An Advocate of His People

Dr. Alex Grobman

Much will be written about Judah Nadich, rabbi emeritus of the Park Avenue Synagogue and founding board member and honorary trustee of the Abraham Joshua Heschel School who died last week. He was an icon in the Conservative movement.
During World War II, Rabbi Nadich was an American Jewish chaplain. After the liberation of Paris in August 1944, he served at the Office of the Theater Chaplain in the city. By virtue of his position, he became an unofficial spokesman on Jewish affairs for the foreign correspondents of the New York Times, The New York Herald Tribune and other members of the American press in the region.

He and other American Jewish chaplains alerted American Jewish organizations and leaders about the problems confronting the Jews of France: the need to return to the Jewish community the children who were placed in convents, on farms and elsewhere by parents who were no longer alive; the urgency of providing relief to a significant proportion of the Jews during the upcoming winter months; the importance of resolving legal issues of how to recover confiscated property and the legal status of foreign Jews in the country; and the difficulty of reuniting families.

After Earl G. Harrison, a former U.S. Commissioner of Immigration, visited Germany and Austria to assess the condition of the Jewish DPs, his negative report about the plight of the Jews in Europe created a great deal of criticism throughout the U.S. President Harry S Truman was disturbed that military government officers had not provided the Jewish displaced persons (DPs) with proper housing or treated them humanely.

As a result, General Dwight D. Eisenhower, then Supreme Commander of Allied Forces in Europe, reluctantly agreed to assign a chaplain as special advisor on Jewish affairs to the Theater Commander of the U.S. Forces in Europe, until a prominent civilian could be appointed.

The need to respond immediately to Truman prompted Eisenhower to find a Jewish chaplain. Chaplains were already in Europe, knew the issues facing the DPs and understood how the army functioned.

Jacob Trobe of the American Jewish Distribution Committee (JDC) recommended Nadich to the position. Nadich was picked over another chaplain because of his experience at the Office of the Theater Chaplain, and because he had impressed him.

In his role as advisor, Rabbi Nadich also became the liaison between the army and the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRRA), the JDC, the Jewish Agency, the World Jewish Congress, the American Jewish Congress, and other Jewish organizations in the U.S., Great Britain and Palestine.

On August 27, 1945, Nadich began a tour of the Zeilsheim displaced persons camp outside Frankfurt. Two days later he began an extended tour of the camps in Bavaria, and then two days in Berlin. He also made an extensive inspection around Heidelberg under the command of the Seventh Army.

Upon his return to Frankfurt, Nadich met with General Walter Bedell Smith, Eisenhower’s chief of staff, highlighting the importance Eisenhower attached to Nadich’s mission.

Smith was disturbed to learn that in the Third Army area, under General George S. Patton, American soldiers stood guard at the gates of the DP camps, Jews had to obtain exit passes, only 10 percent of the camp population was permitted to leave at any one time, and the surrounding villages and towns were off limits to them.

Smith’s response was swift. He immediately called a number of the generals in the Third Army, including Patton, to demand that conditions be improved. On September 15, Smith conveyed the substance of Nadich’s report to Eisenhower.

After Eisenhower issued a memorandum to his commanders to provide the DPs with adequate housing, nourishing and sufficient food, allow them to guard the camps themselves, and make regular inspections to remove all incompetent personnel, Nadich explained why much more was needed, especially in the Third Army area.

Judge Simon Rifkind, U.S. district court judge, replaced Nadich after arriving in Frankfurt on October 22, 1945. Nadich remained for another three weeks to assist in the transition. He then returned to the U.S. where he was discharged from the army.

Rabbi Nadich later wrote about his experiences in his book Eisenhower and the Jews. The American Jewish chaplains played a vital role in helping the Shearith Hapletah, the remnant of the Shoah. Rabbi Nadich will be remembered for having been an advocate of the survivors at the highest level of the American military.

Tehey nafshoh tzerurah bitzror hachaim: May his soul be be bound in the bond of everlasting life.

Dr. Grobman wrote about Rabbi Nadich in his book Rekindling The Flame: American Jewish Chaplains and the Survivors of European Jewry 1944-1948.