December 10, 2003
Baruch Rabinowitz (Robbins), an American rabbi who lobbied on Capitol Hill for U.S. action to rescue Jews from the Holocaust, passed away in Jerusalem on December 8, after a long illness. He was 89.
One of the first full-time Jewish lobbyists in the nation’s capitol, Robbins –then known as Rabinowitz– was the chief Washington, D.C. representative of the Emergency Committee to Save the Jewish People of Europe, better known as the Bergson group.
The David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies (www.WymanInstitute.org) has established a Baruch Rabinowitz Memorial Fund to encourage research into the Holocaust rescue activity of Rabinowitz and his colleagues. The Wyman Institute holds the Baruch Rabinowitz Papers, a collection of memoirs and documents pertaining to his work.
Rabinowitz was known for his ability to forge relationships with Members of Congress from both parties. That bipartisan support proved crucial in the Bergson group’s crowning achievement, a November 1943 Congressional resolution urging the Roosevelt administration to establish a government agency to rescue Jews from Hitler.
The hearings and publicity surrounding the resolution played a major role in convincing President Roosevelt to establish the War Refugee Board. During the final fifteen months of the war, the Board helped rescue an estimated 200,000 Jews, including current U.S. Representative Tom Lantos (D-CA). Part of its work involved facilitating and financing the rescue activities of Raoul Wallenberg.
After the Holocaust, Rabinowitz remained with the Bergson group in Washington, lobbying for U.S. support for the creation of a Jewish State. He also quietly raised funds for the Irgun Zvai Leumi, the Jewish militia battling the British in Mandatory Palestine. Rabinowitz successfully solicited support for the Irgun from such diverse sources as the singer Frank Sinatra, boxing champion Barney Ross, and underworld figure Mickey Cohen.
In 1947, Rabinowitz helped break down racial barriers in Baltimore. He and his colleagues forced the city’s Maryland Theater to permit unrestricted seating for African-Americans at performances of the Bergson group’s Zionist play, “A Flag is Born,” which was authored by Ben Hecht and starred young Marlon Brando.
Rabinowitz also was sent by the Irgun to solicit backing from world leaders such as Rafael Trujillo of the Dominican Republic. Trujillo gave Rabinowitz false passports that helped several future Israeli leaders escape British imprisonment in Eritrea, Africa. They included Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir, Justice Minister Shmuel Tamir, Finance Minister Yaacov Meridor and Deputy Speaker of the Knesset Arieh Ben-Eliezer.
Rabinowitz, who was born in Brooklyn in 1914, was a seventh-generation direct descendant of the founder of hasidism, the 18th-century rabbinical scholar known as the Baal Shem Tov. He spent his childhood in Brooklyn’s Brownsville section, Canada, and Bayonne, New Jersey.
The gregarious Rabinowitz was expected to take the mantle of his father, Rabbi Samuel A. Rabinowitz, who was known as “the Brooklyner Rebbe.” But in 1932, at age 17, Rabinowitz boarded a ship and sailed to British Mandatory Palestine to study under its first chief rabbi, Abraham Isaac Kook, from whom he received rabbinical ordination.
Upon his return to the United States, he became active in the nationalist Revisionist Zionist movement, led by Vladimir Ze’ev Jabotinsky. He served briefly as the rabbi of a small congregation in Frederick, MD, before becoming rabbi of Congregation B’nai Abraham, in Hagerstown, MD, in 1937. But following the death of his wife Harriet in an automobile accident in 1940, Rabinowitz left the pulpit and became a full time Jewish activist.
After the Six Day War in 1967, Rabinowitz– now known as Baruch Robbins– moved to Israel. In 1978, although 64 years old and legally blind, he left his home in Caesarea to settle in the fledgling frontier community of Elon Moreh.
Survivors include his wife of 37 years, Malkah, eight children, 25 grandchildren, four great grandchildren, a brother and sister. He is preceded in death by two sisters and his first wife, Harriet Kirsner.