Alfred (Alf) Szwarcbaum a one-man rescue organization
The core of Massuah’s collection of letters is the Szwarcbaum collection with its thousands of items. Alfred Szwarcbaum established a one-man aid and rescue organization during World War II in his home in Lausanne, Switzerland, sending thousands of food and clothing parcels and morale-boosting letters to Polish Jews whom he knew and whom he did not. After the war, he collected some 6,000 letters that he had received in 1940–1946, brought them to Israel, and deposited most of them with the Massuah archives.
Szwarcbaum had been a prodigious and wealthy merchant in Będzin, Poland. Defying all odds, he managed to leave with his wife and his two daughters in April 1940 and settled in Lausanne, Switzerland, where he became a one-man relief organization. He navigated among various players, coordinated their actions, and induced them to cooperate. His feats included the raising of financial aid from various sources and the issue of loans to refugees from his personal funds. He sent hundreds of parcels to various destinations in the Nazi-occupied territories, an enterprise that required interaction with many suppliers, mostly in Lisbon. He visited refugee camps and children’s homes and maintained correspondence with large numbers of people in diverse places. The rumor that someone willing to help was living in Switzerland spread far and wide, prompting hundreds of people to apply to him for material aid, news about relatives, or just an encouraging word. He turned his home into an office and a warehouse for the food and clothing that he sent out in the parcels. Tusia Herzberg of Będzin, an activist in the Hanoar Hazioni underground, recounted Szwarcbaum’s feats in her book, The Laughing Sand: “Everyone wrote letters, sent photographs to Alf, everyone knew that Alf would help, would strive, would pass the word on. Every letter from Alf carried the fragrance of the free world.”