NEW YORK (Sep. 11)
World War II had just ended and before Ted Feder stood a 6-foot-4-inch German man.
Before the two began talking, a side door opened and one of Feder’s colleagues entered. He took one look at the German, screamed, fell to his knees and kissed the man’s hand.
The German was Oskar Schindler, the businessman who had personally saved more than 1,000 Jews from the Holocaust by employing them in his factory.
With the war over, he turned to Feder, deputy director of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee office in Munich, to get assistance for himself and his family.
Feder, who joined the JDC in 1946, helped Schindler and his wife move to Argentina to begin a new life. Unable to make a living there, Schindler, in the early 1950s, turned once again to the JDC, asking for help to relocate to Germany and to start a new business.
The JDC obliged. In the end, they had given Schindler some $25,000.
The Schindler story was one of many anecdotes shared last week as the JDC honored at its New York headquarters two of its longest employees, Feder and Herbert Katzki, who together have served the international humanitarian agency for 110 years.
“They are the guardians of JDC’s culture and traditions,” said Michael Schneider, JDC executive vice president. “We value and we treasure our institutional memory, organizational culture and tradition.”
The JDC has spearheaded efforts to help Jews around the world since 1914, including rescuing Jews and aiding in the rebuilding of remnant communities. The stories Feder and Katzki shared at the JDC luncheon honoring them provided some insight into the contributions made by the JDC to sustaining Jewish life.
Katzki, who trained and worked as a banker, joined the JDC in 1936 when he “couldn’t see how I could get anywhere in the banking business during the Depression,” he said to some 90 family members and co-workers attending the luncheon.
He decided almost immediately that the organization was not for him, but the JDC asked him to try it for one year.
“That was 60 years ago. I’ve recently come to the conclusion that maybe I’ll take the job,” Katzki said.
When the war broke out in 1939, Katzki, who had been working at the JDC’s New York office, volunteered to go to Europe. He was transferred to the JDC office in Paris.
As secretary of the JDC’s European Executive Council, only six months in Europe and alone at the office — his senior colleagues had secretly crossed into Eastern Europe — Katzki was unsure as what to do as the Nazis were getting closer and closer.
He called the New York office for help, but the JDC principle was always “trust the man in the field,” said Katzki. Two days before the Germans entered Paris, he closed the office and fled to Lisbon.
When the Germans entered Paris, they seized the JDC’s archives, which also included files from Berlin.
About four years ago, the JDC discovered that the files still existed; they had been hidden by the Russian army since 1952.
In an attempt to retrieve the archives, the JDC proved that they belonged to the organization by providing firsthand evidence — Katzki himself had sealed the archives before fleeing the city.
Working for the JDC, Katzki traveled to Turkey, Switzerland, Germany, Morocco, Scandinavia, North Africa and the Middle East. He rose to the position of associate executive vice president.
“There’s a dignity, a sense of aristocracy with Herb Katzki,” said Ralph Goldman, JDC honorary executive vice president. He is the “JDC living archives.”
Feder also traveled around the globe for the JDC, working in such countries as Iran, Hungary, Israel, Romania and Switzerland. His highest position for the JDC was as director general of the overseas program in Eastern and Western Europe and North Africa.
Both men are retired, but they continue to work at JDC headquarters in New York.
“It’s a fiction that these people are retired,” said Ted Comet, associate executive vice president for board and community relations. “Once a jointnik always a jointnik.”
For each honoree, the luncheon featured testimony, tribute and shared memories from co-workers and the honorees’ wives. Both men received a gift album with the inscription, “The essence of man’s life is his good deeds,” and filled with photographs dating back to the 1930s, which were also shown during a slide presentation.
Each man then had the opportunity to respond.
“Our being there was a security. We can only bow our heads and thank the Lord that we could be there,” said Feder.
“I could go on with stories like this, but maybe some of you aren’t interested,” Katzki said after relating his adventures in Europe. “Thank you for what you’ve done here for me.”
He bowed his head for a few seconds and then looked back at the familiar faces around the room. “I love you all.”