Marian Greenberg

The Story of Marian Greenberg:[1] The Forgotten Hadassah Activist[2]

Shira Koren, Bar Ilan University, Ramat Gan, Israel



Marian Greenberg devoted the majority of her life, nearly sixty years, to volunteer work at Hadassah, where she worked closely with Henrietta Szold. She was the first chairperson of Youth Aliyah, the organization that saved thousands of Jewish adolescents from the Holocaust, and undertook other management roles, committing herself fully to Hadassah and to the State of Israel. Yet, while Szold received immense credit for her management of Hadassah and Youth Aliyah, Greenberg and other volunteers have been all but forgotten from history. Interestingly, in her books, correspondences and other writings, Greenberg herself ignores her own role in the projects she was involved in, and instead gives all the credit to Szold. This article tries to do justice to Greenberg's legacy by exploring her life's projects and by suggesting why she was overlooked. This explanation may also be applicable for the other female Hadassah volunteers who worked with Szold but were forgotten from history


Hadassah and Youth Aliyah – Background Information

Most Jews in Israel and in the United States of America have heard of Henrietta Szold, the founder and chair of Hadassah, the American Women's Zionist organization. But if Israelis or American Jews were asked who Marian Greenberg was, very few would recognize her name or be familiar with her work. In 1912 Henrietta Szold, the organization's first president, and the Daughters of Zion, a women's study group, established Hadassah in New York City. The goal was to promote the Zionist ideology through education, public health initiatives, and the training of nurses in Palestine. Hadassah chapters soon opened in Baltimore, Cleveland, Chicago, and Boston. At the founding meeting that coincided with the Jewish holiday of Purim, the group chose the name Hadassah, the Hebrew name of the biblical hero Esther.

Hadassah established the first medical school in pre-state Israel, the country's first post-natal care clinics, the first hospital in Tel Aviv and the two Hadassah hospitals in Jerusalem. In addition, Hadassah founded the Hebrew University of Jerusalem-Hadassah Medical School, the Henrietta Szold Hadassah-Hebrew University School of Nursing, and the Hadassah College in Jerusalem. In 1934, Hadassah adopted the Youth Aliyah program, which became associated with its founder Henrietta Szold. This program rescued tens of thousands of children from the Holocaust and then became involved in the rescue of Jewish youth around the world. The children were integrated into Israeli society. Hadassah is a major supporter and partner of the Jewish National Fund, which plants trees and implements various land reclamation programs in Israel. Hadassah advocates for the American Jewish community, addressing First Amendment issues, separation of church and state, and support for Israel. In the United States, Hadassah promotes health education, social activism and advocacy, volunteerism, Jewish education and research, and lobbies for Israel.

Youth Aliyah (Aliyat Ha-Noar - Youth Immigration) is a Jewish organization that rescued 22,000 Jewish children from the Nazis during the Third Reich and resettled them in Palestine. These children lived, worked, and studied in kibbutzim and youth villages. Youth Aliyah was founded in 1933 by Recha Freier, a rabbi's wife from Berlin, and was funded by the World Zionist Organization. Freier supervised the organization's activities in Germany, and Henrietta Szold in Jerusalem.

Szold was originally skeptical of Freier's proposal that Jewish teenagers be sent to training programs in Palestine right after completing elementary school. She believed that Germany could offer better education for them. However, Hitler's rise to power in 1933 and the enactment of the Nuremberg Laws in 1935 convinced her otherwise. On March 31, 1936, German elementary schools denied access to Jewish children.

After a brief period of training in Germany, Youth Aliyah members were placed in kibbutzim for two years to learn farming and Hebrew. Ein Harod was the first kibbutz to host such a group.

Just before the outbreak of World War II, when immigration certificates to Palestine became difficult to obtain, Youth Aliyah activists in London devised an interim solution whereby groups of young people would receive training in countries outside the Third Reich until they could immigrate to Palestine. Great Britain accepted 10,000 children, some from Youth Aliyah groups.

After World War II, a Youth Aliyah office was opened in Paris. Emissaries were sent to camps in Europe to locate children survivors. Children's homes in Eastern Europe were moved to Western Europe, fearing that evacuation from Communist countries might be difficult later on.

Soon after, Youth Aliyah became part of the Jewish Agency. Over the years, the organization has brought young people to Israel from North Africa, Central and Eastern Europe, Latin America, the Soviet Union and Ethiopia.[3]

Marian Greenberg  - Early Years

The massive projects undertaken by Hadassah and Youth Aliyah required great effort, coordination, and management, which had to be carried out by many highly, dedicated people. Henrietta Szold could not have executed these projects single-handedly. Marian Greenberg was one of these extraordinary persons who volunteered to bring these efforts to fruition.

Marian Greenberg (1897-1987) was a member of Hadassah for sixty years, serving fifty (1927-1977) as a member of the Hadassah National Board. She worked closely with Henrietta Szold until Szold's death in 1945. She was the first chairperson of Youth Aliyah (1936-1941). Additionally, Greenberg served as national vice president of Hadassah, a delegate to five World Zionist Congresses, and twice as chairperson of national conventions of Hadassah. She was the national chairperson of the Hadassah-Hebrew University Medical Building Fund and edited the Hadassah newsletter. After she retired in 1976, she continued to volunteer within the community.

