How a Half-Jewish German Spy Smuggled the Lubavitcher Rebbe out of Poland

July 18, 2019 | Larry Price
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When World War II broke out, Yosef Yitzḥak Schneersohn, the sixth rebbe of the Chabad-Lubavitch Ḥasidim, was in Poland, where he had been living since 1934. His American followers immediately commenced efforts to bring him to the U.S., hiring a Washington lobbyist to contact congressmen, White House officials, and even Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis for help. Eventually, an American diplomat requested the intervention of his German counterpart, who readily agreed. As Larry Price puts it, “The Roosevelt administration had decided to toss the Jewish community a bone to keep them quiet, and the bone was Rabbi Schneersohn.”

The one person in Germany with the authority to take a Jew out of Poland was the head of military intelligence, Admiral Wilhelm Canaris. Price continues:

Canaris called one of his officers, Major Ernst Bloch, a highly decorated soldier, into a meeting, [and] told him that he had been approached by the U.S. government to locate and rescue Rabbi Yosef Yitzḥak Schneersohn: “You’re going to go up to Warsaw and you’re going to find the most ultra-Jewish rabbi in the world,” [he told Bloch], “and you’re going to rescue him. You can’t miss him, he looks just like Moses.”

Major Ernst Bloch was a career spy. He’d joined the German army at sixteen, been severely wounded in World War I, and stayed in the army after the war. . . . Bloch was also half-Jewish. His father was a Jewish physician from Berlin who, like many other German Jews in that period, had converted to Christianity. Bloch’s mother was Aryan.

After locating Schneersohn—which proved far more difficult than Canaris predicted—Bloch escorted him and his family by civilian train to Berlin, and from there through Lithuania to Latvia, where the rebbe waited to receive a U.S. visa. Once again, his followers had to engage in intensive lobbying, this time to convince the anti-immigrant head of the State Department’s visa section, Breckenridge Long, to grant permission for the Schneersohsn to enter the U.S. Yet they somehow succeeded.

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