Josef Rosensaft delivers the opening address at the Second Congress of Liberated Jews in the British Zone.
1947 July 20
- Photo Designation
DISPLACED PERSONS/RETURN TO LIFE -- DP Camps/Postwar Communities -- Germany: Major Centers -- Bergen-Belsen -- Political/Zionist Activity
- Photo Credit
- United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, courtesy of Alex Knobler
Josef Rosensaft delivers the opening address at the Second Congress of Liberated Jews in the British Zone.
Among those pictured are: Berel Laufer (sixth from the left with a cigarette); Rabbi Helfgott (second from left), Norbert Wollheim (partially obscured); Hadassa (Bimko) Rosensaft (to the right of the speaker); Berel Laufer; David Rosenthal; Pawel Trepman; and Raphael Olewski.
- Event History
- The Central Committee of the Liberated Jews in the U.S. Zone of Germany was the official representative body of displaced Jews in the American zone of Germany from 1945 to 1950. The Central Committee was founded on July 1, 1945 at the first meeting of representatives of Jewish DP camps held in Feldafing. It came into being through the joint effort of Dr. Zalman Grinberg, the head of the St. Ottilien hospital DP camp and former director of the Kovno ghetto hospital, and Rabbi Abraham Klausner, an American reform rabbi serving as a chaplain in the U.S. Army. The newly created body established its headquarters in Munich (located first at the Deutsches Museum and later at 3 Sieberstrasse) and set up seven sub-committees to formulate policy and coordinate activity in the areas of education, culture, religious affairs, clothing, nutrition, emigration and information. The Feldafing meeting was quickly followed by a conference in St. Ottilien on July 24. Its purpose was to expand the representative base of the Central Committee and to draw public attention to the plight of Jewish survivors in DP camps, so as to put pressure on Britain to open Palestine to DP immigration. The 94 delegates from German and Austrian camps issued a resolution demanding the abrogation of the British White Paper, which prevented them from leaving the camps and starting their lives afresh in their own homeland. In addition, they called for the recognition of the Jewish DPs as a distinct group meriting their own camps, in which they would govern themselves. The Central Committee failed in its bid to incorporate the Jewish DPs of Austria and the British zone of Germany into their organizational structure. However, it continued to represent the largest group of Jewish DPs and eventually won recognition by the American Army of Occupation (September 7, 1946) as "the legal and democratic representation of the liberated Jews in the American zone." In the five years of its existence, the Central Committee convened three formal congresses: Munich, January 27-29, 1946; Bad Reichenhall, February 25-28, 1947; and Bad Reichenhall, March 30-April 2, 1948. Dr. Zalman Grinberg served as the Chairman of the Central Committee from its inception until his immigration to Palestine in 1946. He was succeeded by his deputy, David Treger (another Kovno ghetto survivor), who was elected Chairman at both the second and third congresses. The Central Committee was involved in every aspect of Jewish DP life, either independently or in conjunction with one or more of the Jewish welfare agencies operating in the area. Through its constituent departments the Central Committee played a central role in education, culture, religious affairs, historical documentation, employment and training, supply and distribution, politics and public relations, family tracing and immigration, legal affairs and restitution.
