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Stephen Bernstein, son of American chaplain Philip Bernstein, reads from the torah at his bar mitzvah at the Philanthropin School in Frankfurt, Germany.

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    Stephen Bernstein, son of American chaplain Philip Bernstein, reads from the torah at his bar mitzvah at the Philanthropin School in Frankfurt, Germany.
    Stephen Bernstein, son of American chaplain Philip Bernstein, reads from the torah at his bar mitzvah at the Philanthropin School in Frankfurt, Germany.

Pictured from left to right are Rabbi Philip Bernstein, Stephen Bernstein, Rabbi Mayer Abramowitz, and Rabbi Herbert Friedman.


    Stephen Bernstein, son of American chaplain Philip Bernstein, reads from the torah at his bar mitzvah at the Philanthropin School in Frankfurt, Germany.

    Pictured from left to right are Rabbi Philip Bernstein, Stephen Bernstein, Rabbi Mayer Abramowitz, and Rabbi Herbert Friedman.
    January 1947
    Frankfurt-am-Main, [Hesse-Nassau; Hesse] Germany
    Variant Locale
    Photo Credit
    United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, courtesy of Herbert Friedman
    Event History
    The adviser on Jewish affairs to the commander of the US forces in Europe was a position established in August 1945 in the wake of the publication of the Harrison Report on the situation of Jewish displaced persons in the Allied zones of occupation. Seven American Jews served in this position in the four and a half years of its existence between 1945 and 1949: Rabbi Judah Nadich (August-September 1945); Judge Simon Rifkind (October 1945-March 1946); Rabbi Philip Bernstein (May 1946-August 1947); Judge Louis E. Levinthal (June-December 1947); William Haber (January 1948-January 1949); Harry Greenstein (February-October 1949); and Abraham Hyman (October-December 1949). The role of the adviser on Jewish affairs was to interpret US army regulations to the Jewish DPs and advise American commanders concerning the special problems of the survivors. President Truman insisted that candidates for this position be acceptable to the major Jewish organizations, but not partisan to any one of them. This directive led to the formation of the Five Jewish Cooperating Organizations, a new body that consisted of the American Jewish Committee, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, the American Jewish Conference, the World Jewish Congress, and the Jewish Agency for Palestine. The Five Jewish Cooperating Organizations selected the advisers on Jewish affairs and financed their expenses. The position was a politically sensitive one, fraught as it was with issues of dual loyalty. Since the adviser was nominated by the US Secretary of War and reported to the European theater commander, he represented the interests of the American army of occupation, but because he was selected and financially supported by the world Jewish organizations, he was also expected to serve the interests of the Jewish DPs. Though many of their policy initiatives and diplomatic efforts never bore fruit, the advisers on Jewish affairs achieved many notable successes. They established positive relationships with the American military leadership in Germany. They made sure that the instructions of the theater commanders to improve the living standards of Jewish survivors in the DP camps were implemented. They conducted effective educational programs to sensitize the American military to the plight of the Jewish DPs. They lent crucial assistance to the Jewish infiltrees from Eastern Europe and prevented the closing of the borders to the American zones of occupation. They were influential in their call for a more liberal DP immigration policy to the US and Palestine. They secured American recognition for the Central Committee of Liberated Jews in the US zone of Germany, and they facilitated the symbolically important publication of the first postwar edition of the Talmud in Germany. Finally, they handled with dignity and sensitivity the massive resettlement of Jewish DPs once the borders to America and Israel were opened, as well as the final closing of the DP camps.

    [Sources: Geniizi, Haim, "Philip S. Bernstein: Adviser on Jewish Affairs, May 1946-August 1947," Simon Wiesenthal Center Annual 3 (1997)]

    Rights & Restrictions

    Photo Source
    United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
    Copyright: United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
    Provenance: Herbert Friedman

