Recha Freier (Hebrew: רחה פריאר) born Recha Schweitzer,
(October 29, 1892 in Norden,
East Frisia – April 2, 1984 in
Jerusalem) founded the
Youth Aliyah organization in 1933. The
organization saved the lives of 7,000 Jewish children by helping them
Nazi Germany for
Mandatory Palestine before and during the
Recha Freier was also a poet, musician, teacher and social
1 Early life
2 Family life and career
Youth Aliyah activities
4 Music and opera
5 Late recognition
7 Awards and commemoration
8 Published works (selection)
9 See also
11 External links
Recha Schweitzer was born into a Jewish Orthodox family. Her parents
were Bertha (née Levy, 1862–1945 in Theresienstadt), a French and
English teacher, and Menashe Schweitzer (1856–1929), who taught
several subjects at a Jewish primary school. She grew up in a
music-loving family and learned to play the piano.
Already as a child Recha Schweitzer was confronted with antisemitism:
a notice in Norden's city park stated that "Dogs and Jews are
forbidden." In 1897 her family moved to Silesia, where she received
home-schooling for a while before attending the lycée in Glogau,
where she was mocked by her classmates because she wouldn't write on
the Sabbath. Her reaction to the humiliation inflicted upon her had
a lifelong impact on her and made her to become a full-hearted
Recha Schweitzer completed her gymnasial studies in Breslau, passed
the exams for teachers of religion, and studied as a graduate student
Breslau and Munich.
Family life and career
In 1919 she married Rabbi Dr. Moritz "Moshe" Freier (1889–1969),
with whom she moved to Eschwege, Sofia, and finally in 1925 to Berlin,
where her husband worked as a rabbi. Their sons Shalhevet, Ammud and
Zerem were born in 1920, 1923 and 1926 respectively, and their
daughter Ma'ayan in 1929. During this time, additionally to her family
Recha Freier worked as a teacher at a German high school
in Sofia, and as a writer and folklorist.
Youth Aliyah activities
In 1932, one year before the Nazi seizure of power,
Recha Freier was
asked by her husband to assist five Jewish teenage boys who were
denied professional training and employment due to their Jewish
background. After turning first to the Jewish Employment Agency,
who could only counsel patience, she conceived the idea that the boys
instead could be sent to Palestine, where they could be trained as
farmers in the Jewish workers' settlements. By the end of the 1932,
the first group of youth left
Berlin with the help of funds raised by
Freier. This proved to be the beginning of the Youth Aliyah. "The
utter senselessness of Jewish life in the Diaspora stood palpably
before my eyes," she wrote. After that she strove incessantly to save
the Jewish youth of Germany.
The difficulties which
Recha Freier faced were immense. Jewish
organizations and parents were skeptical about the plan to send
children alone to a distant country. In January 1933, Recha Freier
Berlin the Committee for the Assistance of Jewish Youth or
Youth Aliyah (Hilfskomitee für Jüdische Jugend), which was
recognized by the World Zionist Congress but which at that stage
received no financial support.
Recha Freier contacted the labor
movement in Palestine, as well as Henrietta Szold, the founder of
Hadassah who had at her disposal the support, financial and otherwise,
of American Jewry. Freier asked Szold to take charge of the teenagers
after their arrival in Palestine. Szold initially opposed the plan,
finding it unfeasible, but eventually accepted the role offered to
her by Freier and thus become the director of Youth Aliyah's Jerusalem
Recha Freier worked alongside people such as Aaron Menschel,
director of the Vienna
Youth Aliyah office, in an endeavor to save
Austrian Jews. In this year too, largely coinciding with the
Kristallnacht pogrom, Jews in Germany of Polish Nationality, were
arrested and sent to concentration camps. Freier endeavored to obtain
the release of these Jews from the concentration camps. This became
possible by making use of permits issued by the Nazi authorities and
given to the Jewish representative body— the Reich Association of
Jews in Germany for distribution to such Jews as could undertake to
leave Germany within two weeks of receiving the permit. Freier took
100 such permits, without permission and filled in the names of Jewish
concentration camp prisoners. These prisoners were released and
ultimately reached Palestine. When it became known that Freier had
taken the permits without the knowledge of the officers of the Reich
Association of Jews in Germany, Freier was informed that she was not
allowed to take any more permits, and was ousted from the Zionist
leadership in Berlin, including her position as the director of the
Youth Aliyah offices.
Freier remained in
Nazi Germany until the middle of 1940 and then
crossed the border into Yugoslavia illegally with the help of
professional smugglers. Even after entering Yugoslavia she continued
her activities and managed to save 150 Youths whose parents had
already perished in concentration camps. After a sojourn of several
months in Yugoslavia she continued to Palestine in 1941.
