The Joint Distribution Committee today announced the establishment of a department which will deliver messages from American relatives to displaced Jews in the American and British zones in Germany and will also accept messages from Jews in the camps for delivery to their relatives abroad, thus establishment direct contact for the first time between the liberated Jews and their friends in the United States and in other countries.
The announcement was made at a press conference addressed by Dr. Joseph C. Hyman and Moses A. Leavitt, executive vice-chairman and secretary of the J.D.C., respectively. They told the conference that in addition to relief activities conducted by the J.D.C. for the displaced Jews in European camps, much more aid could have been provided, if the J.D.C. had more funds. They also emphasized that in Rumania about 150,000 Jews are in need of relief, and that in the city of Budapest about 90,000 Jews live on one meal a day, which they receive from kitchens established with J.D.C. funds.
Dr. Hyman supplemented the final summary report of the War Refugee Board which revealed that the J.D.C. supplied the Board with $15,000,000 for the rescue of Jews from Nazi territory in Europe. He revealed how the close cooperation of the War Refugee Board and the J.D.C. resulted in the initiation and carrying out of one program after another for the relief and physical rescue, through underground channels, of tens of thousands of Jews trapped in Nazi-occupied Europe.
J.D.C. REPRESENTATIVE PREVENTED NAZI DEPORTATION OF 200,000 JEWS
Mr. Leavitt told the amazing story of a middle-aged Swiss Jewish retired businessman who persuaded Hitler’s agents to cancel the deportation of 200,000 Jews from Hungary to almost certain death in Poland, browbeat the agents into releasing another 1,700 Jews from Bergen-Belsen, and won permission to send truckloads of food to the starving inmates of other Nazi camps. He is Saly Mayer, a leader of the Swiss Jewish community and full-time volunteer representative of the Joint Distribution Committee in Switzerland.
Mr. Leavitt revealed how Mr. Mayer was approached by the S.S. commercial representative for Hungary, Kurt Becher. “The Nazi agent,” he said, “claiming to be close to Himmler, brought a German offer to halt the reportation and extermination of Jews in Hungary for a proper ransom. The War Refugee board indicated that it would raise no objection to Mayer’s entering into further discussions on the proposal, since he was a Swiss citizen, but made it clear that no ransom transactions could be entered into or authorized by the United States Government.”
SWISS JEWISH LEADER ENTERED GERMANY AT THE RISK OF HIS LIFE
The J.D.C. secretary then related how Mayer carried on discussions with the Nazi representatives for months, with the idet of gaining time for the hundreds of thousands of Hungarian Jews the Nazis threatened to exterminate. At one point, at the risk of his life, Mayer entered Nazi Germany to carry on the discussions. “Here at the J.D.C. we held our breath until we were advised of Mayer’s safe return,” Mr. Leavitt said.
“During the course of the negotiations,” Mr. Leavitt stated, “Mayer asked the German representatives to demonstrate that they had actual power. He ordered them to route a trainload of Jews being transported to Bergen-Belsen to Switzerland instead, The Nazis complied, and Mayer secured the entry of the 1,700 refugees to Switzerland.”
At another point in Mayer’s negotiations, according to Mr. Leavitt, Mayer was advised that 66 trains were ready in Budapest to carry 200,000 Jews to the notorious murder camps in Oswiocim. Mayer called Becher and threatened that if the deportation order were not cancelled, the negotiations would be broken off. The deportation order was cancelled.
According to Mr. Leavitt, the Nazis in their turn also demanded of Mayer that he demonstrate his ability to carry out his part of the bargain. Mayer then called on the J.D.C. to supply $5,000,000 which he might show for the purpose. The J.D.C. borrowed funds from the banks and made this vast sum available. The State and Treasury Departments permitted the J.D.C. to transfer the amount, so that Mayer could hold the negotiations open.
“In the course of the long drawn-out negotiations,” Mr. Leavitt said, “Saly Mayer succeeded in shifting from discussion of ransom to the consideration of a proposal that he arrange for relief supplies to be sent into Germany through the International Red Cross to keep Jews and other persons alive. Early in 1945, tons of food furnished by both the War Refugee Board and the J.D.C. went into the camps. Refugees coming out of Theresienstadt and other camps have testified how they owed their lives to this food.”
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.