Escape to Safety
In every generation, and in nearly every country, Jews have had to uproot themselves to survive. A new ruler might upend sanctuary into suffering.
“Change your place, change your luck”, goes a Hebrew proverb. Willingness to move in search of spiritual, physical, or economic haven was imperative.
Under the First Crusade (1096), running away was near-impossible. During the Spanish-Portuguese Inquisitions (1492-1530), escape was the best decision – over the Pyrenees, to the Ottoman Empire, or New World.
Havens were seldom permanent. When Portugal dislodged the Dutch from Brazil (1654), even the New World did not guarantee shelter from the Inquisition. So Spanish-Portuguese Jews landed in New Amsterdam (New York) and later Jamaica, Barbados, and the West Indies.
Mostly, Jews took fate into their own hands. Evading Czarist pogroms or conscription, they headed for England and America (1880s-1914). The quest for haven brought Jews to Saskatchewan, Argentina, Kenya, Australia, and Birobidjan.
In the years leading up to WWII, Jews were forced to leave many places, and no country was obliged to take them in, but some did: Russia, Shanghai, the Dominican Republic, and others. The Kindertransport lifted 10,000 children to Britain in the nine months before the war. And during the war, poet Abraham Sutzkever bolted the Vilna Ghetto to join the Jewish partisan fighters.
Upright Gentiles tipped the scales for humanity. Consider such beacons of decency as Japanese envoy Chiune Sugihara, Polish nun Cecylia Roszak, British diplomat Frank Foley, and Italian businessman Giorgio Perlasca. Yad Vashem, the World Holocaust Remembrance Center, has recognized no fewer than 27,362 individuals as “Righteous Among the Nations”.
Survivors of the Holocaust needed to be smuggled into Palestine. Only with Israel's birth could Jews come freely. Some had to be rescued: Operations Magic Carpet (Yemen), Ezra and Nehemiah (Iraq) and Moses (Ethiopia). The Iron Curtain fell (1991), and a million more were free to emigrate.
Today, escape is no longer an issue. And Europe is welcoming to its 1.4 million Jews.
Watch this lecture about the Jewish survival in Vienna during World War II. Dr. Dieter Hecht, Institute of Culture Studies and Theater History, Austrian Academy of Sciences, explains the Jewish topography of Vienna for the National Library's Reading Room project – a platform for live and recorded online events in different languages