[Sources: Bauer, Yehuda. "The Organization of Holocaust Survivors," Yad Vashem Studies, vol. 8 (1970); Hyman, Abraham S. The Undefeated, Jerusalem, 1993; Mankowitz, Zev. "The Formation of She'erit Hapleita,"Yad Vashem Studies, vol. 20 (1990); Schwarz, Leo.The Redeemers, New York, 1953]
- Josef Rosensaft (1911-1975) was the son of Menachem Mendel and Devora (Szpiro) Rosensaft. He was born and raised in Bedzin, Poland, where his father, a Gerer hasid, was a prominent member of the Jewish community. Josef had four older siblings: Leah, Rachel, Mari-Mindl and Itzhak. His mother died in a flu epidemic when he was eight or nine. During his youth and early adulthood, Josef was active in the labor Zionist movement. After he finished school he worked in the family's scrap metal business. Josef remained in Bedzin during the first four years of the German occupation of Poland. On June 22, 1943 he was put on a deportation transport to Auschwitz, but managed to escape by diving out of the train into the Vistula River. Though wounded by German bullets during his escape, Josef made it back to Bedzin the following morning. A few weeks later during the final liquidation of the ghetto, his father died in his arms of natural causes. Josef then fled to the nearby town of Zawierce to escape the deportations. However, that same month he was again rounded-up and sent to Auschwitz-Birkenau. Josef spent five months in the camp before being transferred to the Auschwitz sub-camp of Lagisza Cmentarna in January 1944. That winter he escaped from the camp and returned to Bedzin, where he was hidden by a Polish friend for six weeks. He was recaptured in April and sent back to Auschwitz, where he was imprisoned in the Block 11 punishment barracks for seven months. In November Josef was transferred to the Buchenwald sub-camp of Langensalza, and from there to Dora-Mittelbau early in 1945. He was moved one last time to Bergen-Belsen in early April, where he was liberated by the British on April 15. Within days of the liberation, Josef was chosen by his fellow survivors to become chairman of the Bergen-Belsen camp committee. Later, after the convening of the First Congress of Liberated Jews in the British Zone in September 1945, he was elected chairman of the Central Jewish Committee for the British Zone of Germany. He headed both the camp committee and the central committee until the closing of the Bergen-Belsen displaced persons camp in the summer of 1950. During his years of leadership in the DP community Josef repeatedly stood up to the British in defense of the needs and political sensitivities of Jewish survivors. He demanded that the British formally recognize Jews as a separate category of displaced persons. He halted the transfer of Belsen DPs to two inferior camps established near the Dutch border. He thwarted the British attempt to change the name of the Belsen DP camp to Hohne, which would have diminished the moral and political power of the DPs living there that derived from their link to the infamous concentration camp. Finally, he repeatedly spoke out against the anti-Zionist policies of the British government and actively aided the illegal Bricha and Aliyah Bet movements that strove to get Jews out of Eastern Europe and smuggle them into Palestine. On August 18, 1946 Josef Rosensaft married Hadassah Bimko (1912-1997), a fellow Bergen-Belsen survivor from Sosnowiec, Poland, who at the time was head of the health department of the Central Jewish Committee in the British Zone. Hadassah was the daughter of Hersh Leib and Hendla Bimko, Gerer Hasidim who worked in the jewelry manufacturing business. She had a younger brother, Benjamin and a younger sister, Roszka. In the summer of 1943 Hadassah was deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau, where she spent fifteen months before being transferred to Bergen-Belsen in November 1944. While she survived, most of her relatives, including her husband, son, parents and sister, perished in Auschwitz. A dentist by training who had also studied medicine, Hadassah was recruited immediately after the liberation to organize a group of Jewish doctors and nurses in the camp to help British medical personnel treat the thousands of Belsen survivors suffering from disease and malnutrition. Hadassah also served as one of the principal prosecution witnesses at the Bergen-Belsen Trial in Lueneburg (September-November 1945). A year-and-a-half after their marriage, Hadassah gave birth to their son Menachem on May 1, 1948. With the closing of the Belsen DP camp, the Rosensafts moved to Switzerland, where they spent eight years in the town of Montreux. The family then immigrated to the United States, where Josef remained active in a variety of Jewish organizations. He served as president of the World Federation of Bergen-Belsen Survivors until his death.
