In advance of January 27th’s International Holocaust Memorial Day, here is a first account on what Europe was like right after World War II. 

Virginia wrote, “In 1946-47, the roads were clogged with refugees walking and pulling carts from East Germany to West Germany. It was the coldest winter in about 100 years—even the Rhine river froze solid—Thousands died. Coal was provided to the compound, and plenty of it was stolen. In no time, the Black Market started, and the cigarette, coffee, and fat economy took over.” 

She further wrote, “We [Paul and I] found ourselves helping the Jewish Underground as couriers of money to Switzerland—to purchase ships to take refugees to Israel. When I read in the local newspaper of an American woman army sergeant arrested on the Frankfurt–Baseltrain with $50,000 on her—and being shipped home to the states…[forced us to stop]” 

Reading this led to a year’s worth of research, trying to verify the specific event. Unfortunately, we never found the exact article, but learned plenty that supported the plausibility. The British in Palestine had an annual quota of only 10,000 Jewish immigrants, and in April 1947 there were still 125,000 Jews in the American Zone and 15,000 in the British Zone, most attempting to leave Europe. Virginia and husband Paul were already making regular art trips to Switzerland, which happened to be the Underground’s banking center. Our research revealed the Jewish Underground in Germany was very active, and Frankfurt’s DP (displaced persons) camp in Zeilsheim had a sizeable black market which raised the money needed to send Jewish immigrants to Palestine surreptitiously. They needed to pay off France, Austria, and Italy’s border guards and find a small ship that could sneak into one of the harbors. Many did not make it, or were caught. When they were released, they would try again. The Americans were not officially permitted to help the Underground, but many did. 

To read more about the Jewish Underground and the Fontaine’s role in it, order Eye: Post-World War II Adventures of a Fearless Art Advocate.