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BGU Scholar Talks about Heroic Efforts of Unsung 1940s Hero

BGU Scholar Talks about Heroic Efforts of Unsung 1940s Hero

February 23, 2015

Israel Studies, Culture & Jewish Thought, Social Sciences & Humanities

BGU’s Prof. Tuvia Friling of the Ben-Gurion Research Institute for the Study of Israel and Zionism spoke to AABGU supporters and American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) staff at a presentation in New York on February 11th. The professor is working on a biography of Dr. Joseph J. Schwartz (1899-1975), JDC’s director of European operations from 1940 to 1949. The biography is expected to be published in late 2016.

ny_16634_dt1In analyzing the impact of Dr. Schwartz and his organization, Prof. Friling pointed to two key elements:  his personality and the circumstances under which he operated.

As to the personality, he characterized Schwartz as an ordained rabbi who possessed bold leadership skills and someone who was able to convince others of the steps needed to implement the JDC’s program for rescuing Jews in Europe and other troubled areas of the world during the late 1930s and 1940s.

The circumstances facing the JDC, according to Prof. Friling, included (1) Hitler’s rise to power in 1933, (2) the publication of a British White Paper in 1939 which proposed limiting Jewish immigration to Palestine to 75,000 over the following five years, (3) the scarcity of transportation for transporting refugees caused by the demands of the U.S. Army for moving troops during World War II, (4) U.S. government restrictions on transferring money to occupied countries, and (5) Congressional impediments to mass immigration into the United States.

Despite the daunting challenges of these restrictions, Dr. Schwartz and his JDC colleagues were able to assist many thousands with financial aid and logistical support in emigrating from dangerous areas.

Lolita E. Goldstein, a member of BGU’s Negev Society and a funder of the biography, was longtime secretary to Joseph Schwartz. She worked for him during the 1940s in Lisbon, Portugal. She shared some remarks about the man and the period.

She recalled the wonderful qualities of Dr. Schwartz, as well as the challenges of keeping in touch with other leaders at a time when international calls required one to two days of advance planning before they could be made. Mrs. Goldstein’s late husband, Melvin (of blessed memory), was part of Schwartz’s inner circle at JDC and a key member of the organization’s administration.