The Forward magazine recently posted an article "How Jewish Frat Boys Rescued Refugees in the 1930s, and Why It Matters Today." This article gives a broad overview of the coordinated effort of Jewish Fraternities and Sororities to help European Jews. The article highlights efforts of Phi Epsilon Pi in 1936. Sigma Alpha Mu's refugee program preceeded this effort and was officially adopted by the 1935 Convention. Ultimately, the interfraternal support these program saved the lives of Jewish refugees.
Sigma Alpha Mu's involvement was significant. There were 29 men that were supported by Sigma Alpha Mu and many joined our fraternity. The article that follows was published in the Winter 2009 issue of the Octagonian by Bill Schwartz.
Sigma Alpha Mu Refugee Project
In December 1935, Sigma Alpha Mu’s Convention in St. Louis adopted a resolution to help German Jewish students, whose education in Germany was being interrupted and denied by the German government, to obtain an education in the United States. Another Jewish fraternity, Phi Sigma Delta, had already begun such a program. The national chaplain of ΣΑΜ, Rabbi Isserman, had traveled to Germany in 1933 and again in 1935 and reported to the Fraternity on the persecution of German Jews and abrogation of their civil rights.
It was intended that the refugees would be given a start with a ΣΑΜ commitment to house them in chapter houses for a year. As it turned out most stayed longer, board was furnished as well as room. Tuition and incidentals were often arranged by the Fraternity, ΣΑΜ alumni acted as (or obtained) the three guarantors required from those without visas, the “guests” or “protégés” became friends as well, were entertained in members’ homes. In short, the original concept was expanded. There were also a few men from elsewhere, Hungary, Poland, Austria. It was not foreseen that the refugees would remain in North America; apparently all did.
The original plan called for cooperation with the International Student Service, which had been chosen by the League of Nations to minister to the refugees, aid in their selection through their Geneva office, provide for their transportation out of Germany, seek responsible sponsors for them, and help the sponsors in tuition negotiations with universities. Most of the ΣΑΜ refugees came to ΣΑΜ via the ISS.
The ΣΑΜ Monthly Bulletin (February 1935) said, “each candidate must not only have outstanding ability but also certain prospects of practicing his profession after completing his studies.” Adding to the difficulties inherent in this project was the Great Depression and resentment of able and ambitious immigrants who would seek already scarce jobs. Too, anti-semitism was a greater factor than today, and far more conspicuous.
The plan also contemplated putting refugees in ΣΑΜ chapter houses only. There were three exceptions. Two were medical students from Germany, Stephen Fleck of Frankfurt and Gustav Friedman; ΣΑΜ helped to facilitate their emigration via the ISS and assisted them their first summer but they were headed to schools where ΣΑΜ was not then represented, namely NYU and Harvard. The third exception was a student whose emigration was arranged by ΣΑΜ (via ISS) to go to Berea, a small cooperative Christian College in Kentucky which had heard of ΣΑΜ’s project and wanted to have a German refugee on their campus; that student, Egon Weiss, is mentioned below.
Of the 29 refugees cited here, half were initiated into ΣΑΜ. All got along quite well with their hosts though some were much older and had already earned graduate degrees, some of them doctorates. There were other refugees helped by ΣΑΜ chapters and alumni—included here are Neumark and Lantos—who arrived later than the others but whose names are not known. Those we have some record of are reviewed briefly in this document together with citations of some printed references to them in the Sigma Alpha Mu executive offices.
Joseph H. Bach arrived in 1939 from Istanbul, to which he had emigrated from Berlin in 1937. He was recommended to ΣΑΜ by the ISS and Sigma Eta chapter offered to take him as their third refugee guest to continue his engineering studies at Purdue. Born 1921, initiated 1940. Address 7990 Crest Drive, Lakewood, CO 80215. See Octagonian, Fall ‘95.
Heinz Berger, from Austria, emigrated later than ΣΑΜ’s German refugees. He was a concentration camp survivor whose entire family was killed before his eyes. He was himself scheduled for the gas chamber six times. A guest of Sigma Theta chapter of ΣΑΜ at the U. of Texas, he was working on his doctorate in bacteriology and was an outstanding student. He was initiated. He committed suicide in November 1952. See Octagonian 2/53.