The story of her life reveals less well-known aspects of the tremendous difficulties, conflicts, and efforts involved in saving young people from the Holocaust and bringing them to Palestine. It also tells about the incredible amounts of money raised for this purpose at the time of the Great Depression in the USA. It is a story of not only rare devotion and struggles, but also of reward and satisfaction. This is a story that is worth recounting, because Marian Greenberg deserves to be remembered. While unfolding Greenberg's life story one wonders why was she practically forgotten, despite her lifelong commitment to Hadassah and Youth Aliyah, while her colleague Henrietta Szold is so well remembered.[4]

Marian was the only child of Frederic Gerber, a carpenter and interior decorator of Prussian descent, and Regina Levy Gerber, who came to the USA from Germany. Frederic had five sisters, four of whom never married, so Marian had doting aunts. Aunt Clara, Regina’s older sister, taught Marian German, a language she made use of later in life working for Hadassah in Germany. Marian Gerber attended public schools in Philadelphia, where she was born and grew up. She was sent to a teachers' college in Philadelphia by her parents but refused to continue, claiming that she was being treated like a child. Instead, she studied history at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York. When she learned that Jewish girls were excluded from the sororities, she and six other Jewish girls founded a Jewish sorority, Sigma Delta Tau, which became a national organization. This event might have affected her Jewish consciousness and might have been the precursor to her social activism. This is also the first record regarding her effective organizational skills. Marian Gerber graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Cornell University with honors in history.

After graduation, she taught history in a Philadelphia public high school for several years, during which no record of any special public endeavor on her part exists. In 1922, at the age of 25, she married David Greenberg, a graduate of Columbia University. David and his younger brother James ran several children's clothing stores in the greater New York area – a business that was started by their parents. During the Depression, business was slow, so David left his brother in charge of the business, and traveled with his family to Germany and Austria for about a year (1930-1931). At that time, Americans could live very cheaply in Europe. The family returned to the USA and lived first in Mt. Vernon and later in New Rochelle, a neighboring suburban city, just north of New York City.

David's financial situation was comfortable but by no means wealthy. Throughout their life, the houses where the family lived were modest. But, significantly, both had quarters for live-in servants – usually small rooms and a small bathroom on the third floor.

Job opportunities for women before and during World War II were very limited. Married women usually did not work outside their homes. A single woman could become a teacher, nurse, telephone operator, or domestic servant. Wages were low and many women were willing to become a live-in cook or house cleaner in exchange for room and board and a very small monthly salary.

Interestingly, Jon (Jonathan) Greenberg, Marian's third child, writes[5] that for most of his childhood his parents had two live-in female domestic servants: a cook and a house cleaner. Marian did no cooking and no housework and led a very privileged life. The parents were busy – David with his work and Marian with her Hadassah volunteering, so the three children often ate dinner alone, served to them by one of the servants in the pantry.

Marian Greenberg became a member of Hadassah in 1922 after she got married, and began to be increasingly involved shortly after Jon's birth in 1928, when she undertook the role of treasurer. She commuted by train to the Hadassah main office in New York City five days a week from Mt. Vernon. In 1935, after the death of Marian's father, the family moved from a larger house into the house previously occupied by her parents, also in Mt. Vernon. Marian’s mother, Regina, lived with them until she moved to a nursing home that cared for her senile dementia and deafness. Jon remembers that the children addressed their mother as "mother," and did not use the endearing "mom” or “mommy” used by most children. He also recalls that in later life, Greenberg regretted not being a better mother. She said: "During most of my Hadassah career, we lived in Westchester (County), I commuted and went on speaking tours and, alas, neglected our children."[6] Yet, in her time, it was not unusual for women of some means to delegate the care of their children to others. Still, taking into consideration her children's needs was not her top priority. In the early 1930’s, Marian and David Greenberg went to Europe and left their three young children (Jon, the youngest, was only two) to the care of a Jewish boarding school in Germany for two months, while the couple visited relatives in Poland. As advised by the boarding school staff, they did not say good-bye to the children and did not explain to them that they were leaving them for a while.[7] One can only imagine what the children felt when their parents simply disappeared without telling them that they would be back.

Another instance of Marian putting her own needs before those of her children was her decision to move from the house in New Rochelle into New York City, where she rented an apartment on Central Park West in 1945. This was her son Jon’s senior year at the local high school, where he was doing well academically and socially. The move forced him to choose between going to school in New York City and going to a preparatory (boarding) school, which he did[8]. 

Marian Greenberg – Volunteering as a Vocation

Greenberg’s biographical information portrays a professional who was not maternal, did not want to stay at home and take care of her husband and children, and liked to travel and be away from her home for most of the day. However, human personality is more complex than that, and if the purpose of this paper is to understand Greenberg, not judge her, one could explain at least part of her behavior as stemming from the need to find an outlet for her talents through her volunteer work at Hadassah.

Greenberg's writings provide more background information about what most likely caused her to be so dedicated to Hadassah: She writes[9] that in 1918, while still a student at Cornell, she attended summer sessions at Columbia University and was taken into a Zionist meeting at the home of the late Sylvan and Sophia Robison. She "emerged a convert." The term “conversion” is repeated in her interview with Don Freeman in 1984, a few days before the 36th anniversary of the State of Israel. The interview was broadcasted on an Amherst Massachusetts radio station[10]. In this interview, in response to a question about her family, she answered that her family had nothing to do with her dedication to her Zionism. She added that she was born and raised in Philadelphia in a very Anglophone atmosphere because her paternal grandmother was from Canterbury, England. She became a Zionist not through her "mother's milk," as she put it, but by "conversion,” although Zionism at the time was "something that was not done.” Following this "conversion" to Zionism, she became active in Hadassah.

