On a number of occasions during the war, Rabbi Yitzchak Isaac Halevi Herzog zt”l traveled back and forth to the United States at great risk, in an effort to attract support for the cause of saving European Jewry from the clutches of Nazi Germany. Rabbi Herzog, in his position as Chief Rabbi of Palestine, even managed to secure a meeting with President Franklin D. Roosevelt. At the meeting, Roosevelt smiled and did not reply to the rabbi’s pleadings for a promise to help the Jews of Europe.
His biographer records that several people noticed that the rabbi’s hair turned white when he left the meeting, which he perceived as a failure. Following this, Rabbi Herzog immediately returned home to Palestine, narrowly avoiding passage on a ship that was sunk by a German U-boat, and taking what was said to be the last civilian ship to safely cross the Atlantic during the war. After the war, Rabbi Herzog dedicated himself to saving Jewish children, especially babies, bringing them back from their places of hiding throughout Europe to their families or to Jewish orphanages. Many of these children were hidden in Christian monasteries or by Christian families who refused to return them.
Rabbi Herzog used any and all influence he had, with whatever clergymen he could, to rescue these children. He also traveled to numerous countries, raising money and utilizing any support he could muster for his rescue efforts. Rabbi Berel Wein relates that in 1946, as a young boy, he remembers how Rabbi Herzog came to visit the city of Chicago. The entire city; all the adult men and women and all the Jewish children, came to greet him at the airport. They then gathered in Chicago’s Beis Medrash L’Torah, Hebrew Theological Seminary, where Rabbi Herzog delivered a lecture on a complex Talmudic issue, as the children stood mesmerized by his oratory. At the conclusion of his speech, his face immediately lost its radiance, and he became somber and staid. The famous rav from Jerusalem paused for a few long moments and then declared: “My friends, I come not from Yerushalayim. I come from Rome. I have just met with Pope Pius XII.” A murmur went through the crowd. Some people were duly impressed; others were waiting to hear why they should be impressed.
“During the terrible war,” continued Rabbi Herzog, “many children were sheltered in monasteries across Europe. These Christians saved them from the Nazis. Indeed, they were safe in a physical sense; but certainly not in a spiritual sense. I explained to the pope that there were hundreds, perhaps thousands, of Jewish children who were sheltered in Catholic monasteries throughout the war. Their desperate parents did what they had to do in order to save their children’s lives. Today, many of those parents are no longer alive, but those who are would like nothing more than to be reunited with their children. “I pleaded with him that these are our children and the time has come for them to be identified and returned to the remnants of their families, to be once again embraced by the Jewish people. I asked him to release those children back to their heritage, to let them be raised as Jews.” Suddenly, to the shock of the children and the awe of the adults, he began to cry. “The pope did not acquiesce,” said Rabbi Herzog. “He said that once a child is baptized, Rachmana litzlan, Heaven help us, he can never be returned.” The great rav trembled as he continued to sob uncontrollably. He looked at the assembled children. “My dear children,” he wailed, “we lost them!” Then his demeanor changed, as a ray of hope sparkled from his eyes. “We lost them,” he repeated, as he locked his gaze on the young faces, who stared directly at his teary eyes, “BUT WE HAVE YOU! WE HAVE YOU!”
Heroes Of Faith