Ernst Blumenthal arrived from Germany in February 1937, emigration arranged by ΣΑΜ via the ISS, and became the guest of Sigma Iota chapter at the U. of Michigan. He had already earned his doctorate in dentistry but had to complete another year in the U.S. to earn a D.D.S. at an American University in order to practice here. Born in 1909. Not initiated. Whereabouts unknown. See Octagonian 1/38, 10/38, Monthly Bulletin 11/37.
Werner W. Boehm arrived from Germany in 1939, was the guest of Sigma Gamma chapter of ΣΑΜ at Tulane. Not initiated. He became well known in U.S. and world social work circles, author, professor, later dean of the school of social work at Rutgers. Born 1913, address 21 Carpender Road, New Brunswick, NJ (2002). See Octagonian 3/40, 7/41 and Summer 2000; Who’s Who in America 2000.
Stephen (Stefan) J. Fraenkel, arrived from Berlin 1/38, emigration arranged by ΣΑΜ via ISS. He was the guest of Sigma Omicron chapter of ΣΑΜ at the U. of Nebraska. Not initiated. Became prominent as an engineering and research executive. Born 1917, address 1252 Spruce St., Winnetka, IL 60093 (6/02). See Octagonian May 1939, July 1940, Fall 1996, Spring 1997, Who’s Who in America.
Julius Gottheiner arrived from Munich in early 1937, emigration arranged by ΣΑΜ via ISS, went to Washington U. as the guest of Phi chapter where he was first in his class at the Wash U. dental college. Not initiated. Octagonian 3/37, 10/38. Whereabouts unknown.
Hans-Peter Hagen, from Potsdam, arrived in 1938, emigration arranged by ΣΑΜ via the ISS, and became the guest of Sigma Beta chapter of ΣΑΜ at Ohio State University. He was initiated in 1940. Born August 6, 1918. Whereabouts unknown. See ΣΑΜ Monthly Bulletin 2/40.
Wolfram Holz arrived from Germany in 1938, emigration arranged by ΣΑΜ via the ISS, and went to Syracuse University where he was the guest of Eta chapter of ΣΑΜ and lived in the chapter house four years until his graduation in 1942. Not initiated. Whereabouts unknown.
Hans Ferdinand Jacoby arrived from Berlin in December 1936, emigration arranged by ΣΑΜ via the ISS, and went to Sigma Rho chapter of ΣΑΜ at the University of Missouri where he was admitted to junior standing as a chemistry major. Initiated 1937. Born December 12, 1913. Address: 12 Pricemont Drive, St. Louis, MO 63132. See Octagonian May ’38, Monthly Bulletin 4/36, 2/37, 4/37.
Wilhelm Krakenberger, from Nuremberg, arrived in 1937, emigration arranged by ΣΑΜ via the ISS, and was the guest of Beta chapter of ΣΑΜ at Cornell. That university gave him a tuition scholarship, and he later won a 3-year scholarship to U. of California (Berkeley) for graduate work in advanced philosophy. Not initiated. Whereabouts unknown. Born 11/3/18. See Octagonian 3/38, 10/38, 10/40 and Monthly Bulletin 11/37.
Rolf K. M. Landshoff arrived from Berlin in September 1936, emigration arranged by ΣΑΜ via ISS, had already earned one Ph.D. and showed great promise in the field of theoretical physics. The ISS file contained a two-year-old recommendation from Albert Einstein. He became the guest of Kappa chapter of ΣΑΜ at Minnesota and was initiated in ’39. After earning another Ph.D. and teaching briefly, he was invited to join the Manhattan Project at Los Alamos, later was manager of the Theoretical Physics Department at the Lockheed Research Laboratory. Born 1911, died 1999. See Octagonian 10/36, 1/37, 3/37, 1/38, 10/ 40, 10/45, Summer ’95, Fall ’95, Spring ’97, Fall ’99; Monthly Bulletins 11/36, 12/37 and 10/40.
