Rabbi Schonfeld was born in London on 21 February 1912 to parents Rabbi Avigdor and Rochel Leah Schonfeld, who were originally from Hungary. He attended Highbury County School, then attended the Yeshiva in Nyitra before studying for a doctorate at the University of Königsberg in East Prussia.
He became the rabbi of the Adath Yisroel Synagogue in North London in 1933 and took over the role of Principal of the Jewish Secondary School from his father. He also acted as the Rabbi of the Union of Orthodox Hebrew Congregations and as the president of the National Council for Jewish Religious Day Schools in Great Britain.
Schonfeld recognised the need for rescue work to protect European Jews and, in 1938 he became director of the Chief Rabbi's Religious Emergency Council (CRREC) which was founded by Chief Rabbi Joseph Hertz, who later became his father in law.
The organisation rarely met and Schonfeld mostly operated alone. He acquired many visas from the Home Office for rabbis and synagogue officials to come to the UK with their families and was responsible for bringing over hundreds of children and adults to Britain before the war, saving them from the atrocities of the Holocaust.
After Kristallnacht in 1938, Schonfeld contributed to the organisation of Kindertransports, specifically catered to religious Orthodox children, as he rearranged journeys that were scheduled to take place on a Saturday in accordance with the Jewish rule of not undertaking large journeys on the Sabbath. However. he did not discriminate on who could be included on the Kindertransport on religious grounds.
In addition to bringing over hundreds of children, Schonfeld also became responsible for the placement and welfare of the children who arrived in the UK. He organised hostels, houses and schools for them to live and study, such as Northfields school for girls in Stamford Hill, and he found kosher homes for Orthodox children. Schonfeld also oversaw the religious welfare of Jews in the British Armed Forces during the war. He was responsible for organising the fifth group of the Boys.
Once the war had ended, Schonfeld travelled to Displaced Persons’ camps in Germany. He found that many Holocaust survivors were being killed by Poles, despite the war being over, and he was concerned for their safety.
Schonfeld made the CRREC a member of the Committee of British Relief Abroad and the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA), so that he was able to liaise with the Polish government.
He had the uniform (shown above) personally made for him so that it featured UNRRA flashes on the shoulder and a cap with the Ten Commandments, which allowed him to act as a UN representative. This allowed him to organise three transports that came from Eastern Europe in 1946, including the chartering of a ship in Gdansk, Poland to bring 150 children to the UK.
He also paid large sums of money to find children who had been hidden in convents and Christian homes.
However, his actions broke the conditions of the 1,000 visas offered by the Home Office, meaning he was often in conflict with other Holocaust relief workers. Most of the children who were brought over by Schonfeld arrived on separate visas than the Boys, however, he played a key role in the care of the Boys in the Agudas hostels such as the one in Stamford Hill in London’s East End.
This profile was written by Ruby Kwartz.