
  • Joseph Ferber: Brody.
  • David Boder: Brody?
  • Joseph Ferber: Yes, I did not find anyone there .
  • David Boder: You found no one there.
  • Joseph Ferber: Even of the house not a trace had remained. A desert. Everything destroyed, everything burned.
  • David Boder: Was there...was it burned by the war?
  • Joseph Ferber: Partly by the war and partly through...during the occupation. The Germans simply destroyed everything that carried a Jewish mark. Besides that the front had stood there four months, from spring...the entire spring of 1944, and everything...everything was destroyed there, all the houses. The Germans went systematically from house to house and blasted everything. In many cases it happened that in these houses there were Jews hidden deep underground in bunkers.
  • David Boder: Hm.
  • Joseph Ferber: And the Germans were not able to drag them out from there. They would toss in grenades or burning strew. Or even with mines they would demolish these houses. In this way many...hundreds of people were entombed [burned] and lie there to this day.
  • David Boder: Who told you that?
  • Joseph Ferber: This was told to me by a few...a small number of Jews who had remained alive there in the town, Jews who, in an extraordinary manner, had hidden among Christians, but very few. There were altogether about ten of these people.
  • David Boder: And...
  • Joseph Ferber: People who were in the woods as partisans, they have told me that. Besides that, I saw it with my own eyes, I saw the whole town devastated, destroyed.
  • David Boder: Nu, what did you do then, when you returned to Brody?
  • Joseph Ferber: Nu, from Brody...in Brody I stopped over only for a few days , because I had nowhere to stay there. The whole town was a cemetery. From there I returned there where I worked before the war. I came to Cracow, but also...
  • David Boder: To Cracow.
  • Joseph Ferber: To Cracow, yes.
  • David Boder: Nu?
  • Joseph Ferber: Also in Cracow I found nobody. Then soon I was engaged to work in a children's home for Jewish orphans in Zakopane as commander of the self-defense [a type of private local underground organization which, dating from the time of the Czar, would emerge in Jewish communities of Eastern Europe, for the purpose of armed resistance against pogroms or other anti-Semitic mob violence. These organizations became quasi-legal during the first year or so after World War II/, because there was a threat of an attack of the anti-Semitic elements against the Jewish children. There we had to stand day and night, I as commander with a number of other soldiers who were demobilized. We got weapons , automatics, grenades, rifles...Zakopane was located in the Kraków district of Poland. It was a Carpathian mountain community with a Jewish population of several hundred. During the 1930's, there were a number of anti-Semitic incidents in the town. Polish anti-Semitism also manifested itself after the war despite the small number of Jewish survivors. Some three million Polish Jews perished during the Holocaust, and about 300,000 survived.11
  • David Boder: Who gave you the weapons?
  • Joseph Ferber: These were given to us by the Polish Defense Authority.
  • David Boder: Yes?
  • Joseph Ferber: There we had to stand day and night and guard the lives of the Jewish orphans, because there was a threat of great danger. But since this danger increased from day to day and the Poles were throwing down on us leaflets in which they threatened that they will kill us all like they had killed not far from us in Zakopane, in Nowy Targ, the chairman of the Jewish Committee [Community Council]....And they wrote that this same fate will meet all the other Jews who live there. Therefore, we had to flee from there. We...Nowy Targ had a pre war Jewish population of over a thousand, which also suffered from anti-Semitism in the interwar period in the form of economic boycotts and occasional violence. Anti-Semitic agitation revived after the war, directed at the handful of survivors.12
  • David Boder: How is that? The Polish government was a...a pro-Soviet government.
  • Joseph Ferber: Yes.
  • David Boder: They were liberal? They were socialists?
  • Joseph Ferber: The government was and is to this day a very good one. It is a loyal...it is liberal government and a truly democratic one, but, unfortunately, many elements, wild elements, of the people, who are infected by the anti-Semitic disciples of Hitler's school...In the immediate postwar period, the communist regime in the People's Republic of Poland allowed the Jewish survivors a degree of social and cultural autonomy. Those Jews with communist sympathies had hopes for full assimilation, and Jewish communists occupied some posts in the new government. The new regime, under the control of the Stalinist Soviet Union, was anything but democratic.13
  • David Boder: Nu?