    Keywords & Subjects

    Administrative Notes

    Philip Sidney Bernstein (1901-1985), American reform rabbi who served as the adviser on Jewish affairs to the commander of the US forces in Europe between May 1946 and August 1947. Born in Rochester, New York, Bernstein was ordained in the first class of rabbis at the Jewish Institute of Religion in 1926. He went on to become rabbi of Temple Brith Kodesh in Rochester. During World War II the Jewish Welfare Board appointed him executive director of the Committee on Army and Navy Religious Activities. In May 1946 Bernstein became the nominee of the newly-created Five Jewish Cooperating Organizations to succeed Rabbi Judah Nadich and Judge Simon Rifkind as the third adviser on Jewish affairs to the commander of US forces in Europe. During his fifteen months of service under Generals Joseph McNarney and Lucius Clay, Bernstein labored to smooth relations between the American military and Jewish survivors, to improve the living standards of Jewish DPs and to provide educational, vocational and employment opportunities for them in Germany while they awaited immigration elsewhere. He also worked to gain official American recognition for their representative body, the Central Committee of the Liberated Jews in the US Zone of Germany (September 1946) and to push through some of their projects, such as securing a DP delegation at the first postwar Zionist Congress in Basel (December 1946) and the publication of the Shearit Hapleita [Surviving Remnant] edition of the Talmud (1947-1951). Bernstein's most notable challenge and achievement during his tenure as Jewish adviser, was assisting the mass movement of Jewish infiltrees from Eastern Europe into the American zones of occupation and helping to dissuade the US Army from closing the borders during the period of the mass migration of Polish Jews after the Kielce pogrom of July 1946. Following his return to the US in the summer of 1947, Bernstein served as president of the Central Conference of American Rabbis and later as chairman of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.

    [Sources: Bauer, Yehuda. Out of the Ashes, Pergamon Press, Oxford, 1989, pp. 113-4; Geniizi, Haim, "Philip S. Bernstein: Adviser on Jewish Affairs, May 1946-August 1947," Simon Wiesenthal Center Annual 3 (1997)]

    Mayer Abramowitz is the son of Chaim Yitzhak and Rachel Lea Abramowitz. He was born December 12, 1919, in Jerusalem, where his father was a rabbi and kosher butcher. When Mayer was nine years old his family came to the U.S. to escape the escalating violence in Jerusalem. They lived first in Hartford, Connecticut, and then in New York City. In 1935 Mayer's parents returned to Palestine but left him in New York, where he studied and boarded at the Talmudic Academy, an orthodox yeshiva. Later he attended Yeshiva College and rabbinical school at the Jewish Theological Seminary. In 1944 Mayer received his rabbinical ordination and the following year became a chaplain in the U.S. Army. From 1945 to 1947 he was stationed in Germany, first in Bad Wildungen, where he replaced Rabbi Ernst Lorge, and then in Berlin, where he succeeded Rabbi Herbert Friedman as chaplain of headquarters, Berlin District. Like his predecessor, Abramowitz was deeply involved in efforts to assist Jewish DPs then streaming into Berlin from Eastern Europe. Among his many activities was establishing one of the largest schools for DP children in the American zone at the Schlachtensee displaced persons camp and running a weekly teachers' seminar for Jewish instructors in the district's DP camps and centers. He also was instrumental in setting up a summer camp for Jewish DP children in the Grunewald Forest. In July 1946 Abramowitz was on duty at the Wittenau DP camp in the French zone of Berlin to greet the last truck of Jewish DPs from Eastern Europe who were arriving along the Stettin route. Among the members of this transport was Rachel Kosowski, a Jewish woman from Janov who had been deported with her family to the Soviet interior and lived out the war there. Mayer became acquainted with Rachel at his weekly teachers' seminar and the two were married in Berlin on November 23, 1947. Shortly before their wedding Abramowitz was ordered to Salzburg, Austria, to deal with the new wave of Jewish DPs, who were fleeing over the border from Romania. The American military sought to prevent their entry into Germany and hoped the chaplain could prevail upon the Bricha to cooperate. Between September 1947 and his discharge in April 1948, Abramowitz served in the Austrian DP camps of Linz, Bindermichl, Hallein and Bialik. Mayer and Rachel returned to the U.S. in the spring but were back in Europe by September 1948, after he accepted a position with the Joint Distribution Committee to be their chief immigration officer in Italy. For the next two-and-a-half years Abramowitz worked in Rome and Naples, helping to bring about an orderly closing of the displaced persons camps. In the spring of 1951, after the birth of their daughter, Dahlia, the Abramowitz' moved back to the United States and settled in Miami Beach, Florida, where Mayer became rabbi of Temple Menorah.

