① Summary: The Jewish Scouts Journey

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Summary: The Jewish Scouts Journey



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I Survived The Holocaust Twin Experiments

Germany had conquered most of western Europe and its ally Italy was invading France in the south. One of the few escape routes left was the long, eastward one, through the Soviet Union by train. Transportation was costly and official hurdles endless. Travelers needed passports or substitute papers stamped with several kinds of permissions: one for exiting the Soviet Union and others for countries of transit and of final destination. What country would accept Jewish refugees? We had memorized atlases and the globe and had become experts in outlining to ambassadors and consuls the most intricate travel routes.

Where no route existed, it was for us to create one - if only on paper, for the time being. Consular representatives Jan Zwartendijk from the Netherlands and Chiune Sugihara from Japan used their knowledge of rules and regulations to provide 2, Polish Jewish refugees an unlikely means of escape. They supplied the necessary destination and transit visas that enabled the refugees to leave Lithuania. Menaced by the increasing influx of refugees from Europe of all kinds - among others Jews from Germany, Austria, and the Baltic States - the various countries of America are shutting their doors more and more inexorably against them.

Most Jewish refugees who obtained Dutch and Japanese stamps in the late summer of did not leave immediately. Not until early did the Soviets allow large numbers of refugees to travel. They immediately scrambled to book passage on the Trans-Siberian Express. Trans-Siberian Express. The Trans-Siberian journey took refugees 5, miles in ten days to the port of Vladivostok. Hindsight would show how narrow this window of opportunity had been. Flight and Rescue: Personal Stories.

When the refugees left Soviet territory on steamers headed for Japan , the refugees danced and sang, enjoying their freedom. But no one knew what lay ahead. After landing in the port of Tsuruga, the refugees traveled by train to Kobe , where a small community headed by Russian Jewish merchants assisted them. The Japanese people regarded the Jewish travelers with curiosity and kindness. Japanese authorities were not hostile toward Jews, but were concerned that persons supposed to be traveling through Japan did not end up staying there. Five thousand refugees wander aimlessly today in Kobe, Japan, awaiting precious papers for entrance to America.

A few of the refugees proceeded quickly to the United States and other countries. The stay of hundreds of others stretched from weeks into months. Many despaired of ever obtaining final destination visas from American and other diplomats. Concern for loved ones left behind increased when Germany invaded the Soviet Union. World tensions mounted after Japanese forces occupied French Indochina in July In mid-August, nearly 1, refugees were still stranded in Japan. Japanese officials forced the remaining refugees to leave for the dreaded destination of Shanghai , China, then under Japanese control. We have to go to Shanghai. Terrible letters come from there. One runs again to see if our names are on the list to leave.

Before, when one saw his name on the list, one was happy. Everyone was in shock at what we saw. We'd never dreamt it would look like it did. We never had any idea what China was about, how poor it was. Dilapidated houses, ruins from bombs, skeletons of former factories, and bombed out shops. While in Japan, the refugees heard that Shanghai was crowded, unsanitary, and crime-ridden. Still, they were shocked by what they saw when they landed. In the city's International Settlement, hundreds of thousands of destitute Chinese lived amid a foreign community led by wealthy British and American traders and financiers. An established community of 4, Russian Jews assisted the refugees from Poland who joined a much larger refugee community of more than 17, German and Austrian Jews who had fled Nazi persecution.

Trapped in Shanghai by the Pacific war , Jewish refugees suffered from shortages of food, clothing, and medicine. They endured unemployment and isolation, with no news from families still in Europe. The refugees were subjected to countless Japanese decrees. We didn't know what was going to happen. We didn't know how we were going to survive. We didn't know how the Japanese would treat us. Everything was very, very confusing. The treatment of Jews by individual officials was sometimes unpredictable and cruel but Japanese policy in Shanghai was based on nationality, and did not involve persecution of Jews as a group, let alone their mass murder and genocide. Russian Jews in Shanghai continued to live and work freely through the war.

Members of the Mir Yeshiva continued their studies, and became the only eastern European yeshiva to survive the Holocaust nearly intact. At war's end in August , this distinction in treatment became fully apparent to the refugees as they learned about the Holocaust and mourned the tragic loss of family, friends, and entire Jewish communities. We felt that we lost everything We tried not to struggle with the question: Why do I deserve to be alive, when my brothers died, when my family died —Yonia Fain, postwar testimony.

