Refugee education in Vilnius, 1939
Photo series by Bolesława and Edmund Zdanowscy
Ernst Loewy was a German-Jewish librarian, publicist and exile researcher. He was co-founder and chairman of the “Society for Exile Research”.
As a schoolboy, Ernst Loewy experienced open anti-Semitism even before 1933. In the fall of 1935, his parents decided that he should leave Germany. After a four-week preparatory period on an agricultural estate near Berlin in December 1935, he was accepted into the Youth Aliyah program. In April 1936 he arrived at Kibbutz Kiryat Anavim near Jerusalem, where he lived until 1938. He kept in touch with his parents by letter. They were also able to flee to Palestine after the November pogroms.
The Youth Aliyah was founded in 1933 and goes back to the initiative of the resistance fighter and teacher Recha Freier. The goal of the organization was to bring as many children and young people as possible from National Socialist Germany to Palestine and to involve them in the construction of the country. This project was based on a strictly religious worldview, which was relaxed after the November pogroms due to the humanitarian emergency. From its official start in February 1934 until March 1939, the organization was able to rescue some 12,000 young people to Palestine. There were also conditions attached to the aid: Parents could not accompany their children to Palestine and were required to pay part of the cost of their children’s departure, housing and education.
The young people were obliged to receive training in handicrafts, agriculture or horticulture, as well as lessons in Palestinian geography and Hebrew. While still in Germany, the preparation of the young people for their later life in Palestine began in training centers. At the end of the preparation period, representatives of the Youth Aliyah determined the suitability of the young people. In Palestine, the young people were placed in children’s villages or kibbutzim (rural settlements), where they lived together in a large community, attended school, or worked in agriculture or crafts as part of their training.
After the USA, Palestine was the most important host country for Jews from Europe. They were regarded there as citizens for the future establishment of a Jewish state.
The emigrants’ acclimatization was difficult because they had deeply anchored German culture and, moreover, could identify only slightly with the desired establishment of a state. In addition, there were language barriers.
Many immigrants were retrained in agricultural and craft fields, which meant a loss of status for some.
The country pursued a restrictive immigration policy that regulated immigration through quotas. Immigration permits were influenced by the occupation, wealth, and origin of the potential immigrant. But many also immigrated illegally to Palestine by sea on refugee ships.
By the end of 1938, more than 200,000 Jews had emigrated from Europe to Palestine.
Contract between Jüdische Jugendhilfe e.V. Berlin and Ernst Loewy’s parents, 1936 © Deutsches Exilarchiv 1933-1945 der Deutschen Nationalbibliothek, NL Ernst Loewy, EB 95/075.