    Herbert Friedman (b. 1918), American Reform rabbi and U.S. Army chaplain, who during the American occupation of Germany served as the chief military aid to the Advisor on Jewish Affairs to the Commander of U.S. Forces. He also played a key role in supporting the efforts of the Bricha organization to move thousands of Jewish survivors from Eastern Europe into the American zones of occupation in order to facilitate their immigration to Palestine. Born and raised in New Haven, CT, Friedman was the son of Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe. He had two brothers. Friedman attended Yale College from 1934 to 1938, during which period he closely followed political developments in Germany. He found himself growing increasingly angry at the inaction of American Jewry in the face of the Nazi threat and steadily more drawn to the political activism and Zionist commitment of Rabbi Stephen S. Wise. Soon after graduation Friedman decided to become a rabbi in order to find a platform from which to rouse American Jews to political action on behalf of European Jewry. In 1939 he enrolled at the Jewish Institute of Religion, a Reform rabbinical school established in New York by Stephen Wise, and imbued with his political ideology. After graduating in 1943 Friedman took a pulpit in Denver, CO. One year later, he enlisted as a chaplain in the army. After attending chaplaincy school and infantry training, Friedman was assigned to the 9th Infantry Division, U.S. Third Army and sent to Europe. He arrived in the spring of 1945 at the end of the war and spent a brief period in Belgium before being moved to Bavaria. Friedman met his first Jewish survivors in April 1945 wandering around the country roads as they emerged from the hundreds of slave labor camps and factories that dotted the region. On his own initiative, he borrowed a truck and drove along the roads in search of Jewish survivors. Once he collected a group he would find a building and establish a temporary shelter where they could be housed, fed and disinfected until a more permanent residence could be found for them.

    During this period, Friedman was recruited by members of the Palestinian Jewish underground (Haganah) in Europe who sought his help for the Bricha, the organization in charge of moving Jewish survivors from Eastern Europe into the American zones of occupation from which they could sail illegally to Palestine. Friedman was put in charge of running the Bricha route from Stettin to Berlin. In order to perform this assignment he first had to secure an army transfer to Berlin. This he did by offering to replace the departing Jewish chaplain in Berlin, Rabbi Joseph Shubow. Immediately after his move to Berlin, Friedman established a base of operations in the Jewish Chaplain's Center in Dahlem. He then secured six trucks from the army motor pool and stole a year's worth of gasoline tickets to fuel them. Every night these trucks ferried 300 Jewish survivors into Berlin, where they were housed at one of two new displaced persons camps at Schlachtensee and Tempelhof. During its nine months of operation over 100,000 Jews were infiltrated into the American zone by this route. Much of Friedman's activity on behalf of the Bricha consisted of amassing large quantities of cigarettes (the currency of the black market) to finance the operation. Initially, much of this supply came from Jewish soldiers and contributions sent by Friedman's father and his fellow congregants in New Haven, before the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee was able to organize large shipments through the port of Antwerp.

    In July 1946 Friedman moved to American army headquarters in Frankfurt to become the military aid to Rabbi Philip Berman, the newly appointed Advisor on Jewish Affairs to General Joseph McNarney. Soon after his appointment Friedman accompanied Bernstein to Poland on a weeklong mission to assess the situation of Jews living there in the wake of the July 4 Kielce pogrom. In the course of his work for Bernstein over the next year, Friedman visited every displaced persons camp in the American zone. He also accompanied David Ben-Gurion on his October 1946 visit to the Babenhausen DP camp. Friedman returned to the U.S. in the summer of 1947 after narrowly escaping a court martial for his role in removing five crated of rare Jewish books and manuscripts from the Offenbach collection depot and shipping them to Palestine. The materials were discovered and set aside by the Jewish historian Gershom Scholem during his three-month mission to Germany to sort through more than three million Jewish books seized by the Nazis during the war. Scholem sought Friedman's help in getting the rare books to the Jewish National Library in Palestine after his request was turned down by army authorities. On New Year's Eve, December 31, 1946, Friedman drove a JDC ambulance to the depot and removed the five crates, signing for their release with the name of a former JDC officer. He then hid the ambulance until he could arrange to ship the books to Palestine. Ultimately they were mixed in with the shipment of Chaim Weitzmann's personal library from London, via Antwerp, to Palestine.

    Upon his return to the U.S. Friedman resumed his rabbinical career, first in Denver and then in Milwaukee. In addition, he worked clandestinely on behalf of the new Jewish State to collect and transport munitions for its fledgling army, and openly as a fundraiser for the United Jewish Appeal. In the mid-1950s Friedman went to work full time for the UJA as its chief executive officer. He remained in that position until the 1970s when he moved to Israel. Friedman returned to the U.S. for family reasons several years later.

    [Source: "Interview with Rabbi Herbert Friedman," June 12, 1992, Holocaust Museum Oral History Project.]
    Record last modified:
    2005-04-11 00:00:00
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