Book tells of Lubavitcher Rebbes deliverance

Adding to the sparse list of stories about Jews being saved from the Nazis, historian Bryan Mark Rigg has written “Rescued From the Reich,” a remarkable saga about the rescue of Joseph Isaac Schneersohn, the sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe.

Schneerson arrived in New York on March 19, 1940, a little more than six months after the German army invaded Poland. The Rebbe was trapped in Warsaw and chances of his being saved were slim.

Using a variety of sources, Rigg has pieced together the unusual tale of how American influence joined with Nazi soldiers and officials to transport the Rebbe and his entourage out of Warsaw, through Germany and on to Riga in Latvia.

After a lengthy delay because of the Rebbe’s health problems and the difficulty in obtaining American visas, the group reached Sweden, where they boarded a ship bound for New York. The voyage was hazardous because of U-boats, but the Rebbe reached New York.

Rigg tells how the Rebbe’s escape had been facilitated by pressure from Lubavitchers on the American government. Robert T. Pell, assistant chief of the State Department’s European Affairs Division, was asked to help save the Rebbe by using his contacts with German officials. He appealed to Helmut Wohlthat, a Nazi party member who had studied at Columbia University. Wohlthat thought that freedom for the Rebbe would be in Germany’s best interest and succeeded in involving Admiral Wilhelm Canaris, head of Nazi military intelligence, who had opposed some of Hitler’s policies.

They enlisted Maj. Ernst Bloch, a half-Jewish army officer who had been declared an Aryan by Hitler despite Bloch’s Jewish father. Three other German soldiers who also had Jewish ancestry joined Bloch in the mission to rescue the Rebbe.

Once in America, the Rebbe worked to bring his followers to the United States, but ran into the same kind of visa problems that he had experienced in Riga. Rigg identifies two anti-Semitic State Department officers who blocked Jewish refugees from entering the United States.

Rigg also describes the strenuous efforts of Max Rhoade, a lawyer hired by the American Lubavitchers, to cope with visa and other legal issues. He worked endless hours with little or no compensation and is one of the unsung heroes in the rescue.

Many individuals played important roles in this well-researched story. More than 40 pages of notes, an extensive bibliography and a lengthy list of interviews document Rigg’s diligence in gathering data for his book. Moreover, he has produced a very readable account of what was a suspense-laden tale.

“Rescued From The Reich: How One of Hitler’s Soldiers Saved the Lubavitcher Rebbe” by Bryan Mark Rigg (304 pages, Yale University Press, $17).