From her husband and his family, she heard the saga of Jewish immigration to the Holy Land. David Greenberg's family welcomed newly immigrated Polish relatives to their New York home and aided them until they could establish themselves. As a teenager, David hardly ever slept in his own bed! Continuing in their parents’ ways, David Greenberg and his brother managed to bring in two families – seven cousins – one month before the outbreak of World War II. During the 1930s and early 1940s, David undertook a one-man mission – to save European Jews. He signed many affidavits (immigration visa guarantees) and was known as "Affi-David Greenberg". He saved more than 500 families. This marriage, then, helped change Marian from a person who cared for herself into a person who cared for her people. Evidently, the role David played in Marian's devotion to Hadassah and Youth Aliyah was crucial. These actions suggest that he must have supported and encouraged her to do everything she could to save Jews, although it required her to be away from home frequently. If she had married a different man, her life may have taken an entirely different course. Although one could also argue that their common ideology is what brought them together. David Greenberg died in 1968, and Marian survived him by nineteen years, continuing with her life project.

Her husband's personal example and support, and Marian's own "conversion" to Zionism might not be enough to explain her complete devotion to volunteer work. This work, which was extremely time-consuming, and demanded many trips abroad (to Europe and to pre-state Israel and to other cities in the USA), was carried out at a period when most married women were homemakers. Hence, what was the cause of her social activism? One explanation is found in her son’s comment about her dislike for housework. The work at Hadassah gave her the opportunity and justification to avoid doing household chores, which she hated. But working and commuting to New York City every day for years, fulfilled another need, as she frankly admitted: "It was not only the wider horizons and the then bracing air of New York City which liberated me – 50 years ago – from the narrow provincialism which I had grown to hate. From my husband and his family I heard and saw the saga of Jewish immigration to "das goldene Land." [11] This statement suggests that Marian Greenberg was not, or perhaps could never be, the suburban homemaker. She liked the big city, being in the hub of activity for the sake of the Jewish people. The work for Hadassah enabled her to “spread her wings.”

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Figure 1 Marian and David Greenberg 1960[12]

It seems that Hadassah gave her the opportunities to implement her "conversion" to Zionism in the best possible way. As she writes,

"But long before World War II I had developed my own symbiotic relationship to Jewish people. And for that insight I owe a great debt to Hadassah. Beginning National Board service in 1923 (after a brief local apprenticeship) I held nearly every national office and portfolio. .. Editing was always my thing… the Hadassah Newsletter and then a flyer in civic work as Editor of the New York Citizens' Housing Bulletin…"[13]

The editing job, which she performed in 1943-1946, was in addition to other commitments to Hadassah.

Greenberg's editing and writing skills were utilized in several books she co-authored with her husband David, who wrote on wildlife and conservation in addition to his other hobbies, which included farming and collecting modern art. In the 1950s, the couple authored books about travel and the arts.[14] During her involvement with the Women's Organization, Jewish Reconstructionist Foundation of which she was president from 1970 to 1976, Marian landed her last job as editor. She was secretary of the editorial board of the magazine Reconstructionist and edited Rabbi Mordecai M. Kaplan's book, The Religion of Ethical Nationhood.

Marian was a talented woman with exceptional organizational and editing skills. Hadassah offered her the chance to work for the Jewish people, become a leader and organizer, speak in public, write, and edit articles, and freedom from domesticity.

When she retired from Hadassah in 1976, Greenberg moved from New York City to Amherst and continued to volunteer in different areas. She joined the Jewish Community of Amherst and taught courses on the Bible and modern Jewish thought at the University of Massachusetts, sponsored by the Judaic Studies department and the local Hillel Foundation chapter. She also led a discussion group on the Hebrew Bible at a local Protestant church. And she served on the Board of LAOS (Laymen's Academy of Oecumenical Studies).

Marian Greenberg – Volunteer Work During World War II 

Marian Greenberg seized every opportunity that came across her path – executive roles within Hadassah and chair of Youth Aliyah, but also other public roles that fulfilled her and enabled her to employ her skills and talents for the benefit of the Jewish people.

Surprisingly, Marian Greenberg wrote nearly nothing about herself or her part in the enormous project of rescuing Jewish youth from death in Europe and bringing them to Palestine, raising the money for this project and fighting against the British Mandate immigration restrictions. She wrote three books about the history of Youth Aliyah: (1) The History of Youth Aliyah, (2) Hadassah and Youth Aliyah,[15] and (3) There is Hope for Your Children: Youth Aliyah, Henrietta Szold and Hadassah,[16] in which she downplayed her role. Instead of writing about what she did for these organizations, she wrote only about Henrietta Szold. These books may mislead the reader into believing that Henrietta Szold acted alone. Therefore, to learn about Greenberg's achievements, other sources need to be consulted. One of the best sources is the Hadassah Archives at the Center for Jewish History in New York City. These archives contain hundreds of letters written by and to Marian Greenberg about issues involving Youth Aliyah and confirm her role in rescuing children from Europe and bringing them to pre-state Israel.