Norbert Wollheim (1913-1998), German Jewish social welfare worker, who administered the Kindertransport program; postwar leader of Jewish DPs in the British zone of Germany; and Auschwitz survivor who won a lawsuit against the I.G. Farben corporation. Wollheim was born in Berlin on April 26, 1913. During his youth he attended public school and was active in the German Jewish Youth Alliance until its dissolution by the Nazis in 1935. Intending to become a lawyer, Wollheim began law school in 1931. However, before he could complete his degree legislation was enacted barring Jews from the study of law. Instead, Wollheim went to work at a Jewish-owned, import-export business, hoping to make contacts that would provide him a way out of Germany. His main focus of activity, however, was social welfare work for the Jewish community. In the mid-1930s Wollheim became involved in organizing groups of Jewish youth to attend summer camps in nearby Denmark and Sweden. Shortly after Kristallnacht, he was asked by the leadership of the Jewish community (Reichsvertretung der deutschen Juden) to administer the new Kindertransport program, a plan to send thousands of children (mostly Jewish) from Nazi controlled central Europe to the United Kingdom. He was responsible for the application process, communication with parents, reserving special trains and finding escorts for the transports. He met with each group at the train station and personally escorted many to Britain, before returning to Germany to organize the next transport. In all, Wollheim arranged for over 7,000 Jewish children on 20 transports to reach safety in the U.K. The last Kindertransport left Berlin on August 29, 1939. Wollheim did not accompany this group fearing that if war broke out, he would be separated from his family. Both of his parents remained in Berlin. In addition, he had a young wife, whom he had married in 1938, and a baby born the following year. After the start of the war, Wollheim continued to work for the Jewish leadership body (now renamed the Reichsvereinigung der Juden in Deutschland) as the administrator of its vocational school. In 1941 he severed his relationship with the Reichsvereinigung and reported for forced labor. Wollheim's parents were rounded-up for deportation in December 1942. Though his father had been decorated with the Iron Cross for military service in World War I, he received no exemption, and both were sent to the gas chambers after their arrival in Auschwitz. Four months later in the last major deportation action in Berlin, Wollheim and his family were arrested and taken to the Grosse Hamburger Strasse assembly center. On March 11, 1943 they, too, were deported to Auschwitz in a transport of over 1,000 Jews, only six of whom survived the war. Wollheim, his pregnant wife and his three-year-old child squeezed into a car with one hundred other people, including several friends from his youth group. Since it was Friday night, they sang Hebrew songs, and one woman lit Sabbath candles. The following day they arrived in Auschwitz, where Wollheim's wife and child were immediately gassed. Wollheim was selected for forced labor. Claiming experience as a welder, he was sent to the Buna synthetic rubber plant at Auschwitz III (Monowitz), where he was put to work in construction. In Monowitz, Wollheim befriended a group of British POWs who shared their Red Cross parcels with him and relayed news of the war gleaned from BBC broadcasts. When Auschwitz was evacuated on January 18, 1945, Wollheim was put on a forced march to Gleiwitz. From there, the members of the evacuation transport were loaded without provisions on a train that traveled to Czechoslovakia, Austria, back to Czechoslovakia, and finally to Germany. Of the 6,000 prisoners who began the trip only 2,000 remained alive when the train arrived in Berlin on January 31. They were then taken to Heinkel, a satellite camp of Sachsenhausen-Oranienburg. During the bombing of Berlin on April 20, the camp was evacuated and the prisoners were marched out under SS guard. On the night of May 2, Wollheim fled to nearby Schwerin, where he met up with American troops. Not wanting to return to Soviet-controlled Berlin, Wollheim went to Luebeck, where he helped to organize a community of 800 Jewish DPs. After hearing that 30,000 survivors were living in nearby Bergen-Belsen, he arranged a visit. He met with DP camp leader Joseph Rosensaft, and together they organized the Central Committee of Liberated Jews in the British Zone, a democratically elected body in which Rosensaft served as chairman and Wollheim as vice-chairman. Wollheim subsequently remarried a German Jewish survivor who had belonged to his youth movement. They resided in Luebeck where they had two children. Wollheim continued to serve in a leadership role until his immigration to the United States in 1952. In 1953 he won a lawsuit against the I.G. Farben corporation for compensation for his two years of forced labor at the Buna plant in Auschwitz III (Monowitz). This legal decision paved the way for the establishment of a $6.4 million fund to compensate other Nazi-era slave laborers. Wollheim died on November 1, 1998.
- Photo Source
United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
Copyright: United States Holocaust Memorial MuseumProvenance: Alex KnoblerYad Vashem Photo and Film Archives
Copyright: Agency AgreementSource Record ID: YV 070/228
- Published Source
- Holocaust and Rebirth: Bergen-Belsen 1945-1965 - Bergen-Belsen Memorial Press - p. 174.
Record last modified: 2003-06-11 00:00:00
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