  • Joseph Ferber: ...who are supported, as it had been proven with documents, by [General] Anders and by the so called government...Polish government in London, these are carrying out to this day an ugly, loaths-...loathsome action [against] the Jews. [They] attack, make pogroms, kill Jews, so that barely a day passes in Poland when there is not a Jewish burnt offering. This is, alas the ugly spot on the body of the new democratic Poland. Naturally the Polish government fights against them, but it is too weak to control these wild beasts. General Anders headed an army of Polish exiles formed in the Soviet Union following the Nazi invasion. Eventually this army made its way out of the Soviet Union via Iran and fought with the Allies against the Germans. After the fall of France, the Polish government-in-exile moved to London where it remained for the duration of the war. This government did not have the welfare of Polish Jewry as its highest priority. Nevertheless, it transmitted funds contributed by Jewish organizations to Polish Jewry, and its public pronouncements eventually played a significant role in dispelling doubts in western countries about Nazi genocide.14
  • David Boder: Nu, you were in Zakopane with the children's home?
  • Joseph Ferber: Yes.
  • David Boder: So what was decided to do?
  • Joseph Ferber: It was decided to flee from there as soon as possible. We turned to the Vaad Hatzala. They...The Vaad ha-Hatzlaha was a body originally established by the American Orthodox Jewish community to rescue rabbis and yeshiva students during World War II. Following the revelation of the Final Solution, it expanded its activities to assist all European Jewry.15
  • David Boder: What is that?
  • Joseph Ferber: The Vaad Hatzala is such an organization which rescues Jewish souls. This organization made it possible for the children together with the personnel to leave as former Greek citizens...
  • David Boder: Greek citizens?
  • Joseph Ferber: Yes.
  • David Boder: [Chuckle.] Are they Greek?
  • Joseph Ferber: No, but it was made up so [presented that way. We wrote that once there were other refugees which the Germans had dragged off, and that they are returning now to their homes. On the border, on the Polish-Czech border, they created difficulties for us.
  • David Boder: Who, the Poles of the Czechs?
  • Joseph Ferber: The Czechs.
  • David Boder: Yes?
  • Joseph Ferber: They wanted to send [us] back to Poland, but we succeeded. We pleaded with them and they permitted [us] to enter Prague. From Prague we journeyed already in good style as far as France. Here we received a house, and here we carry on our work of pedagogical leadership with the children, with the children who are demonstrating very good fruits of the work.
  • David Boder: What will become of the children? What will become of all of you? [Pause.] I mean, what will you all do? Will you remain in France?
  • Joseph Ferber: No, our aim is to come to Eretz Yisroeil, [?] to Palestine, because we are convinced that we have no other place on this earth except in our own homeland. There we hope we will not be looked upon as foreign citizens. There it will not be said that we are homeless Jews. So we, too, have to our own home. That is the basis of the school.The sentiments expressed here by Mr. Ferber were shared by many European Jews who wanted to make their way to Palestine and establish an independent Jewish homeland.16
  • David Boder: Nu, Mr. Ferber, you are, of course, an intelligent person and you are of course reading the papers and all that. You know what is [in English:] going...[in Yiddish:] what is happening in Palestine. Do you think that it will remain our country? The Arabs, neither, want that we should come in there.
  • Joseph Ferber: Our standpoint is as follows: We hold that, as all the people in the world have their own piece of ground in the world, so the Jews must have their own piece of ground. We cannot count [depend] on anybody, just as no one wanted to concern himself with us when our brothers, sisters, mothers, and fathers were being burned in the crematories. We do not want to displace the Arabs from "Eretz Yisroeil." We want to live with them in peace; but the muftis and the effendis are leading a campaign against us. We know who they were. They were also good friends, good disciples of Hitler. England, too, has her interests there and does not want to turn over to us Eretz Yisroeil. All that does not scare us. We know that we must wage a struggle so as not to permit that the tragedy which we have gone through during this war, when six million Jews were burned...and that this must never happen again. For that we must also go into battle so as to get our own little piece of ground in the world. We hope that, having survived Haman and Hitler, we shall survive various other [sarcastically:] English gentlemen who do not want to recognize our right to live.The mufti (Islamic religious head) most associated with anti Jewish activities was Haj Amin Al Husseini, the grand mufti of Jerusalem. During the interwar period, he became the head of the Palestinian Arabs. The mufti had an uncompromisingly negative attitude towards Jewish settlement in Palestine and agreed with Nazi ideological goals aimed at the destruction of "world Jewry." During World War II, he pursued Arab national political goals and gave active support to the Nazi genocide against European Jewry.17
  • David Boder: What does it mean 'we have survived Haman and Hitler'? Millions of people did not survive Hitler.
