The Saga of the Mikvah in Brunoy
December 28, 2016
Beis Moshiach in #1050, Chabad History, Jewish Refugee Crisis

The Rashag on leaving Europe: “the immigration should proceed illegally if necessary” * The response: “You can be sure that the JDC is doing everything it can” * Rabbi Gorodetzki: Establishing a Mikvah in Brunoy “is considered as most urgent” * The JDC on Rabbi Gorodetzki: “by the very nature of his persistence, personality, and superior intelligence, he has developed an extreme shrewdness” * Seventh Installment 

In the years immediately following World War II, the JDC was heavily involved in helping the refugees from when they were in the Displaced People (DP) Camps and until they settled permanently in new countries.

To the many Lubavitcher Chassidim who escaped from Russia to Poland, the JDC’s assistance was a life saver, enabling them to survive until reaching a safe haven. The Frierdiker Rebbe’s son-in-law, the Rashag, and Rabbi Binyamin Gorodetsky were in charge of the refugee problem, and they enjoyed a great working relationship with the JDC.

In this seventh installment we will mainly focus on the story of the Mikvah in Brunoy, and how Rabbi Gorodetsky received the necessary funds to build the Mikvah.

These fascinating documents are part of the JDC Archives (which were digitized and uploaded online, thanks to a grant from Dr. Georgette Bennett and Dr. Leonard Polonsky CBE).

Thank You, Illegal Immigration & The Housing Problem

On July 4th, 1947 [Tamuz 16th 5707] the Rashag wrote a letter of thanks to Dr. Joseph Schwartz, the Chairman of the JDC in Europe, and discussed the importance of helping the Lubavitcher Chassidim leave the DP camps and resettle in better locations:

In the name of the Agudas Chasidei Chabad and the United Lubavitcher Yeshivoth of which I am the Chairman of the Executive Committee and in the name of my venerable father-in-law, the Lubavitcher Rabbi, I wish to express my deep appreciation and recognition of the tremendous humanitarian work the Joint is doing under your leadership. I saw this great work personally during my visit to the European continent and especially in the DP camps of Austria and Germany.

Upon my return to the United States I told the representatives of the press of this great work that the Joint is doing under your leadership. I also did the same at a large gathering held in honor of my return. I believe it is a great Mitzvah to publicize the work of the American Joint in Europe so that American Jews should realize and understand the urgency and importance of this work and they should give broadly to its support.

Immediately after my return I paid a visit to the main offices of the Joint in New York City where I described my visit to Europe and the impressions I received during my visits to the various DP camps. Everything must be done to take the Jews out of the camps. Where this can be done legally it should be done so, where not the immigration should proceed illegally if necessary. It is also very important to take the refugees out of France. The leaders of the Joint here agreed to this. I believed this is your opinion too.

Our Jews who are now coming to France must have houses to live in. I am sure that you will try to provide this necessary housing as early as possible. Unfortunately, I heard that some of the help which the Joint has been giving our Yeshivoth in the Camps has recently been stopped. Please investigate this and if it is true I appeal to you to reinstate this help again.


A month later, on August 4th, 1947 [Av 18th 5707], Dr. Schwartz responded to the Rashag, thanking him for the letter, and addressing the other issues at hand (except for the illegal immigration…):

Thank you very much for your letter of July 4th. We appreciate very much the sentiments which you express in your letter, and I was pleased to note that you advised the press of the work the JDC is doing in Europe and what it has been able to accomplish…

In connection with your comment concerning the housing of Jewish refugees who are now coming to France I am sure it is not necessary for me to give you any explanations on this point. You have been here and you know the difficulties involved. You can be sure that the JDC is doing everything it can to provide accommodations for the refugees after their arrival here within the limits of its resources and the possibilities for securing adequate housing accommodations.

The Brunoy Mikvah

After they were able to leave the DP camps, the refugees settled in France, in various locations, among them in a beautiful castle in Brunoy. Many Lubavitcher families lived in Brunoy alongside the Yeshiva Tomchei Tmimim Lubavitch which also operated from the same property.

The following letter, written by Rabbi Binyamin Gorodetsky to Dr. Joseph Schwartz, the Chairman of the JDC in Europe, discusses the urgent need for a Mikvah in Brunoy (August 19th 1948 [Av 14th 5708]):

I have the honor to refer to the conversation I had with you in the month of July concerning the questions of Mikwehs. I would like to emphasize that this question is of high importance and I would be thankful if you would reply to it quickly and in the affirmative.

I attach a special importance to the establishment of the Mikweh at Brunoy. Its establishment is considered as most urgent…

A few days later, on August 23rd, 1948 [Av 18th 5708] Dr. Schwartz responded, referencing the contribution that Dr. Shmuel Sar gave towards the Mikvah:

We refer to your letter of August 19th on the subject of the establishment of a Mikvah at Brunoy. I remember our conversation on the subject, and Dean Sar, while he was still here, also spoke to me about it. Dean Sar informed us that he made a grant to you as a contribution toward the building of the Mikvah. As you undoubtedly know, the funds placed at Dean Sar’s disposal originally came from the JDC.