Procuring certificates enabled children to arrive in Palestine. In a letter to Henrietta Szold from January 11, 1937, Greenberg complains about the lack of certificates causing "pervasive gloom."[17] In March 31, 1937, Greenberg writes to Szold about Hadassah's role in obtaining 100 certificates: "I can well imagine the weeks and weeks of work, anxieties and disappointments which must have preceded the success which you announced to us."[18]

A press release from June 17, 1938 titled "1,500 Jewish children plead to be taken from Austria" says that "In order to remove 1,000 more from these countries [Germany, Poland and Austria], a committee of 1,000 sponsors has been organized by Mrs. David B. Greenberg of Mt. Vernon, New York, national Youth Aliyah chairman of Hadassah."[19]

A letter from Szold to Greenberg dated January 4, 1939 refers to the difficulties that the British government was causing by denying permission to settle Youth Aliyah newcomers in new "Meshakim" (farms); instead, they were allowed to join old ones only if Hadassah constructed a new house for them. The cost of construction was no less than 25 LP (Palestinian pounds) per child.[20] 

An article from the New York World-Telegram from June 20, 1939 shows Greenberg's involvement in bringing 179 Jewish refugee children from Europe to Whittingehame, the ancestral home of Lord Balfour in Scotland:

Mrs. David B. Greenberg, national Youth Aliyah (immigration) chairman of Hadassah, the Women's Zionist Organization of America, who announced the action of the Balfour heirs today, is leaving for England on June 28 to inspect the home, and to attend a Youth Aliyah conference in Amsterdam on Sept. 2.

Viscount and Lady Traprain, heirs to Whittingehame, notified Hadassah of the gift of what has become a British national shrine "for an indefinite period or as long as conditions require."

Certificates of entry to Palestine for more than 900 young people between 15 and 17 have been issued to the central office of the Youth Aliyah in London by the Palestine immigration authorities, it was revealed. A total of 2200 child exiles to be selected from Whittinghame and other child exile camps in France, Holland, Germany and Denmark will arrive in the Holy Land before October, Mrs. Greenberg said.

Mrs. Greenberg viewed the exile camp in Whittingehame as "a sign of the widespread dissatisfaction among all classes of British citizens with the present English policy in Palestine as embodied in the White Paper, which vetoed the original declaration. The conversion of Whittingehame – where, legend holds, the Balfour Declaration itself was written – into a refugee school "is an indication that the future may still hold some hope for the betrayed Jewish pioneers in Palestine," she said.

"As long as England remains a democracy and its successive governments must reflect the will of their electorates, the Jews of Palestine can continue to hope for a change in their favor in the future," she said.

"Lord Traprain referred to the kindly and religious nature of his uncle and stated that the use to which Whittingehame was now being put would have received his sanction and warm approval," the report stated.

This press release and many more uncover Greenberg’s deep commitment to the values of Youth Aliyah and on the importance of giving the children a safe haven in England.

A publication from July 1939 states that Greenberg was the guest of honor in England when some 200 members and friends of the Theodor Herzl Society met to welcome her to England and pay tribute to Hadassah's outstanding services on behalf of German Jewry. The publication says that in the first year, there was an Aliyah of 500, and in the following year (1939), their number increased to 3,000. Greenberg added that in those two years alone Hadassah contributed some $2,000,000 to Palestine.[21] 

A vast correspondence between Greenberg and Szold ensued about the problem of obtaining certificates,[22] as well as many letters on mundane topics, such as reports on conventions and decisions, money transfers, certificates, visits and plans.[23]


Praise for Marian Greenberg’s Activism

On October 26, 1983, in a tribute to Marian Greenberg, Frieda S. Lewis, national president of Youth Aliyah said:[24]

As Hadassah's first Youth Aliyah Chairman, she was witness to and a participant in its beginnings, a role that brought her into continuous contact with Henrietta Szold, Founder of Hadassah, and International Youth Aliyah Director in Palestine. Marian held this portfolio from 1935 to 1941 – traumatic years in the history of the Jewish people… she was instrumental in the adoption of Youth Aliyah as a Hadassah project, and was responsible for exceeding the maximum goals of $60,000 to be raised in each of Youth Aliyah's first two years as a Hadassah project…

Lewis mentions that Marian Greenberg "has asked for a quickening of Youth Aliyah activity throughout the country so we can provide the funds necessary to make Palestine a place of refuge…" It is reasonable to assume that Greenberg was a top fundraiser for Youth Aliyah. The activities of Youth Aliyah including saving young Jews in Germany, Austria and other Nazi-occupied countries, training them for about two years in other countries in Europe or in Palestine and finding homes for them in the kibbutzim, required sufficient funds and immense effort of coordination, correspondence, and connections with the British government.

