2014-07-23 / Voice at the Shore

Exhibit at Sam Azeez Museum highlights life-saving farming school

Jewish teens at Gross-Breeson learned farming skills that helped them escape Nazi Germany. Jewish teens at Gross-Breeson learned farming skills that helped them escape Nazi Germany. The Sam Azeez Museum of Woodbine Heritage, part of The Richard Stockton College of New Jersey, is running a special exhibit depicting the story of Gross-Breeson, an agricultural training farm for Jewish youth established in 1936 on the Germany/Poland border. The farm was set up by German Jews to train Jewish teenagers in farming and other occupations that would help them emigrate and thus escape Nazi tyranny. The farm was instrumental in saving almost 150 German- Jewish students.

By learning agriculture at Gross-Breeson, these students were looked upon as employable when applying for immigration to countries whose borders were open to Jews. The exhibit, entitled “Up Close and Personal,” offers an inside view in the daily lives of the young men and women who were fortunate enough to find themselves in Gross-Breeson. About 100 students attended the school at any given time, and a total of 240 students passed through the school.

On the night of Kristallnacht (Nov. 9, 1938), the Gestapo raided the farm, arrested most of the boys and staff, and took them to nearby Buchenwald. Although they were released from the camp and allowed to return to Gross-Breeson, the students quickly sought to emigrate: 31 went to Australia; others left for what was then Palestine, and Kenya, England and Argentina. Thirty-seven immigrated to the United States to work on a communal farm in Burkeville, VA, established by Jewish businessman William Thalhimer and his cousin, Morton.

Despite the efforts to secure safety for all the students, tragically about half of the teens at Gross-Breeson perished in the Holocaust.

Serving as the Cape May County Teaching Center for the New Jersey Commission on Holocaust and Genocide Education, the Sam Azeez Museum shares a unique link to Gross-Breeson.

In 1891, under the auspices of the German philanthropist Baron Maurice DeHirsch, 40 Russian-Jewish immigrants arrived in the barren forest of Northwest Cape May County to establish an agricultural community in what is now called Woodbine, New Jersey. The largest and most successful of Baron DeHirsch’s colonies, Woodbine became a haven for Jews seeking religious and economic freedom. Woodbine was called “little Jerusalem,” and grew to a population of nearly 2,000 residents, mostly all of whom were Jewish.

The eventual decline of farming led to industrialization and more employment opportunities for immigrants. By the mid-1930s, Woodbine boasted a multi-cultural community of Italians, Ukrainians, African- Americans and Hispanics.

At the same time that Gross- Breeson was preparing German- Jewish youth to emigrate to safety, Woodbine received 25 German-Austrian families who were fleeing the tyranny of the Nazi regime.

After World War II,

Woodbine opened its arms to about 18 survivor families from concentration camps and displaced persons camps in Europe.

The Sam Azeez Museum of Woodbine Heritage was established to preserve the rich history of the town and to remember another link in the chain of Jewish continuity.

The Gross-Breeson exhibit will continue through Aug. 20.

For Azeez Museum information and hours, call Jane Stark at (609) 861-5355, or email jbstark43@gmail.com. .

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