by Debra Rubin


Left: Benjamin Buchsbaum (courtesy Regie Roth)

During World War II, Benjamin Buchsbaum saved Jews in Europe by bringing them to America and even housing strangers in his Philadelphia home to prove to government authorities that they would not be a burden to the country. His selfless actions were preserved through a series of 70 letters Buchsbaum exchanged with those he saved, which were placed in a red leather binder.

“He even saved the carbon copies of the letters he sent, so we have responses back and forth,” said Buchsbaum’s granddaughter, Regie Roth of Kendall Park, in a phone interview with NJJN.

That binder was recently donated by Roth and her family to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC, which sent a curator to NJ to retrieve it. The museum is planning an exhibit in the spring of 2018 on the American response to the Holocaust and is interested in including the letters.

Calling it “a story of selfless heroism and humanity in its highest form,” Roth said Buchsbaum received inquiries from relatives, friends of relatives, and those friends’ relatives in Hungary, Germany, Poland, France, Austria, Romania, and what is now Tanzania. In all, 41 people reached out to Bauchsbaum between 1938 and 1946 and he submitted affidavits guaranteeing that he would sponsor each one.

“He never turned anyone down,” said Roth.

His process involved submitting affidavits for everyone, agreeing to sponsor them and find them housing and jobs, as well as turning over tax returns to prove he had the financial means to support the refugees. In addition, Roth said he appealed to local judges and businessmen to attest to his moral character.

“My grandmother, Katharine, was by my grandfather’s side as he dealt with the requests,” said Roth, who is president of Anshe Emeth Memorial Temple in New Brunswick. Her grandparents remained in close touch with them all until his death in 1970 and hers in 1995.

For Roth the letters were something of family lore. Although she had heard about them her whole life she had never actually seen them; they had been given to her brother by their grandmother shortly before her death. The binder accompanied him through several moves before it was located by the siblings this fall in his rented storage facility. An aunt told Roth that Buchsbaum saved 27 people — two he arranged to bring to what was then Palestine. Roth said she is hoping to find all who are still living, or their descendants.

Roth said she thought her grandfather was initially contacted by a cousin in Vienna who had no one else to turn to. Buchsbaum’s parents had immigrated to the United States in the 1880s, but they were the only members of their families to leave Europe.

That cousin, Adolf Buchsbaum, said in an April 4, 1938 letter that, “The matter is that I probably shall lose my subsistence and having no property it will be impossible for me to stay here with my family without any gain; therefore we earnestly must think of a new future in another country, especially in America.”

While the cousin said it would be impossible for the entire family to leave Vienna at that time, he pleaded for Buchsbaum to take his oldest son, Walter, then 17, even though by doing so, he said, “we are giving a piece of our own heart away.”

After bringing Walter to live with his family, Roth said her grandfather asked the teen if there was anyone he would also like brought over; soon Walter’s best friend, Kurt Loebel, arrived in America with a suitcase, fiddle, and $30.

Walter, who died two years ago, became a successful electrical engineer who wrote 13 books on computers and circuits long before most people had heard of either, and was a pioneer in color television technology. Loebel attended Julliard and the Cleveland Institute of Music, where he taught from 1959 until his death in 2009, and was first chair violin in the Cleveland Orchestra for many years. His son, David, is a renowned conductor and professor at the New England Conservatory of Music.

One of the most touching letters came from a man who had escaped from Germany to Philadelphia, leaving behind his wife and two daughters. A local rabbi put the man in touch with Roth’s grandfather, who managed to reunite the family in the United States.

“We’re now in contact with that family who lives in Pennsylvania,” said Roth. “I found a daughter who was 12 at the time this happened and put my mother in touch with them, and now the museum is in touch with them.” Roth hopes to find all the families, and the museum is searching ship manifest records and working with Yad Vashem in the effort.

Roth wonders how many people are alive today because of her grandfather. “I don’t know the exact number, but I know it’s big.”

If we consider the talmudic saying, “Whoever saves a life, it is considered as if he saved an entire world,” 27 worlds have Buchsbaum to thank for their existence.


Rubin's article is an example of individual efforts by some American Jews to rescue family members living in Europe during the Holocaust. However, as this comment makes clear, obtaining visas to America was limited by quota and the means to support the refugees, if necessary. Visas to South American countries such as Cuba was limited by the cost, which was exorbitant for the times. A reader, Joanie Holzer Schirm, wrote:

Stories like this are soul crushing considering today’s world where refugees often aren’t welcome because of fear of terrorism. In fact, that is what the 1930s and 40s Jewish refugees were running from (then Nazis, now would be called terrorist). The USA allowed so few, installing a quota system limiting people before the war and barring them from enemy territory after the war began. If the US barred them all, those few who did make it here would have perished. After my father (Oswald Holzer, MD) died in 2000, a discovery was made of over 400 WWII letters written by 78 mostly Czech writers. I’ve had them all translated to English and they tell incredible stories from many who escaped and others who were trapped behind by the Nazis. Forty four of my paternal relatives perished in the Holocaust.

In May 1939, Dad became a forcibly displaced person and at the time of receiving most of the letters he saved, was in China. Some twenty thousand European Jews found refuge in China, one of the few countries in the world that in Shanghai had no requirement for visa or landing permits. In mid-1940 he made it to America. A cousin from Petrolia, PA, Wilhelm Ferdinand Breth, who worked at L. Sonneborn Sons, Inc. wrote my father a series of letters about the plight of people wishing to escape to America. Here is an excerpt from an October 29, 1941, letter:

“Cables like the one you mentioned came probably by the hundreds. I myself received three, two from my sisters and one from Franz Holzer who probably must be a cousin of ours as he was born in Jeníkov, whom I only met once in my life. They all ask the same thing – visas for Cuba. I received these cables just on the day of my departure from New York, but I decided to make immediate arrangements for my nearest relatives, although 12 people (2 sisters, one brother, their wives and husbands, 4 children and 2 sons-in-law). I have another brother in Louny who also has a wife and three children, but I do not do anything for them now because their being Catholics seem to have caused them less trouble. When I presented my problem to the travel agency, they told me that it is not difficult to get the visa, but the sum they quoted took my breath away. First of all, the Cuban Government demands a $2,000 deposit per person which is supposed to be refunded when the immigrant leaves the country. However, there is a Cuban Bank which makes the deposits for you if you pay them $250 which is of course not returned. Then next $250, the cost of the Visum, $500 sustenance deposit and $150 for the return trip ticket, altogether $1,050 per person. To this may be added the cost of the steamship ticket from Lisbon to Havana which is at present $510 per person. Multiplying this by 12 you can visualize what I am up against and why I cannot help cousins like Franz.”

Debra Rubin is New Jersey Jewish News (MJJN) Bureau Chief. This article appeared December 27, 2016 and is archived at

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