Rabbi Dr Solomon Schonfeld was instrumental in rescuing Jewish lives both prior to and after the Second World War. His work has therefore come to symbolise Orthodox Jewish rescue missions. Rabbi Schonfeld helped organise Kindertransports that saved the lives of children fleeing Nazi persecution and after the war he travelled to Continental Europe to help those who had survived the concentration camps.


Beginnings

Rabbi Schonfeld was born on 21st February 1912. His family were originally from Hungary. He was educated at Highbury County School but also attended Hebrew classes. When he reached adulthood he soon became the head of an Orthodox community in London. When Hitler came to power in 1933 Jewish leaders in Britain recognised that they had to do something for those living under Nazi rule. Rabbi Schonfeld visited the Home Office to secure visas for rabbis and synagogue officials to come to Britain with their families. He was responsible for bringing both children and adults to Britain prior to the war.

The Kindertransports

After the events of Kristallnacht, the British government became more sympathetic to the plight of children and allowed them to travel to Britain where they would be sheltered. The Kindertransports were organised by a group of people who came from both Jewish and Non-Jewish backgrounds. However, Rabbi Schonfeld did arrange some individual Kindertransports.

For example, Rabbi Schonfeld’s first Kindertransport was meant to have left on the 10th December 1938 but this was the day of the Sabbath. Orthodox Jews cannot travel until the Sabbath is over so Rabbi Schonfeld journeyed to Germany to delay the train's departure. The train left on Sunday instead of the Saturday.

Another Kindertransport organised by Rabbi Schonfeld left Vienna for Britain in January 1938 and 250 Kinder found refuge in the UK. He arranged for these children to be housed at Northfields which was a girls' school in Stamford Hill. Other children were found shelter in the houses in the local area near to the school.

Rabbi Schonfeld also became responsible for the Kinder’s welfare while in Britain and he organised places for them to stay and study. Likewise, he found both Orthodox children and adults Kosher homes through fundraising efforts.

Vera K. Fast has highlighted that ‘the Kindertransport story might well have ended with the arrival of the last children from the Netherlands except for the subsequent career of Rabbi Dr Solomon Schonfeld, animating spirit of the Chief Rabbi’s Religious Emergency Council (CRREC). Schonfeld extended the term ‘Children’s Transports’ to describe the evacuation of several hundred children who had survived the Holocaust in hiding or even in concentration camps’.

During the war itself he also oversaw the religious welfare of Jews in the British Armed Forces.

Post War Rescue

After the war Rabbi Schonfeld travelled to Poland as well as other places in Europe to help those who had survived the camps, especially children. These children are also known today as Schonfeld’s Children which is similar to the name given to the children rescued by Sir Nicholas Winton – the Winton Children. He wore a military uniform while visiting the camps and was escorted by soldiers. Around 1,000 children from the Displaced Persons Camps were rescued by Rabbi Schonfeld’s work after the war. These post-war Kindertransports left Continental Europe in 1946 and 1947.

Bibliography

Kranzler, David, Holocaust Hero: The Untold Story of Solomon Schonfeld, an Orthodox British Rabbi (Ktav Publishers: New Jersey, 2004).

Taylor, Derek, Solomon Schonfled: A Purpose in Life (Vallentine Mitchell: London, 2009).

Tomlin, Chanan, Protest and Prayer: Rabbi Dr Solomon Schonfeld (Peter Lang: Bern, 2006).