  • Joseph Ferber: Millions did not survive, but the people as such has remained and will remain. Because a people is immortal. Individual persons may die. Haman, too, as well as Hitler have disappeared. Even Churchill had...had to step aside, and we hope that Attlee and Bevin, too, will step aside, and England will have to recognize our right, as the whole world has to recognize our right, to Eretz Yisroeil. Soon after the end of the Second World War, Churchill's Conservative party was defeated in general elections and was succeeded by Clement Atlee's Labour party. At the time, Great Britain continued to control Palestine and enforce the terms of its May 1939 White Paper which greatly restricted Jewish emigration. Ernest Bevin was Foreign Secretary in the Labour government. He pursued an oppressive policy towards the Palestinian Jewish community and deported would-be Jewish immigrants to detention camps in Cyprus. After his proposals for the solution of the conflict between Arabs and Jews failed, he referred the entire matter to the United Nations. In January, 1949, eight months after the proclamation of the State of Israel, he granted it Britain's de facto recognition.18
  • David Boder: Nu, and what does one do here all day?
  • Joseph Ferber: An intensive job is being done here. From morning till night we work with the children.
  • David Boder: How many children are there here?
  • Joseph Ferber: Now we have sixty children.
  • David Boder: What are their ages?
  • Joseph Ferber: The children are from four up to fifteen, sixteen years.
  • David Boder: Tell me one thing. If so many have been annihilated, and women have been annihilated, from where did you get small children? You are already how long from Zakopane? How old is the children's home in Zakopane?
  • Joseph Ferber: It is already over a year since our children's home was established.
  • David Boder: And so, from where did the small children come?
  • Joseph Ferber: Many children have survived for the reason that good [kind] Christians had taken them in and have not minded that they themselves were in danger of being killed if such a child were found with them. They would hide these children, would hide the children under the beds, under [in] cupboards, on roofs [attics], in cellars. Many children remained alive for the reason that they had escaped to the forests and fields, and there they hid. Many children did not admit to being Jewish children. They had that much intelligence, and they were admitted by the Poles into various children's homes and monastaries [also convents/. There they were brought up.More than 6,000 Poles have been honored with the award, Righteous Among the Nations, for their efforts in rescuing Jews during the Holocaust by Yad Vashem, Israel's official Holocaust memorial and museum. In risking their lives, they embodied the truth of the saying that "Whoever Saves One Life Saves the Entire World."19
  • David Boder: And so, do you think that the monastaries and convents hid children who [because they] said they were not Jewish? [Pause.] Do you think that the monastaries would not have hidden Jewish children if they knew it?
  • Joseph Ferber: No. If they would have known that they are Jewish children, perhaps they would not have hidden them.In fact, some Polish monasteries, primarily Franciscan, did save Jewish children.20
  • David Boder: But with boys it was possible to know.
  • Joseph Ferber: No, they were not too strongly controlled. They were not too strongly controlled. They would see a child, so it was admitted. The child would not say anything. It did not want to say that it has Jewish parents, so they would think that perhaps it is a Christian child. For the most part, little girls hid in this way. The boys, there were even such who were partisans. Besides that, we have such children who had been carried out from the burning ghetto during the uprising in Warsaw. They had been carried out and carried out to the Christian side, to the Aryan side, and there they would hide out. Only a few days before we left Zakopane we found out by accident that these children...there were five such Jewish children who were in Zakopane in a Polish children's home. So we brought them back from there and the children returned to our fold, to our national fold.
  • David Boder: What is an Ochronka? [We had used this term, hence the question.]
  • Joseph Ferber: An Ochronka is a children's home, in Polish.
  • David Boder: They were in a Polish children's home.
  • Joseph Ferber: Yes, in a Polish children's home.
  • David Boder: And so, you had found out...what does it mean, 'they were bought back'?