Those who knew Marian Greenberg appreciated her. For instance, on February 24, 1983, Aline Kaplan, Executive Director of Hadassah, wrote to Ari Rath, Editor-in-Chief of The Jerusalem Post, and remarked that Greenberg was "one of Hadassah's great leaders who helped to shape and develop our organization…one of those who was deeply involved in the development of the entire Youth Aliyah program."[25]

More light on Greenberg's work was shed by David S. Wyman, a history professor at the University of Massachusetts and author of The Abandonment of the Jews: America and the Holocaust 1941-1945,[26] who was her close friend. In a "Tribute to Marian Greenberg," November 18, 1986 (three months before her death), Wyman said:

Marian is a personal hero of mine – as she noted in her book, she can witness to 60 years of Zionist history – as an actor. She is one of those who made the Jewish state. …She has played a vital part in a momentous historical achievement. My own personal award is to call her "Master Builder of Zion."

In the Cleveland Jewish News issue of September 2, 1977, Violet Spevack wrote a report titled "Early Hadassah Member Recalls Stirring Years," (p. 28) stating that

Youth Aliyah… became an all-absorbing involvement for young Mrs. Greenberg, required enormous sums of money and superhuman efforts on the part of Hadassah and the project remains closest to her heart as a humanitarian cause.

More about Greenberg's work for Hadassah and Youth Aliyah can be found in a 1979 set of five interviews with Lisa Lofchie and Sue Granaetz, representatives of Hadassah:[27]

Q: With the activity that you had in Hadassah, did you find that the women around you were as active, or more active, or less active than you?

A: No, we all were dedicated. You see, this was the age of volunteerism. If you had enough money to hire help, you just didn't sit home and do nothing, and comparatively few women chose money-making careers. At one point, my husband said to me "You ought to study law" and I might have been good, because I have a legal kind of mind, but it never occurred to me go [sic] back to school and to study law and to try to earn more money, we had enough money to live on. And by that time I was so absorbed in the Zionists who… it was just a very interesting and exciting life to be at the head of an organization that was growing by leaps and bounds. To guide it, to have a secretary, to write letters, to write articles, to make speeches, to be associated with women of real intellect, and independence, and initiative, it was a marvelous life.

Q: So in essence you didn't value at all a life of materialism?

A: Well, I wouldn't put it on that very high plane, I was dedicated to service; but it fulfilled a much needed drive in my being, and in my psyche, it gave me a feeling of power, of influence, of the need to be needed, and it brought enormous satisfactions, particularly when, at the end of 1935, I became the first chairman of Youth Aliyah, which was the movement which brought German Jewish children to Palestine. In that post, which I held for five years, I was at the epicenter of immigration from Germany into Palestine. As a result of my proficiency in German, I was able to deal with correspondents from the office in Germany…. So of course it was philanthropic work, building, it was idealistic in its aims; I only did it from the highest motives of idealism, it gave me great satisfactions and fulfillments, along with a lot of headaches.

Greenberg's candid answers suggest that her volunteer work was not just the result of a desire to help but that it gave her a challenging occupation, status and enormous satisfaction – everything that people look for in a career except for the financial reward. It is fair to assume that no paid job that was available to women at the time would have endowed her with these benefits. After all, she did have a profession and a job before she got married – a high school history teacher – and she could have continued to be a teacher. Clearly, her career at Hadassah gave her a lot more satisfaction than her former teaching job.

An interview with Don Freeman further exposes Greenberg's background, beliefs, and attitude toward Zionism and the state of Israel. She told Freeman that she joined the Hadassah movement in 1922, just ten years after the organization was founded. There was a tremendous impulse to settle Jews from Europe in Palestine, but not any thought of establishing a state. In America, the Zionists were "a lunatic fringe. “This characterized the movement until the rise of Hitler, at which time Palestine became the only refuge for German Jews and then naturally the Jews of Europe. Wealthy Jews of German descent in America awoke from their state of indifference and supported the movement. Their donations were handled by the Hadassah organization. And Greenberg was highly involved in obtaining these donations.

Youth Aliyah managed to include dignitaries on its board of directors, like the First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, who was a member of the board for years and was even nominated Advisory Head of the fourth Aliyah Committee, as evident in a newspaper clipping from March 1, 1940.[28] Mrs. Roosevelt continued to support Youth Aliyah for many years and in the 1950s after Franklin Roosevelt’s death, she made three trips to Israel. Other dignitaries, such as Eddie Cantor, the famous comedian and actor, and the wives of wealthy financial and political figures (Mrs. Herbert H. Lehman, Mrs. Felix M. Warburg and Mrs. Roger W. Straus) supported Youth Aliyah in raising funds and were given the title of "Honorary chairmen."[29]

Youth Aliyah's mission was greatly respected and admired by dignitaries and governments alike. Greenberg says in a Hadassah press release: "The Youth Aliyah movement is considered by the English government the most brilliant success achieved through Zionism in Palestine. An officer of the British administration in Palestine has said that what has been done with these young people is unprecedented." (28 January 1938)[30]

On January 9, 1939, Greenberg wrote a letter addressed to "Mrs. Franklin D. Roosevelt at the White House" in which she explained the activities of Youth Aliyah and complained that the British government "has barred 10,000 young boys and girls, between 13 and 15, from Palestine where they were offered adoption and permanent residence." She asked for the First Lady's help. Copies of the letter were sent to several newspapers.[31]

In the same way, the guest of honor, Viscountess Halifax, wife of the British Ambassador to the USA, who represented the British government, was invited to an event, which advocated a program opposed by her government. During this event on March 31, 1941, the annual reception by the National Youth Aliyah took place at the residence of Governor and Mrs. Herbert H. Lehman in New York City. The speaker was Mrs. David B. Greenberg, National Youth Aliyah Chairman of Hadassah, who reported “on the war-time rescue of Jewish refugee children who have been moved along the fringe of Europe's battle front to Palestine since the outbreak of the conflict."[32]

