Title: Rescued from The Reich – How One Of Hitler’s Soldiers Saved The Lubavitcher Rebbe
Author: Bryan Mark Rigg (author of Hitler’s Jewish Soldiers)
Publisher: Yale University Press, New Haven, CT
Already a major leader of European Jewry and world-renowned scholar, the Rebbe had been a world traveler and met American President Herbert Hoover in 1930. When the Nazis marched into Poland in their quest for lebensraum (territory), the Rebbe was stuck in the ghetto. His American chassidim made their plans to save him not only for the sake of the continuation of their own Chabad/Lubavitch community, but also for continuation of Jewish leadership worldwide.
In his own inimitable manner, the author tells a fascinating and spellbinding story with facts and information not heretofore presented in other books extant. He also captures the time and atmosphere with his own retelling of enough world history of events to help set the stage, and of Chassidic and Chabad history to help make sense of the events in their setting.
During World War I, many of Germany’s soldiers were either fully or partially of Jewish blood. Many of those who fought in the previous war were now members of the Wermacht. Too many were in positions of leadership for Hitler to simply remove them from service because of their Jewish heritage. For generations, Jews in Germany had been intermarrying, and there was a very high percentage of such “Michlinge,” who had either one Jewish parent (a half-breed) or a Jewish grandparent.
In order to retain their positions in the military – and later on – in order to remain alive – these “Michlinge” had to become Aryanized, which after the Nurenberg Laws became a complicated legal procedure. Hitler himself was the final arbiter for each and every case.
By quirk of fate, one of these “Michlinge” was Ernst Ferdinand Benjamin Bloch, whose father was a Jewish physician. Bloch rose steadily in the service, especially because of his battlefield exploits during World War I, in which his jaw became horribly mutilated. Eventually, he became a member of Germany’s Abwehr – the intelligence services – under the anti-Nazi Admiral Wilhelm Canaris.
The task of rescuing the previous Lubavitcher Rebbe fell upon American diplomat Robert T. Pell, who had met his German counterpart, Helmut Wohlhat, at the Evian conference, where the major world powers discussed the fate of Europe’s Jews and other refugees who were victims of the Nazis.
Wohlhat transmitted the order to save the Rebbe to Canaris, who assigned the task to the multi-lingual Bloch, who had to first conduct a detailed search of the ghetto under German air bombardment and military occupation without raising suspicions of the SS and other Wehrmacht soldiers.
After the daring rescue from the Warsaw ghetto, the Rebbe wasn’t safe quite yet. The Washington attorney, Max Rhoade, was hired by Chabad especially for the task of engineering the escape, including procurement of visas from the American State Department. He had to arrange for the Rebbe and his entourage to escape to still-free Latvia, then board a trans-Atlantic steamer to New York.
Rigg is not only a truly great historian (and the book contains all of the necessary footnotes and bibliography to prove that), but a storyteller of truly engrossing proportions. He deploys a fluid narrative that is both fascinating and illuminating. His work captures not only the drama and tenor of those dangerous times, but the essential meanings behind the events as they unfurled.
Once in the U.S., the Rebbe expended his efforts toward re-establishing the Jewish and chassidic community in America. Rabbi Schneerson funneled his efforts toward establishing Yeshivot here and in other parts of the free world. He was also responsible for saving the Gerer Rebbe, among others, from the fires of the Holocaust.
Enough time has gone by for historians to finally have access to the necessary documents that accurately depict the events that occurred. An amazing treasure-trove has been unearthed by Mr. Rigg, who has thus informed us about an historical event that had significant affect upon the survival of traditional Judaism in the world. The book is replete with fascinating photographs and riveting narrative. It is truly an inspiring work of art.