  • Joseph Ferber: We simply had to pay a price for them, to pay money for them, a certain sum of money, a very large one even, and besides that, to give a lot of products [food] and things, foodstuffs and victuals for that, that the children had been feed [by them] for three, four years, or two years. So we paid it back in kind [merchandise].
  • David Boder: Oh, and who gave it?
  • Joseph Ferber: Our head mistress, Madame Kuechler.
  • David Boder: And where did she get it?
  • Joseph Ferber: She got it all from the Jewish Committee and also from the Vaad Hatzala which used to subsidize us.The "committee" Mr. Ferber is referring to is the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, the American Jewry's chief overseas relief and rehabilitation agency before, during, and after the Holocaust.21
  • David Boder: Hm. Vaad Hatzala?
  • Joseph Ferber: Vaad Hatzala.
  • David Boder: Vaad Hatzala.
  • Joseph Ferber: Hatzala.
  • David Boder: How do you spell it?
  • Joseph Ferber: In Yiddish or in...
  • David Boder: How do you spell it with Latin letters, with German letters?
  • Joseph Ferber: V - A...
  • David Boder: V - A...
  • Joseph Ferber: ...A...
  • David Boder: ...two/A's/...
  • Joseph Ferber: Two.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Joseph Ferber: ...D...
  • David Boder: ...D...
  • Joseph Ferber: ...H - A - T - Z - A - L - A.
  • David Boder: Hm, and what does Vaad Hatzala mean?
  • Joseph Ferber: The Committee for Rescue...the Rescue Committee.
  • David Boder: Who...when were these Vaad Hatzala's established?
  • Joseph Ferber: During the war.
  • David Boder: Hm. Already since the war.
  • Joseph Ferber: Yes.
  • David Boder: Nu, and...what did you say before? You said they were Greek children?
  • Joseph Ferber: Yes. We had to fabricate false papers [proving] that they are Greek.
  • David Boder: For whom, for the Poles?
  • Joseph Ferber: Yes, for everbody. For the Polish border as well as for the Czech [border].
  • David Boder: But from Prague you already traveled with Polish...
  • Joseph Ferber: We did not say either what nationals we were. We had made out already such papers that we are going to France.
  • David Boder: And France let you in?
  • Joseph Ferber: Yes. France is a very liberal country, a truly democratic [country] where every man has a genuine right to live. They are giving facilities The French...
  • David Boder: Nu, what?
  • Joseph Ferber: ...looks...
  • David Boder: Well what....Who gave you the busses?
  • Joseph Ferber: Also from the Committee.
  • David Boder: You went through Germany?
  • Joseph Ferber: Yes.
  • David Boder: You were permitted to go through.
  • Joseph Ferber: Yes.
  • David Boder: And then when you arrived at the French...French border, what...
  • Joseph Ferber: We were also permitted to go through. They looked at the papers and nothing was said.
  • David Boder: And you arrived in Paris?
  • Joseph Ferber: Yes.
  • David Boder: And where did you stop after you...you arrived [??]
  • Joseph Ferber: No, we were sent at once to a house. At first...it is called...the town is called Barbizon.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Joseph Ferber: And then we were transferred to another locality, Courbevoie, also not far from Paris.
  • David Boder: Hm.
  • Joseph Ferber: And lately, a few weeks ago, we came to a new house, to Bellevue where we are now.
  • David Boder: Nu, it is said that many children are arriving from Poland, from Hungary, and from elsewhere. Who brings them over? How are they found?
  • Joseph Ferber: All that is being done through Vaad Hatzala. There are a whole series of committees which devote themselves to this thing, which work very actively...
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Joseph Ferber: ...and carry out all the...
  • David Boder: They are not the American committees.
  • Joseph Ferber: The American committees support it.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Joseph Ferber: But the initiative does not lie in their hands.
  • David Boder: And what is the fundamental aim of the Vaad Hatzala?
  • Joseph Ferber: To rescue Jewish souls [lives].
  • David Boder: Are they Zionists?
  • Joseph Ferber: Yes.
  • David Boder: They are Zionists.
  • Joseph Ferber: Yes. It is tied in with Eretz Yisroeil, interconnected with Eretz Yieroeil. The initiative emanates from Palestine.
