Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

27 Ellul 5762 - September 4, 2002 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








Providing the Talmud and Other Religious Texts to the Holocaust Survivors

by Alex Grobman, Ph.D.

The American Jewish Historical Society's exhibit "Particular Responsibility: The Making of the U.S. Army Talmud," has brought a very important part of the history of the Jews in postwar Europe to the attention of the public. The chapter they cover, however, is incomplete.

After the war, observant Jewish survivors were in need of religious articles: tzitzis, talleisim, tefillin, candles for candle lighting, holiday prayer books, daily prayer books, the Torah and religious texts. There were very few of these items available for all the Displaced Persons.

In the late 1930s, the Nazis began confiscating Jewish books and artifacts in Germany. During the war, the Nazis extended the operation, using German military forces and other Nazi agencies and individuals to seize Jewish books, archives and ritual objects from "occupied Ukraine to the French-Spanish border, and from Greece to the British Isle of Man."

In January 1940, Hitler ordered the Party and State offices to assist Alfred Rosenberg, the official National Socialist ideologue, to secure these items for a future library that would be part of the Hohe Schule, the educational and research institute of the Party. A small fraction of the looted material was kept for research purposes. Many of the ceremonial objects were melted down and the books were burnt or made into pulp.

At the end of the war, the Allies found huge amounts of books randomly strewn in "makeshift depots." They also found books and ceremonial objects in several other places, particularly in Frankfurt am Main in the Rothschild Library, in Hungen and Hirzenhain in Hesse, and scattered around Bavaria.

On March 2, 1946, the American military established the Offenbach Archival Depot (OAD) in conjunction with Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives Wiesbaden, to house, protect and restore this enormous collection. Housed in a vast five-story warehouse across the river from Frankfurt, that had belonged to the I.G. Farben company, the OAD "processed -- received and/or shipped - - over 1.8 million items contained in 2,351 crates, stacks, packages, and piles" by March 25, 1946.

By August 1947, 2,000,000 books and "identifiable materials" were returned and distributed to the survivors. The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) received 24,000 volumes on loan, to distribute to the people in Displaced Persons Camps in Europe.

These "supplies" from the JDC in Europe and the United States were insufficient to meet all of the needs of the observant survivors. Rabbi Avrohom Kalmanowitz, president of the Mirrer Yeshiva in New York and a leader in Agudath HaRabbonim and in the Vaad Hatzalah, tried to fill this vacuum.

He asked General John Hilldring, Assistant Secretary of State for Occupied Areas, to help him publish, "200,000 Bibles and Prayer Books in the U.S. Zone of Germany for use of Jewish children in Western Europe." Rabbi Kalmanowitz needed a permit for paper, priority for using electricity, an export license, and a permit to send his personal representatives to the U.S. Zone of Germany to supervise the printing and distribution of the copies.

General Lucius Clay, Military Governor of Germany, rejected his request because there was an acute shortage of paper in late 1947 and only vital government documents could be published.

Rabbi Nathan Baruch, Director of the Vaad Hatzalah in Germany, began exploring ways to publish religious texts himself at the urging of his assistant Rabbi Aviezer Burstin. The Vaad Hatzalah had been established in November 1939 to save rabbis and yeshiva students in Poland and Lithuania from the Nazis. After the war, the Vaad sent Rabbi Baruch to direct their relief and spiritual rehabilitation program for observant Jews in Germany. The need to print the Talmud became especially important for the students who were being taught in the yeshivas that were established in various DP camps. Rabbi Burstein, who was from Lublin, Poland, wanted the Talmud so Jews could begin studying the Daf Yomi again.


At the Congress of the Agudath Israel in Europe in 1923, Rabbi Meir Shapira of Lublin had proposed that Jews all over the world study the same page of the Talmud (Daf Yomi) simultaneously as a sign of a unifying commitment to Judaism and Jewish learning. In this way, observant Jewish males could complete the study of the Talmud every seven and a half years with a formal celebration marking the end of the learning cycle and the beginning of the new one. The proposal was accepted and a special calendar was created. Jews everywhere began to study the Daf. Rabbi Shapira participated in the first completion of the cycle in 1931. Observant Jews then integrated the Daf Yomi program into their lives.