The fields of Poland lament, the trees of Lithuania weep, and cursed Europe is crying - where are our Jews? Why did our earth become a grave for them? And I asked my father about what happened to our family, 'cause I knew that all of them virtually stayed behind, and he never answered me. He just walked away. We never talked about that. Recognizing its moral failure to help Jews and others fleeing Nazi persecution before World War II, and faced with hundreds of thousands of displaced persons at the war's end, the international community made important commitments to assist and protect refugees. In , the United Nations adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which recognizes the right of every individual to seek and enjoy asylum from persecution.

Article 3. Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person. Nonetheless, spanning May to July , the letters cover a crucial time during which Gamzon transformed the EIF from a half-clandestine scouting and rescue organization into a maquis fighting force. Reading them closely shows how they have multi-layered meanings and held a dual purpose: to emotionally connect two members of a family at a dangerous time and to secretly pass details about maquis activity. The letters Gamzon sent to his family in hiding offer a window into his personal experience of this, as he shared his feelings and emotions of their successes and failures. In doing so, they make it possible to recognize and understand the human man at the center of a story of persecution and resistance.

These letters, however, were more than the personal correspondence of a wartime leader, they were also a means of secret communication about resistance activities. Recognising this dual-purpose changes how we understand the letters as ego-documents documents made by, or relating to, an individual. The letters form part of multiple historiographies — they are a document created not only for the individual but, also, for the institution and the resistance.

Gamzon the Man, Husband, and Father. On 30 th June , Robert Gamzon turned 39 years old. Surrounded by fellow scouts and living an underground existence after Jewish Scouting was banned the previous year, they nonetheless celebrated his birthday with presents and joviality. When Gamzon wrote to his wife a few days later, he recalled the occasion and the gifts of clothes, a book, and a wristwatch he had received. This reflection is a significant remark for Gamzon to have made, as at all other times he talks deeply and passionately about his connection with the scouts as if they were his own children.

This single line in his letter therefore serves as a powerful reminder of how his private family life continued and remained something which meant a lot to him. Indeed, the letters show the close connection Gamzon had with his wife, Denise, herself a major part of the Jewish Scouting movement in France. Gamzon treated her as a confidant, expressing his anxieties and uncertainties as well as his pride and triumph at a time when the institutions he worked for and led were in flux.

On 10 th June, for example, he wrote about how he was unsure which groups he should be in charge of and complained critically about some of the other leaders in the area. By reading these letters, we gain a window into his personal anxieties as he presented them, both consciously and unconsciously, to the person who knew him the most. This is a side of Gamzon that is rarely presented in historical literature. Writing from his room in Castres, near the southern French city of Toulouse, Gamzon tells her of the business and intensity of his work. By May , the EIF had undergone several reformulations, becoming increasingly clandestine and oriented towards resistance.

The stressfulness of this is brought into sharp focus in his letter of 21 st May, where he explains that these two hours were interrupted by news that a close friend of his, Leo Cohn, had been arrested. A pre-war immigrant from Germany, Cohn had become the spiritual leader of the EIF and worked closely with Gamzon at their rural training camp in Lautrec, where he led the scout choir and religious services.

Earlier in May , Cohn had succeeded in smuggling his own wife and three children into Switzerland, where they survived the war. He himself, however, was arrested on 16 th May while attempting to smuggle another group of children to safety. He was taken to the Drancy internment camp from where he was later deported to his death in Auschwitz on convoy number 77 on 31 st July Although Hirsch survived the camp, Gamzon would not have known anything of his fate when he heard that Cohn had been arrested too.

This heart-breaking line tells of the immense loss and emotional trauma as Gamzon lost yet another close friend, while also thinking of the wider community who knew him and how they might react. Gamzon the Resistance Fighter. Gamzon was the coordinator, a fact that comes through in many of his letters where he describes how he directed others to go on missions and recounts the activities of others under his command.

Women were often used by underground movements across Europe as couriers, largely because they were perceived as being less easily identifiable as Jewish. That we see this gendered division in the letters to his wife reveals how much of an integral part female couriers were in the work of the underground. Click on the annotations in the letter for further information. The annotation of the document was made possible by Neatline an Omeka plugin. Building on the medium of the family letter, Gamzon employed family terms to refer to maquis groups. As a scout leader, Gamzon had a close connection to the youth. The familial tone of the letters thus chimes with his familial approach to scouting and the maquis.

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