In 1933, the distinguished philosopher of religion Martin Buber decided to relinquish his honorary professorship at Goethe University in Frankfurt/Main in protest against the Nazi rise to power. Consequently, the regime forbade him to give public lectures. In the years to follow, Buber founded the Central Office for Jewish Adult Education and countered the Nazis’ efforts to marginalize and destroy German Jewry by strengthening Jewish identity through education. It was not until May 1938 that he followed a call to the Hebrew University to assume the new chair for Social Philosophy and moved to Jerusalem with his wife Paula, a writer. The couple settled down in the Talbiyeh neighborhood in the Western part of the city, which at the time was inhabited by both Jews and Arabs. It borders on Rehavia, then a major stronghold of immigrants from Germany. Buber was among those envisioning peaceful coexistence in a bi-national state.
Time and again, unsettling news about sectarian violence in Palestine reached Jewish readers in the diaspora. On May 25, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, a prime source of information on the situation of the Jews under the Nazis and of developments in the Yishuv, reports under the headline “6 Deaths Added to Terror Toll in Palestine.” It writes about the latest victims in Jerusalem, Haifa and Tiberias—both Jews and Arabs—and the circumstances of their deaths.
Nothing in this May 19 Jewish Telegraphic Agency report from its Jerusalem correspondent could provide German or Austrian Jews eager to leave for safer shores with the hope that life in Palestine would grant them peace and quiet. Between Arab attacks on Jewish workers or Jewish-built infrastructure and labor unrest among unemployed Jews, the only reassuring aspect of Palestine was its distance from the epicenter of Nazi activity. Since the beginning of the Great Revolt, Arabs, British, and Jews in Palestine had been embroiled in an often violent conflict—scarcely an attraction for weary Central-European Jews eager for peace.
As a leading functionary in various Zionist organizations, most notably the Hadassah Women’s Zionist Organization of North America, Rose Luria Halprin had moved to Jerusalem in 1934, where she worked as the liaison between the local Hadassah branch and the National Office in the US. Having befriended Henrietta Szold, who led the Youth Aliyah in Palestine, Halprin, too, became involved in efforts to rescue German-Jewish youth by bringing them to Palestine. The Youth Aliyah had been founded by the prescient Recha Freier, wife of a Berlin-based rabbi, on the very day the Nazis were voted into government, January 30, 1933. In the years 1935 to 1938, Halprin repeatedly visited Berlin. April 11, 1938 was her 42nd birthday.
This etching by the German-Jewish artist Hermann Struck depicts the fifth British High Commissioner for Palestine, Harold MacMichael, who took office on March 3, 1938. MacMichael had previously held various positions in Africa. The High Commissioner was the highest-ranking representative of the Empire in Mandatory Palestine. The creator of the portrait, Hermann Struck, an Orthodox Jew and an early proponent of Zionism, had emigrated to Palestine in 1923 and settled in Haifa. He was renowned in particular for his masterful etchings, a technique he had taught to artists such as Chagall, Liebermann, and Ury.
When German Jews considered the various emigration options in January 1938, Palestine might have seemed a dangerous destination. As the Jüdische Rundschau reported, in the same month, attacks against Jewish inhabitants and clashes between Jews and Arabs occurred in numerous places in Palestine. Apart from local resistance, the paper mentioned Syrian terrorists, the smuggling of weapons from Libya, and the refusal of the Egyptian government to conduct direct Arab-Jewish negotiations. In light of these facts, emigrating to Palestine could appear to the prospective emigrants like jumping from the frying pan into the fire rather than finding a safe refuge.