Recha Sternbuch

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Recha Sternbuch
Born Recha Rottenberg
Died 1971
Nationality Swiss
Spouse(s) Yitzchak Sternbuch
Parent(s) Markus Rottenberg (fr) and Sara Hendel Friedman
Family Chaim Yaakov Rottenberg (fr) (brother)

Recha Sternbuch (née Rottenberg; 1905–1971), a Swiss woman of Polish heritage, an important Holocaust era Jewish rescuer.

Recha Sternbuch was the wife of Yitzchak Sternbuch, a businessman in Montreux, Switzerland. Although she was an Orthodox woman, had children and was pregnant she spent nights in the forest by the Austrian border to smuggle refugees while trying to evade Swiss border guards who had orders to turn back anyone over sixteen and under sixty. She worked with a Swiss police captain, Paul Grüninger, who in 1938 helped her smuggle over 800 refugees into Switzerland. A Jewish leader in Switzerland informed on them.[1] Recha Sternbuch was arrested and jailed and she lost her child. Grüninger lost his job and pension for his help to Jews and was later helped by the Sternbuchs.

After her release from prison Recha Sternbuch continued her activism largely alone and arranged rescue of over 2,000 Jews. At great risk she smuggled forged Swiss visas to many Jews across the German and Austrian borders. Later she obtained Chinese entry visas which enabled their holders to traverse Switzerland and Italy to ports from where they could be smuggled into Palestine.

On the day of her son's Bar-Mitzvah she was informed that some Jews are in danger in Vichy France. Instead of going to the synagogue she took a train to France on Shabbath and rescued the Jews in danger.[2] Although travel on Shabbath is forbidden in Judaism Pikuach Nefesh (Hebrew: פיקוח נפש) describes the principle in Jewish law that the preservation of human life overrides virtually any other religious consideration and almost any mitzvah lo ta'aseh (command to not do an action) of the Torah becomes inapplicable.

She had access to the Polish diplomatic pouch and was able to send coded cables to her contacts in Va’ad Hatzalah (Rescue Committee) in the United States and Turkey. One important use of this channel was the Sternbuchs alerting the New York Va’ad Hatzalah on 2 September 1942 to the horrors of the Holocaust and reinforced the 8 August 1942 Gerhardt Riegner cable. It was sent to alert American Jewry to the reality of the Holocaust and led to a meeting of 34 Jewish organizations. The Polish diplomatic pouch was also used to send secret messages, money to Jews in Nazi occupied Europe and as bribes for rescue. Recha Sternbuch also developed good connections with the Papal Nuncio to Switzerland, Monsignor Phillippe Bernadini, dean of the Swiss diplomatic community. He gave her access to Vatican couriers for sending money and messages to Jewish and resistance organizations in Nazi occupied Europe. Recha Sternbuch was among the first to obtain South American identity papers and distribute them to Jews whose life was endangered by the Nazis.

In September 1944 she made contact with Jean Marie Musy, former Swiss president and a friend of Himmler. At Recha Sternbuch’s request Musy, with help from his son Benoît Musy, negotiated with Himmler, who was willing to release Jews then in concentration camps for ransom of one million dollars. On 7 February 1945 Musy delivered the first 1,210 inmates from Theresienstadt and more were promised at two week intervals. Unfortunately this initiative too was apparently obstructed by a Jewish leader in Switzerland.[1]

The Sternbuchs kept negotiating through Musy to the end of the war. There was an agreement to turn over four concentration camps essentially intact to the Allies in return for a USA guarantee to try the camp guards in court as opposed to shooting them on the spot. This saved the lives of large numbers of camp inmates. The Sternbuchs also negotiated release of thousands of women from the Ravensbrück camp and release of 15,000 Jews held in Austria.

Some References[edit]

  • Kranzler, David (1991). "Three who tried to stop the Holocaust". Judaica Book News. 18 (1): 14–16, 70–76.  On Rabbi Michael-Ber Weissmandl, Recha Sternbuch and George Mandel-Mantello
  • Kranzler, David and Friedson, Joseph, Heroine of Rescue: The Incredible Story of Recha Sternbuch Who Saved Thousands from the Holocaust, Artscroll History Series, Mesorah Publications Ltd, ISBN 978-0-89906-460-4
  • Moriah Films, Unlikely Heroes, documentary, includes chapter on Recha Sternbuch (USA)
  • The remarkable Recha and Yitzchak Sternbuch: they fought from Switzerland to save Jews in World War II [1]


  1. ^ a b David Kranzler, Three who tried to stop the Holocaust
  2. ^ Moriah Films, Unlikely Heroes. Documentary includes chapter on Recha Sternbuch

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