The Kindertransport and Bubby Pollak Z”L

2
By Rabbi Shlomo Pollak
Today is the Shloshim of our dear Bubby, Rivkah Chaya [Schick] Pollak Z”L.
The following is an essay written by one of her granddaughters, about her escape from Vienna Austria and Hitler Yimach Shemo, to safety in England. 
Biographical note: Bubby arrived in America towards the end of the war and reunited with her parents in Williamsburg. She immediately joined the family “business” tending guest at Schick’s Restaurant. She married Rabbi Pinchas Shalom Pollak Zatzal, and together they moved to Boro Park. For the last three years she lived in Lakewood at the home of her son, Reb Yaakov Gershon Pollak Shlita.

 

My father’s paternal grandmother, Mrs. Kitty Pollak, escaped from German occupied Austria to England, in a rescue effort known as the Kindertransport. In recent years, this grandmother moved to our town of Lakewood New Jersey, giving us the opportunity to visit her often. As my relationship with Bubby Pollak grew, the manner and effort by which she was saved has begun to interest me greatly and inspired me to research this aspect of my history.

Nearly ten thousand children escaped Hitler’s Europe on a rescue effort known as the ‘’Kindertransport’’, which means ‘’children’s transport’’ in the German language. These children were a tiny fraction of the millions of Jews that were trapped on the European continent facing Hitler yimach shemo with nowhere to run.  The United States, England and all free countries greatly minimized and restricted their borders. In addition, the British Mandate made immigration to Eretz Yisroel -known then as Palestine – very difficult. The lack of countries of refuge would turn out to be one of the greatest factors that contributed to the churban Europe. After immense pressure, the British parliament allowed unaccompanied minors to enter Britain. The rescue effort that ensued became known as the Kindertransport.

One young British rabbi, Rabbi Dr. Solomon Schonfeld, was the only one to take advantage of the Kindertransport to save orthodox children. Rabbi Solomon was the son of rabbi Avigdor Schonfeld who was a community rabbi as well as the founder of two Jewish schools. After his father’s untimely death in 1930 when Solomon was barely 20 years old, the rabbinic leadership fell on young Solomon’s shoulders.

In 1938, at the tender age of twenty-six years old, young rabbi Solomon Schonfeld was not going to sit by idly as fellow Yidden were being murdered by the Nazi’s Yimach Shemom. After hearing about the horrors of “Kristallnacht”, Schonefeld resolved to do whatever he can to save lives. When the Kindertransport began, Shonfeld focused all his attention on Hatzalah efforts. He contacted communal leaders and Askanim in Austria, gathered the information, and pursued the necessary paperwork to secure the rescue of four hundred children.

The urgency and extreme seriousness by which this young Rabbi pursued his holy mission was unfortunately not shared by his fellow British countrymen, Jew and gentile alike. After presenting his plan to the board of his own shul, they agreed to host a mere ten children. “Thanks, but no thanks”, Schonfeld replied, realizing that he would have to take on this undertaking alone if he wanted a significant number of children to be saved.

Frantically, Schonefeld fought this constant uphill battle with minimal outside help. In addition, in preparing the mounds of necessary paperwork, Schonefeld found himself at the mercy of British bureaucrats that worked at their own pace and were out of their office by five. Rav Solomon wouldn’t hear of from this. In one instance, he pleaded with a civil servant that loves are at stake and persuaded him to stay until midnight!

Schonefeld arranged for two shifts of two hundred children each to leave Vienna, Austria via train on the second and third nights of Chanukah, 1938. These children were all below the age of seventeen and were bidding farewell to their parents without knowing what the future had in store. On the platform was a tragic scene of pitiful children and aching parents saying goodbye to each other for what they thought might be the last time. Most of these children never saw their parents again.

On the train, these children were placed in small compartments where they spent the three-day journey. Upon reaching Holland, a free country, shouts of joy could be heard throughout the train. Even at their tender age, these children understood that their sacrifice was likely saving them from certain death. In Holland, these children were placed in a camp where they recuperated from the long journey. Upon waking up that afternoon, these children heard Chanakah licht and boarded a ship that crossed the English Channel into England.

Once they arrived in England, the children saw a tall broad figure waiting at the dock. The man introduced himself to the terrified children as “Rabbi Schoenfeld”. He then proceeded to place every child into a taxi to take them to London where they would spend their first few days. After seeing the last of “his children” being driven comfortably by gentile drivers, the Rabbi himself walked by foot from the port, as that day was Shabbos Kodesh.

Shonefeld cleared out his two schools to make sleeping quarters for his beloved children. After filling every square inch with cots, he was still forty beds short. To solve this problem, Solomon emptied out his own house. When he met with an official from the Home office to prove the temporary shelter to house the youngsters, the officer said, “The housing is fine, but where will you, Dr. Shonefeld, sleep?” Rabbi Shonefeld escorted him to the attic where his own cot was located.

Along with providing shelter, Dr. Shonefeld also made sure the children had schooling, clothing, food and most importantly, love. Many children still remember Rabbi Shonefild’s kindness. For example, one night, Rabbi Shonefeld heard sobbing coming from a girl’s bed. After learning that she was crying from homesickness, the very busy Rav Shonefeld tood he little orphan for an exciting ride in his convertible. He also made sure that the teenage girls had new clothing for Yom Tov. Throughout their stay in England, the children knew that if they needed anything, they could go to “The Rav” as they called him, and they will be helped.

When Britain joined the war and the Germans began their merciless bombing campaign against London, Shonefeld’s whole schools was evacuated to the countryside in a town called Shefford. He arranged for all the children to either be adopted or placed in a hostel. Their every need and comfort were constantly on Rav Shonefeld’s mind, from the beginning till the end of that terrible war.

After the war, many of the children later found out that their parents perished along with their families and neighbors. They now knew with certainty that had they not left Europe during Chanukah seven years earlier, they too would have perished with the 6 million. With the utter annihilation of Jewish Europe, they no longer had a country or city they could called home. Some of them married and settled in England, with the majority emigrating to Eretz Yisroel and America.

Shonefeld maintained a connection with many of the children he rescued. All “his children” recognized that it was his selfless devotion that save their lives from certain death. Shonefeld’s successful rescue efforts to the hundreds of children, are more accurately measured by the hundreds of thousands of descendants alive today, thanks entirely to him. To the great dismay of “Rav Shonefeld’s children”, they were never successful in bringing greater attention to this story and giving Rabbi Doctor Shlomo Shonefeld Zichrono Livrachah the befitting honor and Kavod he so greatly deserves.

{Matzav.com}

2 COMMENTS

  1. Rabbi Schoenfeld was a Giant among men,יהי זכרו ברוך
    For anyone interested there’s a biography about this צדיק Holocaust Hero

  2. In 2016 , Project Witness produced a film entitled “Daring to Rescue”, highlighting several Jewish heros of the Holocaust, Jews saving Jews. Rabbi Dr. Schoenfeld is one of them. You can watch the film via the Project Witness website.

Leave a Reply to South Lake Cancel reply

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here