In 1947, the rabbinate in the Yishuv of Palestine, led by Dr. Isaac Herzog (who became the first Chief Rabbi of Israel) and the Union of Orthodox Rabbis of the United States and Canada and the rabbinate of England, united to make the Daf Yomi a universal part of Jewish life.


When Rabbi Baruch approached the military authorities for authorization and assistance to publish religious material, they responded that the function of the Army was not to be the nursemaid to the Displaced Persons (DPs), but to keep the order and to be a buffer against Russian encroachment.

Rabbi Baruch was not deterred. He turned instead to those who had access to the Army warehouses. Since the military had an abundance of supplies -- an assessment not shared by General Clay -- Rabbi Baruch thought he might be able to "barter" for his supplies. Among his contacts was a Jewish girl working for the military and some non-Jewish quartermasters who were sympathetic and willing to provide paper and materials.

One of Rabbi Baruch's contacts worked in the Army Post- Exchange (PX) and purchased whiskey for him. A number of officers who didn't need their alcohol rations sold their rations to Rabbi Baruch at a fraction of their worth. The same was true of others who had coffee and cigarette rations. Thus, coffee, whiskey and cigarettes were traded for paper, ink, printing and binding. The rabbi and his associates found a photo-offset processing plant and went into the now financially viable business of publishing prayer books and other religious texts.

As soon as the books were printed and bound, they were sent to the DP camps and to leading rabbis and scholars throughout the world. Some people in Europe came to the Vaad office in Germany to collect their copies. Pincus Schoen, executive director of the Vaad Hatzalah, asked that prominent donors and every Orthodox rabbi in the United States receive sets of these seforim to induce them to fund the project.

To meet the demand for copies of the Talmud, the Vaad printed and distributed 10,000 conveniently-sized pocket editions of individual masechtas. These books channeled people's energies into constructive and meaningful activity.

By the end of 1947, the Vaad published some 240,000 religious texts altogether and distributed them to camps and to the rest of the world Jewish community. These included "siddurim, Tehillim, Hagaddahs, Megilat Esther, Pirkei Avos, Mesillas Yeshorim, Or Israel, Shev Shmateso, Kesses Hasofer, Yiddish Leben, Kitzur Shulchan Oruch, Sha'agas Aryeh, Taharas Hamishpocho, and the Bible."

Shortly after the seforim arrived in the U.S., Rabbi Baruch received requests for additional publications. Despite his many obligations, he complied. The copies were shipped to America where they were sent to Vaad supporters with an appropriate thank you letter enclosed.

The publishing program was so successful that Rabbi Baruch decided to dedicate the book of Psalms, with an English translation, to General Lucius D. Clay. Before proceeding, he asked Abraham Hyman, assistant advisor on Jewish affairs to the Theater Commander of the U.S. Forces in Europe, to discuss the idea with Dr. William Haber, the Advisor on Jewish Affairs from January 1948 to January 1949. Haber agreed to the idea and said he would tell the general about the project at their next meeting. Haber also suggested that, in the dedication, it would be appropriate to mention what the general's "sympathetic policies have meant" to the Jewish DPs.


Hyman quickly pointed out that Haber did not want to "make much ado" about the dedication by bringing in the press and photographing the event because of an existing agreement -- signed on September 11, 1946 between the JDC and the Rabbinical Council U.S. Zone Germany -- to publish 750 sets of a 19-volume Talmud. That edition was supposed to be distributed jointly by authorized representatives of the JDC and the Rabbinical Council to three groups: the Theater Commander would receive a quantity for distribution to those he saw fit, educational institutions in the United States and Palestine would receive a finite number; the majority would be distributed to yeshivas and suitable libraries in the U.S. Zone of Occupation. The Army Talmud "would be of such importance that it will deserve special attention," Hyman pointed out. Though the Vaad's proposal had been "inspired by the best of intentions," Haber and Hyman felt "it would be imprudent to have the spotlight thrown on an occasion such as that one."

Publishing the Talmud [by the Army] had been the "obsession" of Rabbi Samuel Snieg and his assistant, Rabbi Samuel Rose. Rabbi Philip S. Bernstein, a Reform rabbi and the Advisor on Jewish Affairs from May 1946 to August 1947 liked the idea and convinced General Clay to approve its publication. The JDC agreed to underwrite part of the production costs, and the Army guaranteed that the Germans would contribute the rest of the funds -- up to 250,000 DMs. The sets were subsequently printed and bound in 1949 and finally, in 1951, were sent to Jewish leaders and important libraries in the United States, Israel, Europe and Canada.