Another dignitary who was recruited to help Youth Aliyah was Chaim Weitzman. In Greenberg's letter to[33] his London address dated 19 June 1947, she wrote in her capacity as Chair of the Hadassah National Convention, and expressed her happiness at his willingness to be the speaker on the Friday banquet of the Hadassah Convention. In this letter she suggested that Dr. Weitzman speak about "Fifty Years of Zionism". Yet, she added that as a participant at the Zionist Congress in Basel, she heard him reminisce about earlier Congresses, regarding the use of the Hebrew language, the Uganda controversy (the idea that Uganda could substitute for Palestine as an alternative homeland for Jews), and the reactions toward Herzl. In her letter, she asked him to share some of these experiences and reflections with the members of Hadassah. 

The dignitaries who came to celebrate Youth Aliyah's Semi-Jubilee in 1959 in Israel included Eleanor Roosevelt, Queen Elizabeth of the Belgians, the Earl of Balfour (who had contributed his Scotland Estate for the schooling of refugee children from Nazi-ruled European countries), and representatives of thirteen countries from the Executive of the International Union of Child Welfare. The involvement of these dignitaries, as well as others, such as the actor Eddie Cantor who raised over one million dollars for Youth Aliyah, and Chaim Weitzman as a speaker in a convention, were the result of hard labor on the part of Youth Aliyah's leaders, including Greenberg.

Marian Greenberg’s Love for Israel

Greenberg visited Israel many times. The first time was in 1930, when it was still the British-mandated Palestine, a malaria-infested place. Then in 1949, shortly after the state was established, she and her husband spent five months in Israel. In the interview with Freeman, she says that visiting Haifa and watching a ship full of refugees from Cyprus stare at the shore from cages where they were being held was heartbreaking. Observing them arrive safely after they had been detained by the British, and being welcomed in Israel was one of the greatest joys of her life. At another important event, she served as chair of the opening ceremony for the Medical School of the Hebrew University on Mount Scopus, which was cut off from the rest of the city since the cease-fire agreements of 1949. The ceremony took place on May 19, 1949 and every government official from Prime Minister David Ben Gurion to US Ambassador to Israel James McDonald was there. They all had to arrive by a circuitous route because Jerusalem was divided. Furthermore, the municipal garden where the ceremony was held had to be cleared of road mines.

Greenberg's love and concern for Israel is demonstrated in her statement that despite the fact that she was very active in the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s and very concerned about American politics, the first thing she looked for in the daily news was news about Israel. Jewish survival with dignity was to her the breath of life.

She sponsored lecturers, speakers, and guests who came to speak to the JCA (Jewish Community of Amherst). In the interview with Freeman, she said that she tried to counteract the very same critical attitudes in academia. She was repulsed by the fact that if Israel slipped one inch, it was magnified to one yard, as she put it, whereas Arabs or Muslims slaying their own brothers (Iran-Iraq War; Lebanon's civil war) by the millions was ignored. She pointed out the hypocrisy of the world in its attitude towards Israel compared to the Muslims and claimed that Israel's bombing of the atomic reactor in Iraq (in 1981) was a service to humanity and should not be denounced. It was not the Arab terrorists who were criticized, but Israel's response to those terrorists. There has never been a committee in any one of the twenty-one Arab countries, which investigated malfeasance in office or public affairs. This biased reportage, she said, is very painful and does not reflect what the Jewish community or Congress think.

Later on, she was very concerned that everyone was trying to appease the Arab countries while blaming Israel for all the ills of the Middle East -- "I still feel such indignation and such horror that the world denies Israel's right to exist. Should the Jewish people be the one that has been denied statehood, denied independence, denied the right of representation?" she asked in the interview. "We become the victims of our own openness and integrity," she concluded in the interview with Freeman, reiterating her dissatisfaction with the unjust treatment of Israel in the world-arena.

Marian Greenberg and Henrietta Szold  - A Re-examination 

As previously stated, Hadassah’s archives reveal details about the everyday and routine work of the organization. They contain hundreds of letters written by Marian Greenberg. Some are co-authored with the president and vice-chairman of Youth Aliyah. The letters are addressed to members of Youth Aliyah, concerning the needs for raising money, and organizing conventions and annual meetings. Some letters invite dignitaries to annual meetings. Some are thank-you notes to dignitaries who have delivered speeches, contributed money, etc. Other documents deal with preparations of fund raising lunches or dinners, which required incredible efforts. In addition to this vast correspondence, Greenberg often gave speeches in those meetings and luncheons, and prepared material about Youth Aliyah to be published in newspapers and in the Hadassah bulletins. These papers also document her involvement in the actual rescue missions of youth from Nazi-occupied territories, their transfer to neutral countries, their training, and eventually their arrival to Palestine. Henrietta Szold found suitable dwellings for the youth in Palestine and funded their stay there for two years with the money raised by the movement in the USA. Records of money transfers from Greenberg in the USA to Henrietta Szold in Palestine can also be found in the Hadassah archives.

