Death of Henrietta Szold
February 13, 1945
Failing health had brought Henrietta Szold, in July 1943, to the Henrietta Szold Nursing School on the grounds of the Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem. Even as she received care, she sustained her interest and involvement in her public activities, and American Hadassah members were kept informed of her condition. She died there on February 13, 1945. Thousands attended her funeral, and a boy from one of the last groups of children rescued from the Nazis by Youth Aliyah, an effort that she had directed, read kaddish, the Jewish mourners' prayer.
Szold is best known as the creator of Hadassah: The Women's Zionist Organization of America (founded February 24, 1912); she also worked strenuously for decades as secretary (meaning translator, indexer, fact checker, proofreader, statistician, administrator, and editor) of the Philadelphia-based Jewish Publication Society. But Szold spent most of the last 25 years of her life in Palestine where she made crucial contributions to the Jewish settlement that would become the state of Israel.
Szold moved to Palestine in 1920, at the age of 59, to take charge of the Hadassah-funded American Zionist Medical Unit, which was attempting to bring modern medical care to the region. She oversaw the transformation of this World War I-era emergency effort into the Hadassah Medical Organization. Emphasizing the health needs of women and children and serving people of all origins and religions, the organization expanded into the creation of milk clinics, food programs, a nursing school, and Hadassah Hospital.
Although always supported by Hadassah, Szold found new roles beyond the organization's continued focus on medical care. Chosen in 1927, as a member of the three-person international Zionist executive committee overseeing Jewish life in Palestine, Szold worked to create systematic frameworks for the provision of medical and educational services. In 1931, elected to the Jewish settlement's National Council, she created, from scratch, the basis for a national system of social welfare.
The last major effort of Szold's career, beginning in 1933, was her leadership of Youth Aliyah. In this role, she oversaw a massive effort to secure the departure of 11,000 Jewish youth from Germany and other nations threatened by the Nazis, and to arrange for their education and care within Jewish agricultural settlements in Palestine. Szold tried to meet every arriving transport and took a personal interest in the placement and situation of each child. This work absorbed her into her 84th year.
Szold remains revered for her impact, as the founder of Hadassah, in reshaping American Zionism and in radically expanding public identities for American Jewish women. It is remarkable that in addition, we can point to Henrietta Szold as largely responsible for the healthcare, educational, and social welfare infrastructure that defined Israel at its founding in 1948.
To learn more about Henrietta Szold, visit Women of Valor and Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia.
See also: This Week in History for February 24, 1912, July 28, 1893, December 21, 1935; Henrietta Szold poster; Jewish Women On the Road; Go & Learn: Primary Documents and Lesson Plans, "Henrietta Szold on Saying Kaddish"; "Henrietta Szold: Travel and Transformation", Jewesses with Attitude.
Sources: Women of Valor; Joan Dash, Summoned to Jerusalem: The Life of Henrietta Szold (NY, 1979); Marian Greenberg, There is Hope for Your Children: Youth Aliyah, Henrietta Szold, and Hadassah (Hadassah, www.hadassah.org; Jewish Women in America: An Historical Encyclopedia, pp. 1368-1373.