  • David Boder: Oh, the initiative is from Palestine.
  • Joseph Ferber: Yes.
  • David Boder: Tell me, here were today such...such young people from Palestine. Who are they?
  • Joseph Ferber: These are messengers from Eretz Yisroeil, people who are being sent from there to work in Galuth [Diaspora], to sustain the spirit of the Jewish people, to work in the Aliyah, that means, in the immigration of the Jews to Eretz Yisroeil, and they have perhaps various other tasks which are not too well known to us.Palestinian Jewry worked throughout Europe in Aliyah Bet, the dedicated effort to bring European Jewish Holocaust survivors to Palestine in spite of British immigration restrictions. Thus it may defined as "illegal" immigration. France became a key center for directing these immigration operations, which became a unifying force in the Jewish world and came to enjoy widespread sympathy in the world at large.22
  • David Boder: So how is...the man who came today is from Eretz Yisroeil?
  • Joseph Ferber: Yes.
  • David Boder: How did he get together with the children which you have brought over?
  • Joseph Ferber: Nu, he...he must have contacts already. To him there are already given...he is informed that there and there are located such and such children with whom he should work and whom he should prepare for a future life in Eretz Yisroeil.
  • David Boder: That is not any more the Vaad Hatzala.
  • Joseph Ferber: No, I do not think so. It is already simply from the governm-...Zionist Executive.
  • David Boder: In Palestine.
  • Joseph Ferber: In Palestine.
  • David Boder: Tell me something about your service in Russia. Can you explain to me why the Jews, who had entered...saved themselves in Russia, don't want ...why don't they want to remain there?
  • Joseph Ferber: Every Jew hopes that he will still find someone at home, that he will perhaps find his house, his belongings, or something else. And this, in fact, is the quintessence, that everyone is drawn to the place where he was born. Because in fact, from my own experience, in Russia the Jews have it, indeed very good. On the whole one cannot complain. The concept of anti-Semitism does not exist there. But every man is drawn to the place where he was born. This is simply such a sentiment. And besides that, this has to be taken into account. Every man...I had many friends from Cracow who returned, because they owned homes there, they had large possessions. And occasionally they also succeed in getting it back, but on the other side, it sometimes leads again to [becoming] victims, for the reason that the Poles, seeing a Jew returning who says,'This was my house. This was my dwelling. These are my possessions'...so they go and kill such a Jew because they do not want to return his possessions which they had grabbed at the time when the Germans were there.In fact, especially by the late 1930's, anti-Semitic attitudes had become widespread among the Soviet elite and were held by many in the general population. Throughout the war, the Jews were not recognized as special victims of Nazi genocide, and this concealment continued after the war. From 1948 to 1953, the Black Years of Soviet Jewry, anti-Semitism became one of the chief policies of the Stalinist regime. 23
  • David Boder: Nu, you say that in Poland the government is, more or less, liberal. Would it not be sensible to remain there and to combat the anti-Semitism, and to settle there and build there Jewish communities until the situation in Palestine will clear up?
  • Joseph Ferber: Something else is to be considered here. On the ruins which we find we do not want to build any more. When we come and find a burned home, a destroyed workshop, seeing that we have lost everything, everything that was dear was killed, we do not want to build any more on these ruins. And because of that the Jew thinks, if to start building, it is better to build in his own homeland, in one's own land. This is one [reason]. And the second -- it is the unceasing danger which threatens. This is the peril to one's life. Because in Poland, as I have said before, exists a strong reactionary force which is committing murder and acts of death on every Jew that they chase in the street or even in his own home. An example of this is the pogrom which took place at this time a year ago in Cracow and a month ago in Kielce,The Polish perpetrators of the Kielce pogrom on July 4, 1946 massacred forty-two Jews in the town of Kielce in southeastern Poland and wounded fifty more. The pogrom was sparked by a rumor that Jews were killing Polish children and drinking their blood. This event sparked a mass exodus of tens of thousands of Jews from Poland and other countries of eastern Europe who despaired of rebuilding productive and secure lives there.24 where from the Shaarith Hapleta [that is, from a few hundred remaining Jews] ...She'erit ha-Peletah ("surviving remnant") is a term taken from First Chronicles 4:43. This was the Hebrew name given to the organization of Holocaust survivors, most in displaced persons' camps, following the war. The organization's primary goals were emigration of Jews from Europe primarily to settle in Palestine. It existed from 1945 until December, 1950 when its Central Committee ceased to exist.25
  • David Boder: How did you call it? The...
