On March 29, 1948—approximately three years after much of European Jewry was annihilated—Rabbi Joseph I. Schneersohn, sixth Rebbe in the Chabad-Lubavitch dynasty, wrote to Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands on the matter of Jewish children who were placed in foster homes in Holland during the war.
In his letter, now published in a new volume of his correspondences, the Rebbe acknowledged with gratitude the humanitarian kindness of the people of the Netherlands in saving “hundreds of Jewish children from the hands of their would-be murderers.”
In fact, 4000 children were saved by the Dutch. But the Rebbe appeals to her with concern for some 350 children who, three years following the end of the war, have not yet “been returned to their people.”
He writes: “I am informed that of the Jewish children saved by the merciful Dutch people (whom G-d will surely recompense with good) there are many who have not, as yet, been given an opportunity to return to their own people to whom they belong…
“Thus these children are in danger of being condemned to a fate which is regarded by us as a severance from the source of their souls, that is—spiritual death.
“It is inconceivable that the Dutch people would wish to have upon its conscience the guilt of denying this elementary humanitarian right to the victims of the war, by withholding from the unfortunate Jewish orphans the opportunity to return to their own people and faith.”
The letter, written both in Yiddish and in English (presumably, the English version was the one sent to the Queen) is one of the 500-plus letters newly published in Volume 17 of Igrot Kodesh, letters by the sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Joseph I. Schneersohn.
Most of the letters in the volume are in Hebrew, and reflect the Rebbe’s correspondences during the years 1929-1950 on a wide range of concerns to the Jewish people: the plight of Russian Jewry at the time, the Rebbe’s move to Poland, his immigration to the US, his founding of Kfar Chabad, the Chabad village in Israel, and his involvement in the growth of various American Jewish communities, with a similarly wide range of individuals in leadership positions, among them Mr. Henry Morgenthau, then Chairman of the UJA, the Minister of Justice in the Hague, the family of Israel’s Chief Rabbi Avraham Isaac Kook.
(Reader curious to know how the Rebbe’s letter to Queen Wilhelmina was handled would have to search the Chabad library archive to find a reply from the Ministry of Justice in the Hague who was instructed by the Queen to respond. In a lengthy, three page response, the Minister of Justice argues that “whenever the Commission [for War Foster Children] took a case into consideration religious motives formed a point of extraordinary importance” and that of the 4000 children, only 350 were placed in the guardianship of non-Jews. Lost on the Minister of Justice is the Rebbe’s concern for the spiritual heritage and continuity that were the right of these children. He writes, “One can hardly speak of spiritual liberty with children under 6 years of age. The greater majority of the above mentioned 350 minors exists of children who came to their foster parents at the age of not yet 4 years.”)
The letters in this volume of Igrot Kodesh were compiled by Chabad scholar and historian Rabbi Shalom Dovber Levine, editor of the voluminous Igrot Kodesh series, which contains the letters of the seven Chabad-Lubavitch leaders.
The release of this volume coincides with 12 Tammuz (this year corresponding to July 14) the date in 1927 when Rabbi Joseph I. Schneersohn was freed from Soviet imposed exile. The date is widely celebrated by Chabad-Lubavitch communities as an important watershed in the history of Jewish life in Russia.
Rabbi Joseph I. Schneersohn was targeted by Soviet authorities for his activism on behalf of Jewish education and Jewish religious and communal life. He was the only Jewish leader who chose to remain in Russia following the communist revolution, and built a network of underground yeshivot and a Jewish support system that functioned clandestinely through all the years of communism.
At grave risk to himself and to his Chasidim, Rabbi Schneersohn thus kept the moribund embers of Jewish life alive. In 1927, he was arrested in his home in Leningrad, on accusations of counter-revolutionary activities. He was sentenced to three years in exile and sent to the isolated townlet of Kostroma in central Russia.
But his arrest and exile drew wide attention, and international pressure compelled Soviet authorities to commute his sentence shortly thereafter. He returned to Leningrad, but was forced to leave Russia, and later that fall, he arrived in Riga, Latvia, from where he continued his work for Russian Jewry.
The Rebbe later moved to Poland, where he opened a yeshiva that drew students from the United States. At the beginning of WWII, with the help of the U.S. government, he managed to escape Nazi Europe. He arrived to New York in 1940, where he relocated the headquarters of the world Lubavitch movement, and established the Kehot Publication Society.
The 484 page volume, complete with an index of names, places and subjects, is dedicated by prominent philanthropist, Mr. Ben Federman.
Igrot Kodesh Volume 17 (Hebrew)
Letters by Sixth Lubavitch Rebbe
Kehot Publication Society
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