When Freier arrived in Jerusalem, Szold told Freier that there was no
room for her in the running of the
Youth Aliyah in Palestine. Thus
Freier withdrew from her formal role within the Youth Aliyah. In 1943
Freier established the Agricultural Training Center for Israeli
children whose aim it was to provide a proper education for children
from impoverished families, children living in inferior social
conditions. This she did by arranging for these children to be brought
up in a Kibbutz, in workers’ settlements or in family units set up
for this purpose.
Henrietta Szold is often wrongly assumed as the founder of the Youth
Aliyah. It was only after Henrietta Szold’s death in 1945, when
Moshe Kol was at the head of the
Youth Aliyah organization
(1947-1966), that Freier’s achievements in establishing the
organization and in saving thousands of German Jewish Youth was
recognized. This came about after Freier brought a lawsuit against
Kol, alleging that her role in establishing the
Youth Aliyah movement
and in saving the lives of thousands of Jewish Youth from Europe, was
being purposely ignored.
Youth Aliyah saved 7000 Youths, who made Aliya to Palestine
and were absorbed in worker’s settlements.
Music and opera
In 1958, Freier established the Israel Composer's Fund, and in 1966
she founded, together with the composer Roman Haubenstock-Ramati, the
Festival "Testimonium" ("Witness"), designed to support the setting to
music the stories of central events in the life of the Jewish people.
For this purpose she managed to engage the help of notable composers,
both Jewish and non-Jewish, such as Ben-Zion Orgad, Mauricio Kagel,
Karlheinz Stockhausen, Iannis Xenakis,
Lukas Foss and others. She
also wrote a number of libretti for Israeli composers. These included
Mark Kopytman (Chamber Scenes from the Life of Süsskind von Trimberg,
written for the "Testimonium" series, 1982),
Josef Tal (
Tamar, 1958, based on the Book of Samuel), and Yitzchak Sadai (Trail
Recha Freier, through her activities in the Youth Aliyah, saved over
7,000 young Jews who immigrated to Palestine and were absorbed into
the Yishuv. Recognition first came in 1975, when the 83-years-old
received an honorary doctorate from the
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
for her initial idea of "organized transport of youth into kibbutzim",
and in 1981 she received the
Israel Prize for her life’s work, her
outstanding contribution to the people and State of Israel, in the
field of Social Welfare, Community and Youth. .
Recha Freier died in 1984 in Jerusalem.
Awards and commemoration
1975, an honorary doctorate from the
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
for the idea of "organized transport of youth into kibbutzim"
Israel Prize for special contribution to society and the
State of Israel.
1984 (in November, posthumously), commemorative plaque affixed by the
City Council of
Berlin-Charlottenburg at the Jewish Community Center
in honour of "Recha Freier, the Founder of Youth Aliya".
Recha Freier Educational Center at
Yakum near Tel
Aviv is founded in her honour.
Kikar Recha Freier, a square in Jerusalem's
Katamon neighborhood, is
named after her.
Published works (selection)
Arbeiterinnen erzählen (lit.: Stories told by female workers),
Auf der Treppe (lit.: On the staircase), Hamburg, 1976
Fensterläden (lit.: Window shutters), Hamburg, 1979
Let the Children Come: The Early History of Youth Aliyah, London,
Testimonium, compilation of texts for the music events: I Jerusalem
(1968); II The Middle Ages (1971); III De Profundis (1974); IV Lucem
cum Fulgeret (If ever I saw the light shining, Job 31:26) (1976); V
Trial 19 (Spanish Inquisition) (1979); VI From the Revealed and From
the Hidden (1983).
Libretto for Chamber Scenes from the Life of
Süsskind von Trimberg
Süsskind von Trimberg by
Mark Kopytman, chamber opera, 1982
Israel Prize recipients
^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w Gudrun Maierhof
(2009). "Recha Freier". Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical
Encyclopedia. Jewish Women's Archive. Retrieved 7 December 2015.
^ "Freier, Recha (1892–1984)", Women in World History: A
Biographical Encyclopedia , accessed 30 June 2017).
^ Hirschberg (2017), pp. 326-329.
Israel Prize Official Site - Recipients in 1981 (in Hebrew)".
Hirschberg, Jehoash (2017). "New Operas in the
Yishuv and in Israel",
in Judaism in Opera, ed. I. Schmid-Reiter and A. Cahn, Regensburg: Con
Brio Verlag, pp. 311-336. ISBN 9783940768681
The personal papers of
Recha Freier are kept at the Central Zionist
Archives in Jerusalem. The notation of the record group is A256.
Biography on Berlin-Judentum website -
ISNI: 0000 0001 2005 7563
BNF: cb11457469s (da