  • Joseph Ferber: Shaarith Hapleta
  • David Boder: How do you spell it? [Pause]. What is the Shaarith Hapleta?
  • Joseph Ferber: By the name of Shaarith Hapleta are called all these Jews who have remained alive from the terrible holocaust, from the six million who were killed. This is the small number...this is such...it means simply those who have...the tiny remnant which has remained alive.
  • David Boder: What do the two words Shaarith Hapleta mean?
  • Joseph Ferber: Shaarith means the remaining, and Hapleta, the escaped, who have escaped from death.
  • David Boder: Oh, that's what it means.
  • Joseph Ferber: A term which is found very often in the press.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Joseph Ferber: In the Jewish as well as in the non-Jewish.
  • David Boder: Yes, I know the term, but I did not know the particulars. And how do you, as a teacher, imagine? These children here are all [in Hebrew] orphans...[repeats in German:] orphans?A number of biblical commandments stress the importance of providing for orphans and treating them with justice and compassion. These commandments were reinforced in the Talmud and translated into Jewish communal care for orphans throughout the centuries.26
  • Joseph Ferber: Yes.
  • David Boder: Some, I understand, have relatives in America. Would it not be better for them to get their affidavits and go to America?
  • Joseph Ferber: We want, since we have lived with the children during this year very close together...and the children address us in no other manner than mother, father, and we all regard ourselves as one big family, all of us who have lost everything, and only here have found the goal of our lives. And we are working for an idea [ideal], to raise again children in order that they grow up to be good, fine people. These children love us very much, as much as one loves his own father and his own mother. We have a case where relatives of these children who live in America have contacted the children. They sent them papers and asked that the children should come to them, and the children decline it. The children say there where our head mistress will go, where our teachers will go, where our upbringers will be, there we want to be together with them, and all of us together have only one thought and one idea, to go to Eretz Yisroeil.
  • David Boder: Nu, when you will come to Eretz Yisroeil, will you distribute the children to families, or will you keep them again together?
  • Joseph Ferber: We will strive to live again in Eretz Yisroeil again in one community, which goes under the name of Kibbutz.
  • David Boder: Kibbutz, nu?
  • Joseph Ferber: But, children, we know, always go their own way. Those children who will show abilities to learn and study [get a higher education], those will go to study. Other children who will want to go to work, these will work. But we hope that the children will be good people, people who will be useful to all mankind.
  • David Boder: Do you think that it is possible to raise good people in such -- I understand good people -- but is it the best thing to do, to raise children in such groups, instead of giving them...of distributing them among families?
  • Joseph Ferber: [Pause.] Yes. Because the facts show that a private life has many more faults than a collective life. We see, for instance, that to our children the concept of egoism is completely alien. In them egoism became completely discarded. We never see an instance when a child should....If a child gets something, something from a friend, a toy or something to eat, the child always shares with all the other children. There never happen incidents that one child should want more, or another child should want less. The children are living under truly just, social ideals. This is the great plus [asset] in our work. This, indeed, raises our courage for our further work, to go on raising these children in a social and democratic spirit. [Pause.]
  • David Boder: What would you want to say to the American Jews or to the American workers?
  • Joseph Ferber: To the American Jews and to the American workers, as our brothers, we have only one message. When we hear the name Jew, or when we happen to meet on the street a Jew, there awakens in our [hearts] a great mass of really deep feelings. And for this reason, too, our sentiments for Jewry are much greater than previously. And today, when we hear that in America lives a large number of Jews who work and earn and have a free life, we would wish them to remember us, too, that they should always remember that we, today, when we have nothing -- we only have good martyrs, good...a strong will and good strivings -- that these brothers of ours in America should help us, be it morally and be it materially. And our work will be for them our best gratitude.
  • David Boder: Well, I thank you very much Mr. Ferber. It was very interesting and very important. It gives us a better understanding of these groups of children about which still very little has been said and very little written. So, it will be very interesting to follow up the study of these groups. I thank you very much.
