The Swastika Passport

Ruth_Tirbauer_1938-12-Klein-r100The story of Yaakov Frommer, his Swastika Passport, and the personal intervention by Winston Churchill is told in the weekly magazine “Matzav Ruach,” which is one of the pamphlets distributed in Israel through synagogues on the sabbath.  It is not available online.  I am about to summarize the story in my words, although nothing is original here and I am simply paraphrasing the story as it appears in the pamphlet.

In the 1930s the Frommer family lived in Haifa.  The father was Dov Frommer, who – with his wife – had made aliyah to Eretz Israel in 1935 from Olkusz, a small town in southern Poland.  He lived with his wife Leah Rosa and their two small sons.

In 1939, Leah Rosa felt an irresistible yearning to return for a visit to her home town in Poland to see her family there. She decided to take her two sons with her.  She was in the early stages of pregnancy.  They sailed from Mandatory Palestine, that is, the British-ruled colony in Eretz Israel, arriving in Danzig, the German port city on Poland’s Baltic coast.  It was after the Munich accord, and after the German aggression against Czechoslovakia.   It was also smack in the middle of the days of the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact, when Hitler and Stalin were plotting to conquer and divide Poland between themselves.   Leah Rosa felt safe, since she was traveling on British papers.  As residents of Mandatory Palestine, they were citizens of the British Empire, and Great Britain was not yet at war.

It was only four days after the mother and children reached Olkusz when the Nazis invaded Poland.  Hours later Britain declared war and the family was marooned in the heart of the territory in which the Holocaust would reach its most horrific dimensions.  There were no ways in or out. 

The father of the family, Dov, began a feverish campaign of letter writing with the British authorities to try to win the release of his family in what was now German-annexed Polish territory, in essence part of the Third Reich.  The months dragged on. Leah Rosa gave birth there to her third son, naming him Yaakov.  But the situation was deteriorating and getting more desperate.  The Jews of Olkusz were ordered to wear yellow stars and move into a part of the town that would serve as a ghetto.

In 1940 a glimmer of hope appeared on the horizon.  There were numerous civilians from the British Empire that were stranded in the territories conquered by Germany, but there were also German civilians in the British Empire.  In particular, “Palestine” held a large population of German “Templers.”  These were German Protestant pietists who had migrated to “Palestine” in the 19th century and set up several colonies, including in Haifa, Jaffa, and Jerusalem.  In the 1930s many of these became devoted Nazis and, bizarre as it sounds, there were pro-Nazi marches complete with swastikas and Heil Hitlers on the streets of Israeli cities, organized by these Germans. 

Negotiations began for exchanges of the stranded civilians of the two sides.  The US, still a neutral power, aided the efforts. In particular, a deal was in the offing for an exchange of German Templer civilians, mainly women and children, for civilians from Mandatory Palestine in Poland.

There was a snag, however.  While Leah Rosa and her two older sons were citizens of the British Empire, having been born in “Palestine,” the youngest child, Yaakov, was not.  He had been born in German-annexed Poland and the Germans were unwilling to acknowledge him as a British national.  He was also not a Polish national, since Poland had ceased to exist.

The father back in Haifa was conducting frantic correspondence with the authorities in London.  Somewhat incredibly, Winston Churchill himself took a personal interest in the family’s plight and wrote to the father in his own handwriting.  (A photo of the letter appears in the Matzav Ruach pamphlet upon which I am relying.)   Fearing the barbarism that was clearly approaching, relatives in Poland urged Leah Rosa to take the two older boys and escape for freedom, leaving the baby in their care, but the mother would hear nothing of it.

Eventually a deal was reached under which the baby Yaakov, officially a citizen of German-ruled Poland, would be allowed to leave with the rest of his family.   Relatives in the Olkusz ghetto still felt relatively safe in those days, as the mass exterminations had not yet begun, and suggested to Leah Rosa that perhaps she might be better off staying there with them rather than going off to the backwaters of “Palestine” with its many dangers and acts of barbarism about which they had heard.