That Talmud was dedicated to the "United States Army for having played a major role in the rescue of the Jewish people from total annihilation, and after the defeat of Hitler bore the major burden of sustaining the DPs of the Jewish faith." It was proffered that "this special edition of the Talmud published in the very land where, but a short time ago, everything Jewish and of Jewish inspiration was anathema," would "remain a symbol of the indestructibility of the Torah." The Jewish DPs would "never forget the generous impulses and the unprecedented humanitarianism of the American forces, to whom they owe so much."

The Army was proud that it had made publication of this edition possible, but only printed a limited number of copies so there were very few available for distribution to the DPs. The original agreement indicated an earlier publication date, but a number of obstacles in 1947 and 1948, including a shortage of paper, lack of appropriate printing equipment and a weak German economy, forced a delay. The first volumes were bound in 1949, but it was not until 1951 that the work was delivered to prominent individuals and libraries in the U.S., Canada, Europe and Israel.

The Talmud served little purpose for the survivors who needed it the most because by the time the volumes were available, the vast majority of the survivors were no longer in Europe. Between May 1948 and the end of 1951 about 304,000 Jewish survivors from Central Europe immigrated to Israel. Between July 1948 and 1952 about 58,000 Jews left for the United States.

As the Talmud project neared completion, Rabbi Solomon Shapiro, the JDC's Director of Religious Affairs, informed his New York office that when they first began working on the Talmud, his staff in Paris knew very little about it: " . . . you would be interested to know that there has been a great amount of reading of books about the Talmud among members of our staff as a result of our involvement in the project . . . Many people became involved in one way or another in the Transportation Department, in the Accounting Department, in the Budget Department, and in turn those who are in close relationship with these departments have been requesting material on the subject and we have not enough to go around."


When Rabbi Baruch presented his book of Psalms to General Clay on behalf of the Jewish DPs, Clay remarked that he would "always cherish this book of Psalms among my most priceless possessions." Copies were also given to General Clarence Heubner, Deputy Commander in Chief of the European Command and Robert Murphy, political advisor to General Clay. When Rabbi Baruch later sent General Clay a Bible, the general wrote that the Bible "will serve to remind me of the faith and courage of a people who refused to bow to the forces of evil which attempted their destruction."

Among those who received books published by Rabbi Baruch's makeshift publishing company were: American generals in Europe, the Far East and the United States; American admirals; U.S. Secretaries of War, Labor, Treasury; the Mayor of New York; the Secretary-General of the United Nations; U.S. Supreme Court Justices and a number of Jewish celebrities.

After they received Vaad publications, the Frankfurt Jewish GI Council made inquiries at several Jewish DP camps to determine their religious needs and submitted a list to the Vaad's Frankfurt office. The Council was established in June 1946 by David Bar-El (Schacter) and Eliezer Dembitz, and by Chaplain Yosef Miller, a 26- year-old Orthodox rabbi. They also permitted Rabbi Baruch to make a presentation about Vaad activities so the Council could help.

Harry A. Goodman, Secretary of Agudah Israel World Organization, asked Rabbi Baruch in early 1948 if the Vaad could supply the Agudah in London with copies of its publications. Goodman assured Rabbi Baruch that the books would be distributed to institutions in England that "really need them," and that Agudah would pay for the publications "if necessary."

Goodman had received parcels of books from Rabbi Baruch less than a month before and was eager to secure more.

Dr. Alex Grobman is president of the Institute for Contemporary Jewish Life, a think tank dealing with historical and contemporary issues affecting the Jewish community, and a consultant to the Brenn Institute. His latest book, Out of the Depths of Despair: The Vaad Hatzala in Postwar Europe will be published in 2002. This is a chapter from that book.

Dr. Grobman interviewed Rabbi Nathan Baruch for many hours at his home and had complete access to his files and photographs. This is the first time such access was given to anyone. Additional research was done at the archives at Yeshiva University, the JDC and at YIVO -- all in New York City, and at JDC archives in Jerusalem.


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