Leo Baeck

Rabbi Leo Baeck, who worked consistently to represent German Jews, was the president of the Reichsvertretung der Juden in Deutschland. In the  Wiener Library and the London Metropolitan archives, there is substantial correspondence concerning the need to get out of Germany the staff (and their families) who had worked over so many years on behalf of many of their co-religionists – our families. Baeck, among others, refused to leave, even though he was given ample opportunity to do so, especially by institutions in the USA

In August 1939, Baeck came to Britain bringing a group of children to safety (Rabbi Charles Berg, ‘The Synagogue Review’, London, December 1956). He visited Kitchener camp, and some of the men pleaded with him to stay; he did have an entry visa and could have remained (Zajdband 2016), but he insisted on returning to Germany to continue his work there

In 1943 Baeck was deported to Theresienstadt, which he survived. He died in London in 1956, having been the first  president of the Leo Baeck Institute for the study of the history and culture of German-speaking Jewry

Rabbi Dr Werner van der Zyl, a student of Baeck’s, proposed the naming of the Jewish Theological College of London after his mentor Leo Baeck. Werner van der Zyl was also at Kitchener camp in 1939; he had arrived accompanying a Kindertransport (Zajdband, p. 168). Van der Zyl was the camp rabbi, carrying out religious and pastoral duties, assisted by Karl Rautenberg; for Orthodox Jews, Rabbi Isidor Broch was appointed – he had also been rescued through the Kitchener transit system

On Purim, when Jews celebrate rescue from annihilation, Rabbi van der Zyl explained its meaning in relation to contemporary events. For the Purim celebration, the Kitchener residents provided entertainment with the talents of the musicians, singers, and actors among them

Passover prayers were attended by around 500 men. Van der Zyl again drew on contemporary references, relating the exodus from Egypt in relation to the current experiences of exile. According to Zajdband (pp. 168-169), many prominent representatives from Anglo-Jewry, rabbis, and the British establishment were present at the service. The visiting Chief Rabbi advised Kitchener residents to “remain staunch to the teachings of Judaism and not to give way to any sort of discouragement, despite anything that (they) might have been through” (Zajdband pp.168-69)

According to the Kitchener Camp Review (no. 4, June 1939, page9), one of the two camp synagogues was consecrated on 5 May 1939, and Rabbi even der Zyl invoked all that had been lost in Europe. One resident, “a former member of the Eisenstaedt community, had rescued Torah scrollls and curtains from the synagogue and donated them to the camp” (see also Zajdband)