NEW YORK (Jul. 22)
A frail and ailing 65-year-old rabbi, who has provided a home for dozens of orphaned Jewish children in the post-war period, in Eastern Europe, has been arrested, along with his son, by Rumanian authorities on charges of “suspicion of treason and espionage,” it was reported here today.
The sources said that the charges on which Rabbi Alexander Portugal and his son, Rabbi Hillel Portugal, were detained three months ago in Bucharest were absurd and that the two rabbis have not been tried. They are being held until an investigation is completed.
The senior Portugal, who is known as the “Rebbe of Sculene,” had been deported to Trans-Dniestra, a section of the Ukraine given to Rumania by the Hitler regime during World War II. He promptly began to gather there Jewish orphans and at the end of the war, he took hundreds with him to Czernowitz, which the Soviets had annexed. He started an orphan asylum in Czernowitz.
According to the reports, the homeless throughout Rumania learned of his kindness and began coming to his asylum. A group of Jewish children in Odessa left the Soviet asylum there and joined Rabbi Portugal in Czernowitz. The Soviet authorities responded by arresting the rabbi but released him to go back to “my children.”
Early in 1947 he moved to Bucharest where he resumed his work with Jewish orphans and again attracted the displeasure of the Communist authorities, who dissolved his asylum. The Communist regime arrested him, an administrator of his asylum and three youths who helped him. After four months of detention, the Rumanian Government released the five Jews.
Many of Rabbi Portugal’s wards went to Israel during 1950 and 1951 but there were still many homeless orphans and he continued his efforts, personally adopting many of them. To help as many as he could, Rabbi Portugal began traveling from town to town in Rumania, despite warnings from authorities to stay home. Finally, on the second day of Passover, last April 23, the police came to his home, arrested him and his son and several friends.
Travelers who visited Rumania have spread the details in many countries out of concern for his health. There has been a report his weight has fallen to 90 pounds and there is doubt he can survive the investigation.