It was shortly after Pearl Harbor when the family was allowed to escape as part of the exchange of the stranded populations.  They reached Vienna, and from there took a ship down the Danube to the Bulgarian coast of the Black Sea, and from there reached home.  Baby Yaakov Frommer had been equipped with a special Nazi passport, issued by the Reich authorities in control of Poland.  It featured the Nazi eagle emblem and swastikas.  From its serial number, it was the very first passport issued by the Nazi authorities in Poland.   Yaakov made aliyah on a Nazi passport, complete with swastikas. 

Once reunited in Haifa, the family resumed life as normal.  Yaakov grew up to be an electronics technician.  His oldest brother became a scientist at the Weizmann Institute, specializing in water treatment.  The middle brother became an air force navigator, headed an air force training school, and was captured during the Yom Kippur war when his plane fell in Lebanon.   A fourth younger son was born later and became a well-known psychologist.   The father of the family was one of the founders of the religious neighborhood Kiryat Shmuel near Haifa and was a principal at its religious high school.  Four years ago, Leah Rosa passed away at the age of 98.

Baby Yaakov, today 74 years old, allowed the magazine to photograph his swastika passport.   

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  • Judahlevi

    The Germans thought of themselves as a race (Aryans) who were superior to other human beings on the planet. The Imperial Japanese thought of themselves as a superior people than other human beings on the planet. This is what happens when people are considered groups and act accordingly. They always consider themselves better than other human beings.

    Many wars and atrocities in human history are caused by grouping people and either considering themselves superior and going to war to prove it, or considering others inferior and trying to wipe them out – or both.

    This is why multiculturalism won’t work – it groups people and assigns values. Only Individualism as a human relational philosophy has the possibility of preventing harmful groups from forming by denying that any human being is superior to another human being. We are not groups (white people, black people) – we are individuals.

    • Bamaguje

      “The Germans thought of themselves as a race (Aryans) who were superior… The Imperial Japanese thought of themselves as a superior people… Many wars and atrocities in human history are caused by grouping people…considering themselves superior…” – Judahlevi.

      Within reasonable limits, there’s nothing wrong with groups of people feeling superior to others. It’s called cultural pride… pride in one’s heritage. Jews after all claim to be “chosen people” as per their Bible/Torah.

      Some degree of pride in one’s culture and heritage is even desirable for
      societal progress. We can all see some of the deleterious consequences
      of misguided multiculturalism in the West, where young Americans in
      universities are brainwashed to hate America.

      So long as cultural pride does not mandate hatred and discrimination
      against others, it is acceptable. This is why Islam is particularly
      revulsive and dangerous. Muslims are programmed by their religion to
      hate and kill non-Muslims.

      • Gee

        The term Chosen People does not denote superiority. Your comments are inane and insulting.
        We are Chosen because we chose to establish a covenant with the L-rd.

        • Bamaguje

          “The Lord your God has chosen you (Jews) as his own possession, above all the people of the earth” – Deuteronomy 7:6

      • Insecticide

        Bemaguje is an ignorant anti-Semite. The Jews notion of “chosen” is that of having a burden, a moral and ethical burden as their role in the world due to their religious obligations, and hardly a presumption of superiority. Bemaguje however is chosen in the sense of being uniquely inferior.

  • danhoch

    This is part of the reason why the U.S. is failing, but to state anything of this sort is positively racist and offensive….’cause every anyone says is racist and offensive, I personally would tell them all to go to h…l. I really don’t care if they’re offended and I’m not racist because I am a native american, everyone is America is racist against us. If the blacks feel so sorry for themselves with all the privileges given to them by our government, let them visit some of the villages where the native Americans live, THEN tell me they have it worse. And if they want to bring up the good ‘ol slavery thing, which no one today probably has no relative alive that was part of it, I tell them that as they have their hands out for all the government freebies, they are now slaves to the government. Eat that. This is what happens when cultures go the way we are going. Judahlevi, you are right on. They think it’s cool today for the blacks and whites to marry and have mulatto kids. A shame.

    • clc

      Kids are human beings not “a shame”!

  • antioli

    Is the notion of White Privilege a racist slur?

    • kikorikid

      Is the notion of Black Privilege a racist slur?
      Where is “White Privilege” in the discriminatory
      world of Affimative Action? “White Privilege”
      is a term designed to further promote grievance
      mongering based on Race.

  • James Foard

    Beautiful love story, made me cry.