Alums Who Helped Rescue Jews After WW II Give $50,000 to School of Social Work

Release Date: June 30, 1997 This content is archived.


BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Gaynor and Florence Jacobson of New York City and Sun City West, Ariz., each a 1996 recipient of an honorary doctorate in humane letters from the State University of New York in recognition of their lifetime of exemplary humanitarian service, have given a $50,000 gift to the University at Buffalo School of Social Work.

It was their exceptional education at UB that the Jacobsons say enabled them to become distinguished international leaders and help hundreds of thousands of Jews escape discrimination, torture and death following World War II.

"Because of the training we received at UB, Gaynor and I have had two wonderful careers," said Florence Jacobson, "and our support is a way to show our gratitude for the education UB gave us."

Gaynor Jacobson added, "More and more we are realizing what our education and training at UB have meant to us, which was a main incentive in making this gift.

"With only state funding, the university is limited on what it is able to do for students," he said. "Without private support, the deficit would have a great impact on the wonderful work UB is doing."

Hundreds of thousands of Jewish refugees, many facing discrimination, and even death, were saved from such adversity with Gaynor's extraordinary efforts to negotiate their safe immigration and resettlement to the United States, Brazil, Australia, Israel and other countries throughout the world. He also helped Jews flee hostile environments in Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Poland, Asia and Africa.

"No matter what the problem before or after World War II, what I learned at the university could be applied in any situation that I encountered, whether it was dealing with officials or leaders in Latin America, North Africa or with any other worldwide problem," said Gaynor, a key figure in "The Secret Alliance," a book chronicling the remarkable rescue of nearly 2 million Jews in post-war Europe.

He is the recipient of many honors, including the Cross of Merit from the Hungarian Republic, Commander Medal of Brazil and Silver Pin from the State of Israel.

Gaynor Jacobson received a bachelor's degree in anthropology and sociology from UB in 1937, a certificate in social work in 1939 and a master's degree in social work in 1941. While a student at UB, he met Florence, who he married in 1937.

Florence Jacobson received a bachelor's degree in sociology and anthropology from UB in 1934, and a certificate in social work from the university in 1935.

"When I graduated from UB, it was during the Depression. But thanks to my bachelor's degree and certificate, I was able to go right into a job, which was great at that time, considering many others were having difficulty finding work," she noted. She later returned to the university to complete her master's degree in social work in 1955.

Also determined to help post-war refugees, she was appointed supervisor of social services and immigration for the Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, under the aegis of Gaynor, who was country director of the program, in Czechoslovakia in 1946. Under their leadership, thousands of refugees from Romania, Hungary and Poland received much-needed food, clothing, medical care and temporary housing, as well as transportation and travel documentation assistance.

When they moved to Budapest one year later, Florence Jacobson set up a social-welfare program for more than 100,000 of the displaced Hungarian Jews. During this tremendous initiative, she turned to UB for assistance.

"When in Hungary, I had the enormous responsibility of setting up the Department of Social Welfare, but I needed some guidance on how to establish a training course for social workers," she recalled. "I requested assistance from Dean (Niles) Carpenter of the social work school, who was a tremendous help in this endeavor."

Following numerous other efforts to assist immigrants both in Europe and the United States, the Jacobsons in 1982 moved to Arizona, where they reside during the winter months. Despite having returned to UB for their 50th class reunions in the mid-1980s and to accept Distinguished Alumni Awards in 1995, receiving their honorary doctorates are most memorable to both.

"The honorary doctorate meant a complete recognition for my life's work, yet until that point I hadn't really appreciated all I had done," said Florence Jacobson.

To her husband, the accolade from UB "was the most important to me than any other recognition I've received. Coming to UB to accept the doctorate also gave me the opportunity to see for myself the high-quality leadership and warmth both in the social-work school and the university as a whole."