  • David Boder: [In English:] This concludes the interview with Mr. Joseph Ferber on Spool 117, twenty-six [ indicator] minutes of the spool. Bellevue near Paris. September 7, 1946. [Incorrect date -- should be Spetember 8]. Illinois Institute of Technology wire recording.
  1. Brody (Yid. Brod) was in the Tarnopol district of Poland (then southeastern Poland, now northwestern Ukraine). The town was a center of nineteenth century Jewish progressive thinking and had a strong Zionist movement. In September, 1939, the Soviets occupied the city, but the Germans took over shortly after the beginning of their invasion of the Soviet Union on June, 22, 1941. During the German occupation, the Jews of Brody were terrorized, persecuted, ghettoized and then murdered. Only about 250 of the 9,000 Jews in Brody on the eve of World War II survived.
  2. Located in southern Poland, the historic city was for several centuries the capital of the early Polish kingdom. Jewish settlement in Kraków dates from at least the early fourteenth century. During the German occupation, the city became the seat of the Nazi General Government run by the notorious Hans Frank.
  3. Mr. Ferber is referring to the outbreak of World War II which began with the German invasion of Poland on September 1, 1939. Two days later France and Great Britain declared war on Germany.
  4. In fact, the Soviet Union occupied eastern Poland in accordance with a secret protocol in the Nazi Soviet pact signed on August 23, 1939 between the foreign ministers of the two totalitarian powers. The protocol called for the division of Poland between them by force of arms.
  5. Treatment of the Jewish population under Soviet rule was certainly better than under the German occupation. However, in the part of Poland under their control, the Soviets nationalized large Jewish businesses and factories, confiscated and collectivized land, ended any semblance of Jewish political and social autonomy, and deported the "hostile class element" to Siberia. These policies impacted the general population as well.
  6. Eastern Poland during the interwar period was home to many Ukrainians as well as Jews. This accounted for the efforts of the Polish government to "polonize" the area.
  7. The Soviets drafted a number of Jews from Brody into the Red army. In total, about half a million Jews served in the Red army during World War II, and approximately 200,000 fell in battle. Some 160,000, including Mr. Ferber, were awarded medals for bravery. The German invasion of the Soviet Union came as a great shock to Stalin, who believed that Hitler would honor the August 1939 non-aggression treaty signed between the two countries. News of German atrocities against Jews in their zone of occupation from 1939-1941 was deliberately withheld from Soviet Jewry who were unprepared for the Nazi onslaught, as was the Red army which was overwhelmed in the early phase of the brutal war. The battle of Stalingrad, lasting from late summer 1942 until the German surrender on February 2, 1943, marked the turning point of the war on the eastern front.
  8. Chernevtsky was a town located in western Ukraine. It was occupied by Romania, Germany's World War II ally. During the Romanian occupation, the Jews of Chernevtsky were persecuted and ghettoized, and their population was decimated.
  9. About 165,000 Polish Jews were repatriated under the Polish/Soviet repatriation agreement of July 1945. Some 20,000 went back to Poland under a subsequent agreement. About seven percent of the prewar Polish Jewish population was saved within the Soviet Union. Belzec and Treblinka were Nazi extermination camps designed to annihilate the Jews of the General Government. Auschwitz was the largest of the extermination camps and also a concentration camp. It had some forty subcamps. Like Mr. Ferber, many survivors experienced the loss of their entire families.
  10. Zakopane was located in the Kraków district of Poland. It was a Carpathian mountain community with a Jewish population of several hundred. During the 1930's, there were a number of anti-Semitic incidents in the town. Polish anti-Semitism also manifested itself after the war despite the small number of Jewish survivors. Some three million Polish Jews perished during the Holocaust, and about 300,000 survived.
  11. Nowy Targ had a pre war Jewish population of over a thousand, which also suffered from anti-Semitism in the interwar period in the form of economic boycotts and occasional violence. Anti-Semitic agitation revived after the war, directed at the handful of survivors.
  12. In the immediate postwar period, the communist regime in the People's Republic of Poland allowed the Jewish survivors a degree of social and cultural autonomy. Those Jews with communist sympathies had hopes for full assimilation, and Jewish communists occupied some posts in the new government. The new regime, under the control of the Stalinist Soviet Union, was anything but democratic.
