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Rabbi Herbert Friedman escorts Zionist leader David Ben-Gurion through a crowd of admirers in the Babenhausen DP camp.

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    Rabbi Herbert Friedman escorts Zionist leader David Ben-Gurion through a crowd of admirers in the Babenhausen DP camp.
    Rabbi Herbert Friedman escorts Zionist leader David Ben-Gurion through a crowd of admirers in the Babenhausen DP camp.


    Rabbi Herbert Friedman escorts Zionist leader David Ben-Gurion through a crowd of admirers in the Babenhausen DP camp.
    Babenhausen, [Hesse] Germany
    Photo Credit
    United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, courtesy of Herbert Friedman

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

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    Administrative Notes

    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.]

    David Ben-Gurion (1886-1973), Zionist leader who became the first prime minister of the State of Israel. Born in Plonsk, Poland, Ben-Gurion was a Zionist from his early youth. He was educated at a Hebrew school established by his father, an ardent Zionist, and by his mid-teens, Ben-Gurion was in charge of the local Zionist youth group known as Ezra, whose members spoke only Hebrew among themselves. At the age of 18 he became a teacher in a Warsaw Jewish school and joined the Socialist-Zionist Poalei Tzion movement. He immigrated to Palestine in 1906, where he took part in the creation of the first agricultural workers' commune (which evolved into the kvutzah and finally the kibbutz), and helped establish the Jewish self-defense group, Hashomer (The Watchman). Following the outbreak of World War I he was deported by the Ottoman authorities. Ben-Gurion traveled on behalf of the Socialist-Zionist cause to New York, where he met and married Paula Monbesz, a fellow Poalei Tzion activist. He returned to Palestine in the uniform of the Jewish Legion, a new Jewish unit in the British Army. Ben-Gurion was one of the founders of the Histadrut (the General Federation of Labor) in Palestine and was its secretary-general from 1921 to 1935. In 1935 he also became chairman of the Zionist Executive and of the Jewish Agency for Palestine, holding both posts up to 1948. Ben-Gurion spent much of the first two years of World War II in the U.S., where he worked to mobilize American Jewry's support for a resolution calling for Palestine to be opened for large-scale Jewish immigration and, after the war, to become a Jewish commonwealth under Jewish authority. This resolution (the Biltmore Program) was adopted in May 1942 at a conference of American Zionists in New York. From the end of 1942, Ben-Gurion took part in organizing the Yishuv for rescue operations, but he left political action in the hands of the Jewish Agency departments. He was, on the whole, skeptical about the chances of success for rescue efforts, especially after the failure of the Bermuda Conference of April 1943 and the Joel Brand "blood for trucks" negotiations in the summer of 1944, and therefore focused on what he considered to be the long-term political solutions to the root causes of the Holocaust. In the immediate postwar period, Ben-Gurion was very influential in molding the Jewish displaced persons in Europe into a dynamic force for the Zionist cause. During his three tours of the DP camps, in October 1945, and in January and October 1946, Ben-Gurion invigorated and inspired the DPs by addressing them not as powerless victims, but as partners in a national struggle. On May 14, 1948 Ben-Gurion proclaimed the establishment of the Jewish State of Israel. He served as both prime minister and defense minister in the subsequent War of Independence. In late 1953, Ben-Gurion left the government and retired to Kibbutz Sde Boker in the Negev. He returned to political life after the Knesset elections in 1955, assuming the post of defense minister and later the premiership. In June 1963 Ben-Gurion resigned as prime minister, but remained active politically. In June 1970, Ben-Gurion retired from political life and returned to Sde Boker where he died in 1973.

    [Source: Gutman, Israel (ed.). Encyclopedia of the Holocaust. Macmillan, 1990, pp.180-182; "David Ben-Gurion." The American-Israeli Cooperative Enterprise. Jewish Virtual Library (14 March 2004)]
    Record last modified:
    2004-03-15 00:00:00
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