13 September 1933
Report by Henry Rothschild on the need for German Jews to emigrate
“The experiences that I had in America regarding the willingness there to help German Jews were extremely depressing.” Thus begins the prescient report that Henry Rothschild (1870–1936) wrote on emigration possibilities for German Jews after a three-month stay in the United States.
Henry Rothschild—philanthropist, former owner of the “J. Adler jun.” metals and scrap company and one of the leading members of the Jewish community in Frankfurt—regarded all previous help from American Jews as inadequate. There was much talk, he wrote, but little action. In his view, a far larger number of American Jews of German descent needed to sign affidavits of support for friends, relatives and acquaintances so that they could emigrate. But in Rothschild’s eyes an even more promising plan was to make unsettled areas in the United States and possibly in Canada available to German Jews. This would require a commitment by immigrants to remain living in their designated territory in the longer term as well as to undergo comprehensive retraining in Germany so that they could work as farmers and skilled tradesmen.
Although Henry Rothschild was not a Zionist himself, he admired what had been achieved in Palestine. However, he makes clear in his report that Palestine could take in only a limited number of immigrants from Germany. He believed that in the United States and possibly the British colonies the “German Jews who are willing and fit to emigrate” had the best chances to start a new life. But the most urgent task in his eyes was to ensure that foreign Jews “become open to such ideas within their organizations.”
It is unclear who the recipient of Henry Rothschild’s report was. He himself did not live to see the ultimate failure of will abroad “to take in these masses.” He died in July 1936 and was greatly mourned by the Frankfurt community.
The United States did not provide a haven for his wife and four daughters. Bertha Rothschild and her youngest daughters Hilde and Friedel managed to escape to England after stays in other countries. Their eldest daughter, Louise, was deported from the Netherlands to Bergen-Belsen, but survived an eighteen-month internment there. However, in 1944 their other daughter, Lotte, fell into the hands of the Germans in France and was murdered with her own twelve-year-old daughter in Auschwitz.
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Frankfurt am Main, 13 September 1933
The experiences that I had in America regarding the willingness there to help German Jews were extremely depressing. One constantly hears all sorts of rhetoric about what is going on in Germany, but pressing people for actions rather than words achieves very little.
I explained to people dozens of times that we are not helped in the least by meetings or processions, by newspaper articles or boycotts, and that under certain circumstances these things could even worsen the situation of both Germans in general and—because they harm Germany—German Jews in particular. I repeatedly told people that what they are doing over there can only be described as “destructive,” and that what we actually need is constructive work. Moreover, I told them that this entails, above all, a willingness to make sacrifices. The money that has been collected over there so far certainly does not constitute a sacrifice. Indeed, the tiny amount that has been collected is nothing more than a drop in the ocean. As I tried to explain, making a genuine sacrifice means assuming a burden.
The burden that every family over there could assume, provided they live fairly orderly lives, would consist in signing an affidavit of support for one or more people—or, if possible, for an entire family—in accordance with immigration regulations. There is hardly a single German family in America that does not have a close or distant relative, a friend or
even an acquaintance suffering hardship over here who could not be a useful member of society over there. It is only a question of clearing the way, which, as I show here, is certainly possible.
In addition, anyone who does not have a friend or a relative they can help can of course turn to the organizations. But a prerequisite is that these organizations must be aware of the plight of German Jews and draw the proper conclusions.
In my view one of the best ways of helping is to provide a large number of German Jews (I will not specify a number, the bigger the better) with sparsely populated or unsettled tracts of land in the US—and if necessary, even in Canada. These exist on a large scale and together form an area many times larger than, for example, Germany. A piece of land the size of the province of Starkenburg would be more than sufficient to accommodate around fifty thousand people.
The immigrants inhabiting these areas would have to enter into a clear agreement that they will make this territory their home for a longer period of time and, with the help of retraining, work there as farmers or skilled tradesmen. Precautions would have to be taken to ensure that the new immigrants do not become competitors with existing companies or compete in other fields, in the latter case by making the assignment to their new profession binding.
It would go beyond the scope of this report to describe
how all these things could be implemented in detail. The current situation requires extraordinary measures and we must find the courage to implement them.
Anyone who takes the trouble to read about the development of Zionism in Herzl’s diary will not claim that what I have written above as impossible. I am not a Zionist, but I have the greatest respect for what the Zionist organizations have achieved in Palestine and above all for Herzl’s ability to foresee what decades later proved necessary.
Even if we include the countries around it, such as Syria, Transjordan, etc., Palestine cannot take in more than twenty to thirty thousand German Jews in the coming years, a totally inadequate number given the level of need. Land must be cultivated in other parts of the world in much the same way as it has been in Palestine, though more effectively (I will return to this shortly). In Palestine many immigrants have rejected their assignment to new professions after a relatively short time by turning—or attempting to turn—from farming and the skilled trades to commerce and similar ventures. In the areas that are to be made arable in the future, these experiences must be borne in mind in order to ensure that the people in question are prevented from doing the same. Exceptions may be made for health reasons.
In Germany measures would have to be taken to prepare such large numbers of people quickly for retraining. Methods of doing so have already been devised. Once a willingness to take in these masses is reported from abroad, efforts will be initiated
in Germany. The most urgent task is to ensure that foreign Jews—Americans, the French and the British—become open to such ideas within their organizations. There can be no delay. Each of these countries and many others as well—specifically, Great Britain with its colonies—has the capacity to take in all the German Jews who are willing and fit to emigrate. How much easier it would be if several countries worked together to fulfill this essential duty. This is not to say that several foreign governments should meet, for example, and consider what is to be done. The international meetings held during the last few decades have not demonstrated that this is the path we should take. After convincing themselves of the necessity of immigration, foreign Jews should take steps vis-à-vis their own governments to ensure that it begins as quickly as possible. In the meantime German Jews can take the necessary steps to prepare themselves.