  13. General Anders headed an army of Polish exiles formed in the Soviet Union following the Nazi invasion. Eventually this army made its way out of the Soviet Union via Iran and fought with the Allies against the Germans. After the fall of France, the Polish government-in-exile moved to London where it remained for the duration of the war. This government did not have the welfare of Polish Jewry as its highest priority. Nevertheless, it transmitted funds contributed by Jewish organizations to Polish Jewry, and its public pronouncements eventually played a significant role in dispelling doubts in western countries about Nazi genocide.
  14. The Vaad ha-Hatzlaha was a body originally established by the American Orthodox Jewish community to rescue rabbis and yeshiva students during World War II. Following the revelation of the Final Solution, it expanded its activities to assist all European Jewry.
  15. The sentiments expressed here by Mr. Ferber were shared by many European Jews who wanted to make their way to Palestine and establish an independent Jewish homeland.
  16. The mufti (Islamic religious head) most associated with anti Jewish activities was Haj Amin Al Husseini, the grand mufti of Jerusalem. During the interwar period, he became the head of the Palestinian Arabs. The mufti had an uncompromisingly negative attitude towards Jewish settlement in Palestine and agreed with Nazi ideological goals aimed at the destruction of "world Jewry." During World War II, he pursued Arab national political goals and gave active support to the Nazi genocide against European Jewry.
  17. Soon after the end of the Second World War, Churchill's Conservative party was defeated in general elections and was succeeded by Clement Atlee's Labour party. At the time, Great Britain continued to control Palestine and enforce the terms of its May 1939 White Paper which greatly restricted Jewish emigration. Ernest Bevin was Foreign Secretary in the Labour government. He pursued an oppressive policy towards the Palestinian Jewish community and deported would-be Jewish immigrants to detention camps in Cyprus. After his proposals for the solution of the conflict between Arabs and Jews failed, he referred the entire matter to the United Nations. In January, 1949, eight months after the proclamation of the State of Israel, he granted it Britain's de facto recognition.
  18. More than 6,000 Poles have been honored with the award, Righteous Among the Nations, for their efforts in rescuing Jews during the Holocaust by Yad Vashem, Israel's official Holocaust memorial and museum. In risking their lives, they embodied the truth of the saying that "Whoever Saves One Life Saves the Entire World."
  19. In fact, some Polish monasteries, primarily Franciscan, did save Jewish children.
  20. The "committee" Mr. Ferber is referring to is the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, the American Jewry's chief overseas relief and rehabilitation agency before, during, and after the Holocaust.
  21. Palestinian Jewry worked throughout Europe in Aliyah Bet, the dedicated effort to bring European Jewish Holocaust survivors to Palestine in spite of British immigration restrictions. Thus it may defined as "illegal" immigration. France became a key center for directing these immigration operations, which became a unifying force in the Jewish world and came to enjoy widespread sympathy in the world at large.
  22. In fact, especially by the late 1930's, anti-Semitic attitudes had become widespread among the Soviet elite and were held by many in the general population. Throughout the war, the Jews were not recognized as special victims of Nazi genocide, and this concealment continued after the war. From 1948 to 1953, the Black Years of Soviet Jewry, anti-Semitism became one of the chief policies of the Stalinist regime.
  23. The Polish perpetrators of the Kielce pogrom on July 4, 1946 massacred forty-two Jews in the town of Kielce in southeastern Poland and wounded fifty more. The pogrom was sparked by a rumor that Jews were killing Polish children and drinking their blood. This event sparked a mass exodus of tens of thousands of Jews from Poland and other countries of eastern Europe who despaired of rebuilding productive and secure lives there.
  24. She'erit ha-Peletah ("surviving remnant") is a term taken from First Chronicles 4:43. This was the Hebrew name given to the organization of Holocaust survivors, most in displaced persons' camps, following the war. The organization's primary goals were emigration of Jews from Europe primarily to settle in Palestine. It existed from 1945 until December, 1950 when its Central Committee ceased to exist.
  25. A number of biblical commandments stress the importance of providing for orphans and treating them with justice and compassion. These commandments were reinforced in the Talmud and translated into Jewish communal care for orphans throughout the centuries.
  • Contributors to this text:
  • English translation : David P. Boder
  • Footnotes : Elliot Lefkovitz