Looking Back, 75 Years Later

Our friend Rudy Boschwitz, former Senator from Minnesota, writes:

I am writing this on December 23rd, 2010, the 75th Anniversary of my arriving in the United States from Europe in 1935 as a boy of five. Below there is a story about my arrival that appeared a couple of weeks ago in The Forward, the (left leaning!!) national Jewish Newspaper.
The trip on the Cunard Line’s SS Majestic is a very vivid and exciting memory. I was very proud to be a “good sailor” and I have always loved the sea since. Ellen came five years later having first gone to Brazil. Of our families who stayed on the European Continent we know of only one who survived the Holocaust.
As the boat slid up the Hudson River past the Statue of Liberty, I still remember my Mom pointing it out and telling me what it symbolized. And in the 75 years since, all that it symbolizes – freedom and the American dream – has been our experience.
We have been enormously lucky.

The Forward article is here. An excerpt:

On January 30, 1933, the day Adolf Hitler became chancellor of Germany, Eli Boschwitz, a judicial arbiter, came home and told his wife, “We are leaving Germany forever.” He had read Hitler’s “Mein Kampf” and knew that Jews had no future under the Nazis. Sure enough, within weeks, he and all other Jewish employees of the German court system were summarily dismissed from their jobs. …
Even though they lacked a final destination, Eli and Lucy Boschwitz and their four children — Rudy was the youngest — left Germany in July 1933. They spent the first few months in Czechoslovakia. After that, it was six months in Switzerland and then six months in Amsterdam, followed by a year in England. …
In England, Boschwitz’s father managed to persuade an American consular official that the family should be permitted to apply under the German quota. Finally, in late 1935, after more than two years of wandering, the Boschwitzes’ number came up and they were granted visas to the United States. …
The family of his future wife, Ellen Loewenstein, suffered a similar fate. Her family, German Jews who had Swiss passports, secured visas to Brazil in 1940. On the voyage across the Atlantic, a Nazi submarine intercepted the ship and removed Jewish passengers who bore German passports. Some of Ellen Loewenstein’s relatives made it to South Africa; those who could not get out of Europe perished in the Holocaust.
Keenly aware of how close he and his family came to suffering the fate of the rest of Europe’s Jews, Boschwitz entered the U.S. Senate in 1978 with a strong sense of the importance of learning the lessons of history. “My father often spoke, with appropriate bitterness, about the failure of the Western democracies to rearm and face down Hitler,” he recalled. As a result, one of the first things he did on Capitol Hill was join a bipartisan group headed by Senator Henry “Scoop” Jackson, a Democrat from Washington state. The Jackson-led caucus fought to increase defense spending according to whatever the rate of inflation was, plus 5%. The Carter administration, by contrast, sought a decline in spending on defense. The caucus prevailed. …

The article also describes how Boschwitz spearheaded the effort to rescue Ethiopian Jews in 1991:

Boschwitz sat across from Mengistu Haile Mariam, the Ethiopian dictator responsible for the deaths of an estimated 6 million of his own countrymen, mostly through starvation. “I couldn’t get that number out of my mind,” Boschwitz said. “Mengistu’s government was on the verge of being overthrown. His desperation allowed us to convince him to flee Ethiopia, and his successors promptly allowed Israeli planes to land on Ethiopian soil.”
Throughout the weekend of May 24-25, 1991, 34 El Al planes — given special dispensation to operate on the Sabbath because of the danger to life — transported more than 14,000 Ethiopian Jews to Israel. “Operation Solomon succeeded because we learned the lessons from the moral failures of the Free World’s leaders — including America’s — in the 1930s and 1940s,” Boschwitz noted.
Against all odds, history had come full circle: The child driven from his home and (just barely) rescued from genocide grew up to help rescue other homeless Jews from another disaster. And the path to that miracle began 75 years ago on a Manhattan pier.

Responses