Founder – Rabbi Dr Solomon Schonfeld
21 February1912-6 February 1984
Rabbi Dr Solomon Schonfeld (21 February 1912 – 6 February 1984) is credited with saving many thousands of refugees from Nazi occupied Europe and establishing a flourishing network of orthodox Jewish primary and secondary schools under the umbrella of the Jewish Secondary Schools Movement (JSSM). Heroism and visionary thinking were required in abundance for both of these achievements.
He was the second son of 7 children born to Rabbi Avigdor and Rochel Leah Schonfeld and was educated in the yeshivas of Nitra and Slobodka whilst simultaneously studying for a doctrate in Konigsberg University, East Prussia, now Kaliningrad, Russia. He returned to England in 1933 to take over his father’s pulpit of the Adath congregation and the role of principal of the Jewish Secondary School (Hasmonean Grammar School). He believed passionately that Jewish children should receive a first class Jewish and secular education in a Jewish environment. This was not a commonly held view at the time and he had to work hard to gain support for his visionary venture. In 1940 he married Judith Helen Hertz, daughter of the Chief Rabbi Dr Joseph Herman Hertz. They had 3 sons.
As the situation in Europe deteriorated drastically for the Jews, he made extreme efforts to save as many refugees as he possibly could. He carried out various rescue missions, including bringing children from Europe on Kindertransports. Just before Kristallnacht he managed to evacuate 500 synagogue officials with their families and after Kristallnacht he continued his efforts to save every life he could. In 1946, at great personal risk, he travelled to the concentration camps to help the survivors rebuild their shattered lives.
These were 2 very different activities: actually saving people who were in danger of imminent death at the hands of the Nazis, and educating the next generation of young Jews in England. The common denominator of both was Rabbi Dr Schonfeld’s selfless devotion to the Talmud that describes someone who saves a life as if they have saved the world. He continued to rise to the challenge of saving Jewish lives by ensuring that they were educated as true, proud Jews. This mission continues in his name in the ongoing flourishing of the schools that he established.
The first Jewish Secondary School opened in 1929. Rabbi Avigdor Schonfeld, Rabbi Dr Solomon’s father, was appointed principal, although he died tragically the next year. In 1933 Rabbi Dr Solomon was appointed principal and a primary school was added to the JSSM. In 1936 Hasmonean Grammar School for Girls opened under Headmistress Dr Judith Grunfeld. The schools absorbed the refugees from Europe and continued to provide education and stability for the children when they were evacuated to Shefford. In 1944 Mr WW Stanton M.A. was appointed as Headmaster of Hasmonean Grammar School for Boys. Hasmonean Primary School acquired premises in Shirehall Lane and Avigdor High opened in 1947. In 1984 Hasmonean High was created with the amalgamation of Hasmonean Boys’ and Hasmonean Girls’ Grammar Schools, although each remained on its own site. The school was awarded voluntary aided status. Hasmonean was one of the first Jewish schools to become an Academy, converting in October 2011.
Rabbi Dr Solomon Schonfeld received a posthumous British Hero of the Holocaust Award in 2013 in recognition of his outstanding efforts to save thousands of refugees.