The Formation of She’erit Hapleita: November 1944 - July 1945
The initial steps towards the organization of the She’erit Hapleita — the surviving remnant — in Germany were taken by survivors of the Lithuanian ghettos at the end of 1944. As the Red Army advanced, the Germans, employing death marches, transferred the ghetto and camp survivors westward. Realizing that survival was now indeed possible, leadership groups emerged and planned clandestine activities. In Buchenwald, Jews focused on rescuing and educating 500 Jewish children. Following liberation, Jews were refused separate representation but established a Jewish self-help committee, which set up a hospital and took Jewish children under their wing. The problem for most of the Jews centered on their destination — “where to?” Hungarians and Romanians, in general, headed for home. For Polish Jews, the decision was difficult. The Bundists demanded return to Poland whereas the Zionists established a kibbutz–hachsharah (a training settlement). The Buchenwald kibbutz taught Hebrew and already in August the first trainees left for Palestine. Concomitantly, a second focal group, composed of the survivors of the Kovno ghetto, gathered 400 Jews from Hungary, Greece, Slovakia, Lithuania, and Poland. Dr. Zalman Grinberg spoke at a liberation concert and stated that the sole purpose of the living was to serve as a voice for the dead. Surprisingly, no representative of the Jewish world came to lighten their burden. Another younger group had formed in Dachau already in September 1944 and even published an underground newspaper in Hebrew. After liberation, the Americans and the Russians pressed for repatriation. The Zionists in Dachau sought to unite all the Jewish factions. An American chaplain, Abraham Klausner, devoted himself to the Jews in Dachau and organized a list by camp — She’erit Hapleita — of all Jewish survivors in Bavaria. The Jewish Brigade functioned as the military representative of the Jewish people and did everything possible to help the survivors. The repatriation policy of the American forces led to clashes with She’erit Hapleita and three months after the war, the survivors in the DP camps still lived in pitiful conditions. Those Jews who did return to their countries of origin met with hostility and even murder. Many were depressed and viewed their future as hopeless. However, an executive committee was set up to represent all survivors in Germany and Austria (as well as those who had perished) and demanded that the gates of Palestine be opened to unrestricted immigration and equal rights for Jews worldwide.