Under the circumstances I do not believe that at this time the JDC is prepared to make any further grants toward this project.

Rabbi Gorodetsky did not give up, and three days later, on August 26th, 1948 [Av 21st 5708] he responded in a long letter, which he concluded with the following request:

… It goes without saying that the sum of 50.000 francs was never a sufficient contribution towards the building of a Mikweh, having particularly regard to the fact that it is not the question of building a Mikweh at Bezons but at Brunoy. The latter House being very far from town but containing a Yeshivah is in absolute need of a Mikweh and a Douche. This need is not only religious but also sanitary as there are 125 children there.

I think 250,000 francs would be enough to erect the Mikweh…

“I Saw Myself Forced To Begin With The Building”

Being that the money wasn’t coming in, Rabbi Gorodetsky decided to take matters into his own hands, and began building the Mikvah without funds, hoping that the JDC will reimburse him later, as stated in a letter dated September 7th, 1948 [Elul 3rd 5708] to Dr. Schwartz:

I hereby beg to inform you that owing to the approaching winter I saw myself compelled to begin with the building of the Mikweh at Brunoy.

Although I had preferred to have received first a reply on my letter sent to you on the 26th of August before I was compelled to begin with the building of the Mikweh, I am confident that owing to our excellent mutual relations based on confidence and mutual respect you will not fail to accord to me the sum necessary for its establishment.

On September 10th 1948 [Elul 6th 5708] Mr. Melvin Goldstein, the secretary of the JDC, responded to Rabbi Gorodetsky, stating that the matter was transferred to Mr. Kahn from the JDC France office:

…We wish to advise you, however, that Dr. Schwartz did speak with us about the Mikweh at Brunoy and that Mr. Auron Kahn of our Office for France will be in touch with you about this.

One week later, on September 17th 1948 [Elul 13th 5708], Rabbi Gorodetsky addressed a letter to Mr. Kahn, stating his intent to build the Mikvah and send the bill later…:

Referring to the telephone conversation I had this week with Mr. Goldstein and acknowledging his letter … I am pleased to be informed that the affair of the Mikweh of Brunoy has been given over to you.

As you certainly know I demanded the sum of 250,000 francs for the building of a Mikweh at Brunoy, the importance and necessity of which I have already explained in an exhaustive correspondence between me and Dr. Schwartz.

Because of the approaching winter, I saw myself forced to begin with the building of the aforementioned Mikweh and I will have the honor to present to you the definite bill for all the works done when the Mikweh will be finished. In the meantime, however, I would be thankful if you would kindly advance me a certain amount for the works already begun.

Hoping you will not fail to comply with my demand which is really urgent and awaiting your kind reply,

Superior Intelligence and Extreme Shrewdness

In a “Highly Confidential” memorandum written by Miss Laura Margolis and addressed to Dr. Joseph Schwartz, she describes the personality and actions of Rabbi Gorodetsky, and how much money he managed to receive for the Mikvah project. This memo was dated September 18th 1948 [Elul 14th 5708], and included a copy of the last letter sent by Rabbi Gorodetzki:

… It would be wise to set down, once and for all, a definite policy as to how and by whom Rabbi Gorodetzki is to be handled.

I think you know, by this time, that we are all fully appreciative of the greatness and the leadership that Gorodetzki has shown, and we are also appreciative of the discipline and high moral qualities of his group. Nevertheless, by the very nature of his persistence, personality, and, permit me to say, superior intelligence, he has developed an extreme shrewdness and ability to handle the persons in JDC with whom he discusses the various matters pertaining to his group.

From the very beginning we have made exception after exception on behalf of Rabbi Gorodetzki… Two recent and successive developments form the basis for this memorandum…

2. Rabbi Gorodetzki approached you for funds for a Mikweh, and you told him you would authorize 250,000 francs… Apparently after Rabbi Gorodetzki left your office, you had reason to change your mind about the amount, for we received a letter from Mr. Goldstein telling us that you were authorizing only 175,000 francs, out of Dean Saar’s special fund. Mr. Seidenman then called Rabbi Gorodetzki into our office and suggested that he present us with an estimate of what a Mikweh would cost… Rabbi Gorodetzki immediately said he could not do it for less than 250,000 francs, but he was nevertheless told that we must have an estimate from an architect before paying out a franc, and he was also told that an estimate of 250,000 francs would not be acceptable.

The next thing we know, we received the attached letter of September 17th. I believe this speaks for itself, but we think it is just plain chutzpah!

… I think the JDC relationship to Rabbi Gorodetzki requires review and firmness, unless you are prepared to authorize an endless budget…


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