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Recha Freier

(1892 - 1984)

Recha Freier (Hebrew: רחה פריאר) the founder of Youth Aliyah was born on October 29, 1892, in Norden, Germany.

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. She completed her studies in Breslau, passed the exams for teachers of religion, and studied philology as a graduate student in Breslau and Munich.

In 1919, she married Rabbi Dr. Moritz “Moshe” Freier (1889–1969). The couple moved to Eschwege, Sofia before settling in Berlin in 1925 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, Recha worked as a teacher at a German high school in Sofia, and as a writer and folklorist.

In 1932, one year before the Nazi seizure of power, Recha 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, an organization that aimed to resettle and provide agricultural training of young people in Palestine.

Jewish organizations and parents were initially skeptical about the plan to send children alone to a distant country. After Hitler’s rise to power, however, the idea was endorsed by the Zionist Congress of 1933, and the movement became a large-scale operation. Freier asked Henrietta Szold to take charge of the teenagers after their arrival in Palestine. Szold initially opposed the plan, finding it unfeasible, but changed her mind and became the director of Youth Aliyah’s Jerusalem office.

In 1938, Jews in Germany of Polish Nationality, were arrested and sent to concentration camps. The Nazi authorities gave the Reich Association of Jews in Germany permits for distribution to Jews willing to leave Germany within two weeks of receiving the permit. Freier took 100 of these 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 Association, Freier was informed she could not 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. There 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.

Freier helped save the lives of 7,000 Jewish children by helping them to leave Nazi Germany for Mandatory Palestine before and during the Holocaust.

After settling in Palestine in 1941, she founded the Agricultural Training Center for Israel Children for the education of underprivileged children in kibbutz boarding schools. She founded the Israel Composers’ Fund in 1958 to foster original musical compositions and, in 1966, established the Testimonium Scheme, a project aimed at recording major episodes in Jewish history in words and music based on authentic texts.

She wrote the texts for two oratorios, Massadah and Yerushalayim. Her book Let the Children Come: The Early History of Youth Aliyah was published in 1961.

In 1981, she was awarded the Israel Prize. In 2018, an Israeli stamp was issued in her honor.

Freier died in 1984 in Jerusalem.


Tidhar, 6 (1955), 2668–69.

Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved;
“Recha Freier,” Wikipedia.