Solomon Schonfeld

Solomon Schonfeld

Rabbi Dr. Solomon Schonfeld (February 21, 1912 - February 6, 1984) was a British rabbi who is heralded as one of the most remarkable, yet least known of the Holocaust heroes.

Schonfeld studied at the yeshiva in Nitra, Slovakia. In Nitra he became the student and lifelong friend of Rabbi Michoel Ber Weissmandl, who acted as his inspiration in his rescue work.

When the scale of rescue work needed became apparent in the 1930s, he became the executive director of the Chief Rabbi's Religious Emergency Council, formed under the auspices of his father-in-law, Rabbi Joseph H. Hertz, in 1938. He personally rescued many thousands of Jews from the hands of the Nazi forces in Central and Eastern Europe during the years 1938-1948.

He founded the Hasmonean High School in 1944 and the other schools that formed the Jewish Secondary Schools Movement.

In 1933 he became the rabbi of the Adath Yisroel Synagogue in North London, and succeeded his father as principal of the fledgling Jewish Secondary School. He was also the Presiding Rabbi of the Union of Orthodox Hebrew Congregations and president of the National Council for Jewish Religious Day Schools in Great Britain.

During the Holocaust

One of the most remarkable Jewish rescuers was Rabbi Solomon Schonfeld who personally rescued thousands of Jews. He was a very charismatic, dedicated, innovative and dynamic young man. His rescue efforts were inspired by his teacher at the Nitra Yeshivah, Rabbi Michael Ber Weissmandl. This explains, in part, some of his daring and innovative rescue style. His rescue activities were under auspices of the Chief Rabbi’s Religious Emergency Council, which he created with approval of Chief Rabbi Joseph P. Hertz, his future father-in-law. He saved large numbers of Jews with South American protection papers. He single-handedly brought over to England several thousand youngsters, rabbis, teachers, ritual slaughterers and other religious functionaries. Rabbi Schonfeld provided his "charges" not only with safety, but also with kosher homes, Jewish education and jobs. He also initiated two very important rescue initiatives. In late summer 1942 he convinced the Colonial Office to allow Jews to find safe haven in Mauritius. In December 1942 he discussed his ideas about rescue with a number of highly positioned church men and members of Parliament, and organized Parliament-wide support for a motion which asked the government to make a declaration along the following lines:

"That in view of the massacres and starvation of Jews and others in enemy and enemy-occupied countries, this House asks H. M. Government, following the United Nations Declaration read to both Houses of Parliament on 17th, December, 1942, and in consultation with the Dominion Governments and the Government of India, to declare its readiness to find temporary refuge in its own territories or in territories under its control for endangered persons who are able to leave those countries; to appeal to the Governments of countries bordering on enemy and enemy-occupied countries to allow temporary asylum and transit facilities for such persons; to offer to those Governments, so far as practicable, such help as may be needed to facilitate their co-operation; and to invite the other Allied Governments to consider similar action."

Within ten days, two Archbishops, eight Peers, four Bishops, the Episcopate of England and Wales and 48 members of all parties signed the notice of meeting to consider the Motion. Eventually the number of members of Parliament in support of the motion rose to 177.

The above two 1942 initiatives could possibly have saved large numbers of Jews, but regretfully obstruction destroyed these important opportunities. The main reasons for obstruction were petty jealousy and tragic inability to appropriately prioritize the immediate cause of rescue and important but longer-term initiatives which could have waited until after the war. (The Parliamentary motion omitted Palestine as a possible temporary haven and was therefore opposed by a vocal faction.)

Rabbi Schonfeld considered as one his failures his unsuccessful request to the British government to heed Rabbi Weissmandl’s plea to bomb Auschwitz.After the war he rushed to the liberated continent to serve the spiritual and physical needs of survivors.

The above is based on Dr. David Kranzler’s book "Holocaust Hero: Solomon Schonfeld". [Section is from "The Rescuers" White Paper, by the Jerusalem Working Group]

Family life

Solomon Schonfeld was the son of Rabbi Dr Avigdor Schonfeld, rabbi of the Adath Yisroel Synagogue. In 1940 he married Judith Hertz, daughter of Chief Rabbi Dr. Joseph H. Hertz. He had three sons between 1940 and 1951.


Rabbi Dr. Schonfeld died in 1984 after a long term brain tumour.


*cite book |last= Tomlin|first= Chanan|title= Protest and Prayer|year= 2006|publisher= Peter Lang|location= Oxford|isbn=
*cite book |last= Kranzler|first= David|title= Holocaust Hero: the Untold Story of Solomon Schonfeld, the British Rabbi Who Saved Thousands of Jews During the Holocaust |year= 2003|publisher= |location= |isbn=
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