In her extensive correspondence with Szold, Greenberg demonstrates complete compliance. Her absolute devotion to Henrietta Szold can be seen not only in extolling the latter's role in the creation and sustenance of Youth Aliyah and her own self-effacement in her books, but also in taking Szold's side in the controversy between Szold and Recha Freier about the origin of Youth Aliyah. On February 24, 1983 Greenberg wrote to The Jerusalem Post’s editor that [the article previously published by the newspaper]

reflects Freier's unworthy effort to relegate Miss Szold to the status of clerk, a mere functionary who 'counted out certificates, balanced budgets and relations with the British.' What a travesty of justice to the woman who for its first decade stood at the helm. Her unique gifts as educator, administrator, social worker and humanitarian made Youth Aliyah an unparallel [sic] instrument for rescue and rehabilitation.[34]

Greenberg's attitude to Freier is repeated in the Interview with Don Freeman, in which she says: "Freier was most innovative and creative but not an organizer."

The controversy regarding the relative contributions of Recha Freier to Hadassah, which has been going on until today,[35] is noted in other sources and is also echoed in Brian Amkraut's doctoral dissertation[36] and book[37] about Youth Aliyah. In both works, Henrietta Szold's name appears several times, but Greenberg's name appears only once, with a spelling error (Marion), and without acknowledging her role as Youth Aliyah's Chairman! In Amkraut's book (2006: 139) the author writes, "The following excerpt is taken from a letter dated September 1939 from Hadassah's Marion [sic] Greenberg to Michaelis-Stern," Youth Aliyah activist in Germany at the time.

Why has Amkraut, who wrote his Ph.D. on the same subject, ignored Greenberg's contribution? Amkraut belittles Hadassah's role in the early years of Youth Aliyah. He claims that Hadassah’s contribution can be reduced to fundraising, while the German office of Youth Aliyah did all the rest. This view ignores the essential role funds played in the rescue operations, which involved procuring certificates from the British government, paying the Nazis large sums for each "head" and finding kibbutzim that agreed to take in the refugees. These monetary and financial tasks were divided between Hadassah in the USA and Henrietta Szold in Palestine. It is not hard to imagine the fate of Youth Aliyah if the German office was unaided by Hadassah. Nevertheless, it seems that Hadassah's role in those first years is largely disregarded due to internal politics.

Marian Greenberg's letter to Henrietta Szold on December 5, 1935 reveals the existence of internal politics between Hadassah, Mr. Lipsky and Mr. Rothenberg from the Central Bureau for the Settlement of German Jews. These two representatives seemed to have a problem with women’s organization controlling and collecting funds for Youth Aliyah. As Greenberg wrote: "We do not believe that appeals can be divided on sex lines by reason of the fact that the same scramble for funds and the same competitive use of propaganda would result from the adoption of such a plan as would have been the case before."[38]

There are letters of correspondence between Greenberg (as chair) and Miss Eva Stern (from the German office) showing cooperation but also disagreements. Greenberg emphasizes the fact that Hadassah signed an agreement with officials from the Central Bureau for Settlement of German Jews. This agreement established Hadassah as the agency for Youth Aliyah in America and the sole recipient of material and communications on that subject from Stern.[39]

A letter from Greenberg to Szold from February 13, 1935 mentions problems with United Palestine Appeal: "I question whether the whole question is as ‘settled’ as the agreement, signed and sealed, gives us to believe. We have caught rumblings from the provinces which indicate that United Palestine Appeal officials have given it less than lip service."[40]

There were also disputes over prestige between Hadassah (and Youth Aliyah), and Recha Freier, the founder of Youth Aliyah, and between Hadassah and the Bureau for Settlement of German Jews. There have been other control issues between Hadassah and other organizations (The Federation of American Zionists and the Zionist World Congress) whose members, mostly male, thought that an organization run solely by women did not have the right to exist.[41]


Like many of her contemporaries, Greenberg had a profound feeling of admiration for Szold. If Greenberg's attitude to Szold is representative of other members of Hadassah, then those members have also extolled Szold and have asked for no recognition for their lifelong contribution. The only woman who stood up to Szold was the non-American, non-Hadassah member, Recha Freier, who demanded the recognition she deserved. It may well be that the answer to the question why Greenberg downplayed her own actions and solely credited Szold in her books is that this was the general attitude or norm among the Hadassah members.


However, there could have been another explanation. Generally, married women did not take credit for their achievements and tended to ascribe them to their husbands. Henrietta Szold was an exception because she was not married. This could be the reason she was treated like a man. Furthermore, married women at that time were always named after their husbands. Their first names were hardly ever printed in official documents. Instead, women were referred to by their husband’s name. Thus Marian Greenberg's name appeared as "Mrs. David B. Greenberg, "just as the wealthy sponsors of Youth Aliyah appeared as Mrs. Felix M. Warburg, Mrs. Roger W. Straus, and Mrs. Herbert H. Lehman. Other names that appeared in letters from the 1940s in the Hadassah archives are Mrs. Louis D. Brandeis (who was a member of Youth Aliyah committee) and Mrs. David de Sola Pool, national president of Youth Aliyah.[42] Calling women by their husbands' names and omitting their first names is a form of Sexism. Married women were expected to live in the shadow of their husbands, and did not receive credit for their contribution to society. Marian Greenberg was no exception. And the credit for her work, just like the contribution of her colleagues, willingly went to Henrietta Szold.[43]

On March 1, 1987, at the seventy-fifth anniversary celebration of Hadassah in Boston, Greenberg was due to receive the Hadassah Woman of Distinction Award, but one week earlier, on February 24, she died at the ripe age of eighty nine.[44]

[1]This research was conducted while the author was a visiting scholar at New York University, The Judaic and Hebrew Studies Department, The Goldstein-Goren Institute for American Jewish History, in the Fall Semester 2009.