Thomas P. Lantos arrived in 1947 from Budapest thanks to a Hillel scholarship to the U. of Washington, where he became the guest of Sigma Nu chapter of ΣΑΜ and its Seattle alumni. His story includes posing as a Nazi, internment in a concentration camp, helping to free Hungarian Jews, all while in his teens, a story much told in the public press. After 30 years as a professor in California and television personality, he was elected to the U.S. Congress in 1980, now in his 11th term (2002), and enjoys great prominence and publicity. He is the only Holocaust survivor ever elected to Congress. In 1994 he received the ΣΑΜ Achievement Medal. Initiated ’49. See Octagonian 2/48, Spring ’81, Fall ’94, Spring ’99 and passim. Who’s Who in America.
Reinhard H. Lesser arrived from Posen and Berlin in October 1936, emigration arranged by ΣΑΜ and Rho chapter alumni via ISS and the German Student Relief Fund in Chicago. A law student in Germany, he majored in architecture at U. of Illinois where he was the guest of Rho chapter. He was initiated. Talented and popular, he was a practicing architect in California. Born in 1913, died 1987. See Octagonian 10/36, 1/40, 7/40; Monthly Bulletin 11/36.
Roland Lichtenstein arrived from Darmstadt Germany on 8/7/38, emigration arranged by ΣΑΜ via ISS, was the guest of Xi chapter of ΣΑΜ at MIT. Not initiated. Born 1914, whereabouts unknown.
George Lobbenberg arrived in 1940 from Cologne after a year’s delay in London and went to Sigma Rho chapter of ΣΑΜ at the U. of Missouri following a year at nearby Tarkio College. Initiated 1942. Born September 1922. Whereabouts unknown. See Octagonian 4/42, 10/42.
Ernst Lorge, from Mainz, Germany, arrived in 1936, emigration arranged by ΣΑΜ via the ISS. He became the guest of Omicron chapter of ΣΑΜ at the U. of Cincinnati, at which university he was accepted. He was then accepted to Hebrew Union College, moved to that nearby campus and became a rabbinical student, though he visited Omicron regularly. Not initiated. His father was a rabbi and public-school teacher but had been forced out of the schools in 1933 by the German government. Lorge was born c.1917. Whereabouts unknown. See Octagonian: 3/37, 5/37, 10/38.
Werner Mannheim arrived in 1937 from Berlin and was referred to Omicron chapter of ΣΑΜ at the U. of Cincinnati by Hebrew Union College. He was living in the chapter house as Omicron’s guest while studying piano at the University’s music conservatory; the Omicron Mothers Club raised funds to pay for his music scholarship. Born in Poland in 1914. Not initiated. Whereabouts unknown. See Octagonian March 1938 and Monthly Bulletin 2/38.
Robert Meister was born and raised in Budapest. Two months after he graduated from high school he was imprisoned in a Nazi concentration camp in Austria and was interned for six months until he was liberated by the Russians. He served briefly as a UN translator in Germany, emigrated to the U.S. in 1947 or 1948 with the help of the Joint Distribution Committee, then obtained a Hillel scholarship to Cornell. There he became the guest of Beta chapter where he was given room and board. Not initiated. Whereabouts unknown. See Octagonian 11/48.
Max W. Meyer arrived from Berlin in 1939, emigration arranged by ΣΑΜ via the ISS, and went to Sigma Zeta chapter of ΣΑΜ at Indiana U., where his cousin Henry Remak had arrived 3 years earlier as the first of the ΣΑΜ refugees. Meyer was initiated in 1941. He has had a successful career as an accountant, from which he is now retired. Born in 1920. Address 885 Embarcadero Road, Palo Alto, 94303. See ΣΑΜ Monthly Bulletin 2/40.
Harvey H. Nelken came from Austria via England in 1939 and was the refugee student guest of Sigma Kappa chapter of ΣΑΜ at Lehigh University where he studied mechanical engineering. Was initiated. Born 1922. Address 219 Valley Road, River Edge, NJ. See Octagonian 7/40.
Zenon Neumark, from Lodz, Poland, somehow survived the Holocaust and made his way to Milan, Italy following WWII whence he emigrated in 1950. He was the guest of Sigma Alpha chapter of ΣΑΜ at U. of Oklahoma where he earned his degree in electrical engineering in1952. Alumni of the chapter (and the chapter) provided his room and board and a monthly stipend through their educational foundation. Born 1924. Address: 1953 Westridge Terrace, Los Angeles, CA 90049.
