The beginning of the end of German Jewry


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15 December 1933

Letter from Adam Simonson to Aron Zisling

Was it a mere coincidence that the Jewish Youth Aid (Jüdische Jugendhilfe)—which rescued thousands of children and young people—was founded in Berlin on 30 January 1933, the day Hitler was appointed chancellor? For many it was a life-saving twist of fate. For the founder Recha Freier, though, it was a logical consequence of her long, Zionist-inspired commitment to promoting immigration to Palestine.

Until then, returning to the Promised Land—known as "going on aliyah"—had involved first receiving training and then immigrating. Applicants often had to wait a long time before being issued labor certificates by the British Mandate administration, which strictly regulated immigration. The Jewish Youth Aid came up with the idea of training young immigrants not in Germany but in the settlements in Palestine. The fact that entry certificates were easier to obtain for school students aged fourteen to seventeen worked to the advantage of this "Youth Aliyah" approach.

In May 1933 the organization signed detailed housing and training contracts for the first group of young people with the Ein Harod kibbutz, located south of Nazareth. However, the departure of the group was delayed. In order to overcome the obstacles involved, the organization‘s first secretary, Dr. Adam Simonson, engaged in a lively correspondence with Aron Zisling, head of the Ein Harod kibbutz. In the letter Simonson wrote on 15 December he reports on the latest developments. The organizers were running out of time because several members of the group were about to turn eighteen and the student certificates they had been issued would soon be expiring. They thus faced the risk of being left behind. Simonson also wrote that he had encountered difficulties finding appropriate group leaders to accompany the boys and girls to Palestine. This was a central goal of the organization in addition to preparing the young people for immigration.

The young people left Europe in February 1934. By that time the originally planned number of sixty emigrants had dwindled to forty-three. In the end the successful undertaking silenced the organization‘s critics and marked the start of the rescue of more than twenty-one thousand young German Jews by the organization.

Ulrike Neuwirth

Categorie(s): associations | Berlin | childhood | emigration | students | Zionism
Letter from Adam Simonson to Aron Zisling (carbon copy), Berlin, 15 December 1933
Gift of Miriam Berson

Adam Simonson

Adam Simonson (1908–1983) was born in Berlin and grew up with Zionist ideals. His father, Emil Simonson, was a supporter of Theodor Herzl and an avid champion of a nationalist Judaism. On 30 January 1933 Adam Simonson founded the Jewish Youth Aid together with six other activists. That same year he earned a doctorate in law from the Friedrich Wilhelm University of Berlin.

Simonson‘s main task at the organization was to set up effective structures and coordinate the youth groups. In addition he wrote articles about the organization and its objectives for the Jewish press. In his view the basic idea behind the Youth Aliyah movement was to provide young people with professional and cultural training in the settlements in Palestine. He regarded vocational training as part of an entire program that included the language, geography and history of the region. All these subjects needed to be taught in order to make Palestine a home for the "pioneers" and turn them into prospective citizens of the planned Jewish state.

Adam Simonson did not stay in Germany long after the first group had reached Palestine. He immigrated there with his wife in June 1934 and eventually settled in Tel Aviv after stays in other towns. He continued his work for the Youth Aliyah movement there but later embarked on a new career as a language teacher, translator and writer.

The first group of young immigrants prior to their departure from the port of Trieste, 19 March 1934. Just after the photo was taken, the "Martha Washington" transported them to Palestine. The captain is sitting in the middle of the front row; the young man with the white collar seated next to him is Chanoch Reinhold (1911–1995), who led the group.
Gift of Miriam Berson