[2] I want to thank the Center for Jewish History, New York City, where I found material in the Hadassah Archives and in Leo Baeck Institute, and particularly Susan Woodland, Hadassah Archivist, who was very helpful. I also want to thank Prof. Bat Ami Zucker from Bar Ilan University, for her immense help and support, and Prof. Hasia Diner from New York University, for accepting me into the visiting scholar program at NYU. I am also indebted to Jon Greenberg and Ellen Freilich for their help. Above all, thanks to my husband who gave up my companionship for over two months.

[3]The information about Hadassah and Youth Aliyah was taken from various online sources and encyclopedias.

[4]Based on oral and written information supplied to the author by Marian Greenberg's son, Jon Greenberg, July-September 2009.

[5]Email from Jon Greenberg to the author, 30 June, 2009

[6]Marian Greenberg, "From Reform to Reconstructionism", October 1972 (unpublished document). 

[7] Story told to the author by Ellen Freilich, Marian Greenberg's granddaughter.

[8] Story told to the author by Jon, Marian Greenberg's son.

[9]Marian Greenberg, "From Reform to Reconstructionism".

[10]Recorded interview of Marian Greenberg with Don Freeman, Amherst Radio, May 1984. Amherst, Massachusetts is the town where Marian Greenberg lived after her retirement from Hadassah in 1976.

[11] Marian Greenberg, "From Reform to Reconstructionism".

[12] This picture was taken in 1960 at their home in Hopewell Junction, New York by Hazel Greenwald, a professional photographer and family friend, who was the official photographer of Hadassah for many years.

Courtesy of Jonathan B. Greenberg.

[13] Marian Greenberg, "From Reform to Reconstructionism."

[14]Two examples of their books are: The Shopping Guide to Europe, New York: Harper & Brothers, 1954, and The Shopping Guide to Mexico, Guatemala and the Caribbean, New York, Trade Winds Press, 1955.

[15] Both published by Hadassah in 1960.

[16] Published by Hadassah in 1986.

[17]Hadassah Archives, Box 10A, Folder: "1937-1938".

[18] Ibid.

[19] Hadassah Archives, Box 7, Folder 33.

[20] Hadassah Archives, Box 10A, Folder 1939.

[21] Ibid.

[22]Hadassah Archives,  Box 12, Folder: "1940-1959".

[23] Hadassah Archives, Box 12, Folder 60.

[24]Hadassah archives, Box 5, Folder: "Material Board".

[25] Hadassah Archives, Box 5, Folder: "Material Board".

[26] New York: Pantheon Books, 1984.

[27] Transcripts from microfilm, Leo Baeck archives, New York, Felix Freilich Family Collection, Call No. AR. Leo-Baeck archives, 187/NIF 764 Reel 2, Box 2, folder 2 Marian Gerber-Interviews, history project-transcript, 1979.

[28]Hadassah Archives, Box 7, Folder 35.

[29]Hadassah Archives, Box 7, Folder 34.

[30]Hadasssah Archives, Box 7, Folder 33.

[31] Ibid. It seems ironic that the First Lady was so involved with Youth Aliyah while President Roosevelt did very little to save Jews from the Holocaust.


[33]Hadassah Archives, Box 5, Folder: "National Board Materials".

[34]Hadassah Archives, Box 5, Folder: "Material Board". 

[35] See an article by Sara and Prof. Avraham (Rami) Ben-Reuven, who accused Henrietta Szold of taking all the credit for Youth Aliyah without properly acknowledging the role of its founder, Recha Freier: Maariv Newspaper in Israel, November 4, 2009.

[36] Brian Amkraut, Let Our Children Go: Youth Aliyah in Germany, 1932-1939, Ph.D. Dissertation, New York University, 2000. 

[37]Brian Amkraut, Between Home and Homeland: Youth Aliyah from Nazi Germany, University of Alabama Press, Tuscaloosa, 2006.

[38]Hadassah Archives, Box 10A, Folder: "1934-1936."



[41] Other types of political conflicts were among members of Hadassah, such as Greenberg herself, who wanted to become president of the organization after Szold's death. But she was not elected as such for a variety of reasons.

[42]Hadassah Archives, Box 8, Folder 40.

[43] One more possible reason for not asking credit for her deeds has to do with the ethical norm among rescuers at that time. Many people who did extraordinary things during the Holocaust, such as Sir Nicholas Winton, who brought Czech Jewish children to England on the Kindertransport, and Irena Sender, who rescued children from the Warsaw ghetto, did not seek out credit. It may well be the case with Greenberg. Greenberg’s granddaughter, Louise Freilich, suggested this plausible explanation to me.

[44] The Morning Union, Wednesday, February 25, 1987.




Women in Judaism: A Multidisciplinary Journal Spring 2010 Volume 7 Number 1

ISSN 1209-9392

© 2010 Women in Judaism, Inc.


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