Gerhard A. Nothmann arrived from Berlin in January 1939, emigration arranged by ΣΑΜ through the National HQ & Purdue chapter and alumni. He was the guest of Sigma Eta chapter at Purdue, initiated ’39; his original introduction to ΣΑΜ was via his cousin Henry Remak at Indiana University, ΣΑΜ’s first refugee guest, who contacted the Purdue chapter which then wrote a letter helpful to Nothmann at the U.S. Consulate in Berlin. Nothmann was principal engineer for the Xerox Corp. and worked on R & D for the U.S. Army. In appreciation, he and a fellow Purdue refugee guest, Gerhard Van Biema, and the Purdue chapter’s 1938 advisor Manuel Leve endowed in the ΣΑΜ Foundation the Remak-Rosenberg Scholarship. (James Rosenberg was prior at Purdue in 1938.) See Octagonian Jan ’41, Fall ’95, Fall ’96, Spring ’97, also Monthly Bulletin Feb ’39; Who’s Who in America, 1995. Died in 1996. (Footnote: Nothmann’s parents were helped to eventually emigrate from China by ΣΑΜ alumni and parents.)
Henry H. H. Remak arrived from Berlin in September 1936, the first of the ΣΑΜ refugees to arrive, emigration arranged by ΣΑΜ via the ISS. He became the guest of Sigma Zeta chapter of ΣΑΜ at Indiana University, where he remained and became an instructor, is today the celebrated senior active professor and former vice chancellor and dean of the faculties. Initiated in 1938, he has been faculty advisor to his chapter since 1939 and served ΣΑΜ as its national scholarship chairman. While a student he encouraged both Indiana chapters to take in more refugees, for which a scholarship bears his name. He is still vocal about the ΣΑΜ refugee program and has established an award at I.U. in memory of an ΣΑΜ alumnus who vouched for him in 1936. Born July 1916. Address: 1212 E. Maxwell Lane, Bloomington, IN. See Octagonian 10/36, 1/37, 10/37, 10/38, Summer ’95, Fall ’95, Spring ‘97, Spring ’01, and passim; also Monthly Bulletin 4/36, 11/36, 4/37.
Fritz Rosenbusch, from Westbaden, Germany arrived in July 1938, emigration arranged by ΣΑΜ via the ISS, and went to Sigma Theta at University of Texas as its guest. Majored in engineering. He was not initiated. Born 1919. Whereabouts unknown. See Octagonian 10/38.
Erhard Schwartzberg arrived from Germany in September 1936, emigration arranged by ΣΑΜ via the ISS, to resume graduate studies aborted by the German government. He went to Rutgers where he became the guest of Sigma Delta chapter of ΣΑΜ. He was also helped by the ΣΑΜ Westchester Alumni Club. Born in November 1910 in Bohemia, the son of a rabbi, he was an outstanding student. Not inititiated. Whereabouts unknown. See Octagonian 10/36, Monthly Bulletin 11/36, 4/37, 11/37.
Gerhard Van Biema arrived from Hannover, Germany in 1936 facilitated by an affidavit of support from a great-uncle in New York, who employed him as a stock boy while he studied English, and by ΣΑΜ via ISS which had approached the Fraternity. In 1938, he was placed with Sigma Eta chapter at Purdue. Initiated 1939. He graduated in chemical engineering, then earned a master’s degree in chemistry. He enjoyed a successful career that took him all over the world, retired in 1989, joined in endowing the Remak-Rosenberg Scholarship, which in effect honored the ΣΑΜ refugee program. (See Nothmann squib.) Address 200 Serpentine Road, Tenafly, NJ 07670. See Octagonian October ’38, Fall ’95 and Spring ’97.
Egon Weiss arrived from Austria in July 1938, emigration arranged by ΣΑΜ via the ISS, and went to Berea College in Kentucky which has no ΣΑΜ chapter (or any fraternities) but had heard of the ΣΑΜ refugee project. The college wanted to help a Jewish refugee, not only as a humanitarian gesture but as a potential asset to its campus community, and to “serve to indicate our disapproval” of the repressive Nazi regime. Born June 7, 1919 in Vienna. Whereabouts unknown. See Octagonian 10/38.
This articled was authored by Executive Director Emeritus William P. Schwartz.