Recha Freier: The Mother of Youth Aliyah
The Fellowship | July 31, 2020
Born in 1892, Recha Schweitzer grew up in a German Orthodox Jewish family that loved learning. Both of her parents taught. The Schweitzers also loved music, with Recha playing the piano.
Early Life Lessons
But Recha encountered anti-Semitism at an early age, as well. A notice in her city’s park read: “Dogs and Jews are forbidden.”
Recha’s classmates also mocked her when she wouldn’t write on the Sabbath. These incidents turned the young girl into a Zionist. She knew her people – God’s people – must return to the rightful homeland He gave them.
Helping Jewish Young People
Recha married Rabbi Moshe Freier, and together they raised three sons in Germany. While raising her family, Recha also taught and worked as a writer.
One day in 1932, her husband asked her to help five Jewish youth. These young men couldn’t find work or schooling in Germany because of their faith. So Recha devised a plan for the boys to make aliyah (immigrate to the Holy Land) and work as farmers there.
As the Nazis threatened all of Europe’s Jews, this strong Jewish woman vowed to help Jewish young people escape their fate. “The utter senselessness of Jewish life in the Diaspora stood palpably before my eyes.”
As Recha worked to help young Jews immigrate to then British-mandate Palestine, she faced many hurdles. Many parents felt uncomfortable sending their children alone to a foreign land. And Recha found little funding to help with her plan.
But Recha persevered. She saved Austrian Jews threatened by the invading Nazis. And she saved German Jews as Kristallnacht and the concentration camps loomed. At one point, Recha swiped 100 permits issued by the Nazis and used them to free camp prisoners awaiting death, sending them to the Holy Land. Because of this, she was ousted from Berlin’s Zionist leadership.
But Recha persevered. When the Nazis threatened in 1940, she sneaked across the border into Yugoslavia. There, she saved children whose parents had been murdered in the camps.
In the Holy Land, At Last
Recha, herself, made aliyah in 1941. In the Holy Land, she found many new Israeli children living in poverty. To combat this, she founded the Agricultural Training Center, which found homes with families or on kibbutzes for these precious children of God.
By this time, Recha’s work had saved 7,000 Jewish children – new Israelis all of them. She received an honorary doctorate from Hebrew University in 1975, as well as the Israel Prize (being awarded to her by Prime Minister Menachem Begin, above) in 1981. Beloved by the Jewish state and its people – thousands of whom lived because of her – Recha Freier passed away in its Holy City of Jerusalem in 1984.