The Abe L. Plotkin Collection
Abe L. Plotkin (1913-2007) was a 1935 graduate of St. Thomas College. He served as a cryptographer with the 284th Field Artillery attached to the United States Third Army during World War II and was awarded four battle stars for his service. As the war was winding down he witnessed the liberation of the Ohrdruf concentration camp, the first camp liberated by American soldiers. Plotkin photographed parts of the camp and the condition of camp inmates. Later, Plotkin disregarded the Army's non-fraternization rule and visited Camp Frainam, a displaced persons camp on the outskirts of Munich. One of his photographs of displaced persons housed in this camp was published by The Forward, a Jewish newspaper in New York. The photo was one of the first post-liberation pictures published in United States.
Plotkin became a liaison between the displaced persons and their relatives and friends in the outside world. Inmates would provide him with the names and, often incomplete, addresses of relatives and friends in the United States. Plotkin would forward that information to a number of Jewish newspapers in the United States. The newspapers would publish the information in hopes of establishing contact between the parties. One time Plotkin carried a duffel bag half-filled with letters from displaced persons to Paris where they would be mailed by a Jewish relief organization. Plotkin also engaged in extensive letter writing in search of the relatives and friends of the displaced persons.
Although Plotkin had purchased personal items with his own money to distribute in the camp, he realized that the needs of the displaced persons were substantial and were not being met by official military aid. He suggested to a friend, Chaplain Max Wall that the Chaplain should appeal to soldiers to write home and request five pound packages be sent to displaced persons. The appeal resulted in the delivery of much needed personal items. Plotkin also suggested to his brother that the Israel Lodge of Odd Fellows in Scranton conduct a clothing drive for displaced persons. The lodge sent approximately two tons of clothing.
Since the war had ended and Plotkin's services as a cryptographer were no longer necessary, he was retrained for the military police. He had befriended a number of displaced persons and was able, unofficially wielding the authority of an MP, to prevent a married couple from being evicted from a room in a German house. He attended a wedding, a Yom Kippur service and also sat in on meetings of members of the Palestinian Jewish Brigade who were attempting to emigrate to Palestine, in spite of a British blockade.
Plotkin's efforts to aid displaced persons had become known in a number of relief organizations and he was offered a position with the Joint Distribution Committee. Although he seriously considered the opportunity, he decided to return to the United States and be reunited with his family.
In Scranton, Plotkin built a successful career in the shoe business but remained active in a wide variety of community service organizations. He served as president of the Young Men's Hebrew Association, president of the Easter Seals (where he originated an ad hoc committee for the transportation of the aging and handicapped which evolved into COLTS, the Lackawanna Transportation System), and as an original board member of Allied Services for the Handicapped. He continued to speak regularly about the Holocaust and the need for religious and ethnic tolerance to grammar, high school, and college classes as well as to civic organizations. He was given many awards over the years including the J.C. Penney Golden Rule Award for Community Service, the Community Leadership Award by Volunteer Action Service, and the Frank O'Hara Alumni Award for Community Service from The University of Scranton. He was also chosen as "Man of the Year" at an international meeting of the Prescription Footwear Association. Plotkin died in January 2007.