MILLIONS THAT COULD HAVE BEEN SAVED
By I. Domb
Many books have been published, read and forgotten.
There is one book, however, which dare not be allowed to share
this fate. This is the chronicles of Rabbi Michael Ber Weissmandl,
ztl, of the war years, 1942 to 1945, so aptly named "Min
Hametzar" (From the Depths). published in New York in 1961
in Hebrew. Not enough individuals have read this book. The ghastly
facts uncovered in it are not sufficiently well known.
Who can imagine the Hitlerite holocaust?
Where is the language to describe it? All the known words of human
speech have already been used for conventional occurrences; they
have acquired everyday meanings and have been fashioned with an
inability to describe the horrors of an Auschwitz or a Treblinka.
What can be said to make individuals understand the wild cries
of the night, when our brothers and sisters were led to the slaughterhouses?
And in what way can one convey the conversion of precious Jews
to the status of animals preparatory to being slaughtered?
Skyscraping walls prevented their cries being
heard, and in that horrible man-made silence, the most valuable
portion of the Jewish people was compressed in the confines of
the ghettos in hunger and in thirst, in epidemics and in torture,
crying bitterly, only to themselves, until the end of their anguish;
when they were loaded into the sealed anguish; when they were
loaded in the sealed cattle-wagons for the week-long journeys,
when their corpses and the still have-living reached the slaughterhouses
and gas chambers. Where can existing words be found to fit this
story, and who is there to coin new phrases with meaning enough
to tell this tale?
Yet all this was done through a directive
from an innocent-looking office, where the S.S. murderers, with
the methods of modern civilization gave the orders which, by chain
reaction, set in motion all the machinery of death and destruction
to which a stop could not be envisaged. One stroke of the pen
to extinguish a hundred thousand lives. A few words enough for
a million. And these few officers set the wheels turning in Auschwitz,
in Treblinka; the Einsatzkomandos; the deep pits on the lonely
plains of Europe overflowing with human blood. So much power behind
it, such a military might enforcing it that only the winning of
the World War could interfere with this running horror.
But how astonished was Rabbi Weissmandl to
discover that these strokes of the pen could so easily have been
erased, that the Jewish tragedy could to a considerable extent,
have been alleviated by some simple "old fashioned"
methods. How many hundreds of thousands of Jewish lives could
have been saved -- perhaps even millions.
Wisliceny was the German henchman for the
Jews of Slovakia, Eichmann's representative in that area for establishing
the ghettos, destroying their livelihood and finally dispatching
to slaughter the hundreds of thousands of Jews in Slovakia and
the neighboring countries. He carried out this mission as directed
by Eichman and as his own cravings commanded. His was the first
country in Europe to be designated for the supply of Jews to the
slaughter houses, as it was Slovakia that was first occupied by
Hitler--even earlier than Poland. The puppet government of Cardinal
Tissu had asked Hitler to "cleanse" its country of Jews.
Officially it even paid Germany for transportation, and Wisliceny
was the ultimate ruler and organizer. He was nearly always drunk;
drunk from spirits and intoxicated with blood -- and seemingly
Rabbi Michael Ber Weissmandl, at the end
of 1943, when two thirds of the Jews of Slovakia had already been
transported for "work" to that far destination, got
to know through a certain Hochberg -- an S.S. intriguer, and second
in command to Wisliceny, that his chief was also lustful for money
and that already on more than one occasion, money had bought relief
for some individuals, postponing their deportation. Overwhelmed
with joy at this discovery, he consulted his father-in-law, the
great and renowned rabbi of Nitra, ztl, who agreed that if this
old-fashioned method was effective, there was no reason why it
would not be attempted on behalf of the great masses to be saved.
Rabbi Weissmandl writes of this same Hochberg,
"I was first there on Friday in the summer of 1942 -- Tammuz,
5702. I was standing in the corridor near to the office of Hochberg
and all of the waiting rooms around were crowded with those who
had come to Hochberg to beg a postponement of that ultimate journey
for "work in the east," as many still believed. I heard
the voice of Hochberg speaking on the phone to his chief, Wisliceny
saying, 'Her Hauptstumbandfuehrer, ich melde ghorehsamst, the
train has left: Man 727, Women 637, Children 1667: altogether
3,028 Jawohl!' Never will this total leave my memory; 1600 children!
No outcry and no tears. No one cares. The whole world is silent.
Jawohl, Herr Hauptsturmbanfuehrer.
One of the famous men of Pressberg, Reb Aharon
Gruenhut, finally succeeded in gaining confidence by Hochberg
in Rabbi Weissmandl, for whom a secret appointment was arranged.
On this occasion, the rabbi presented himself as one who had connections
with rabbinical circles throughout the world. He showed Hochberg
his passport that contained a British visa issued just before
the outbreak of war, and told him of his visit to London and of
conferences there to impress him with his high standing. He then
made it clear that he had come on a secret mission of the highest
importance as a representative of Jewry abroad, who had contacted
him through the American "Joint" in Switzerland. Their
message was that they were prepared to pay in cash for the stopping
of all further transports of Jews from Slovakia to the east. The
"Joint" was ready to pay the price that his chief, Wisliceny,
would name. Rabbi Weissmandl emphasized that neither Hochberg
nor Wisliceny should believe that his mission was directed by
During this conversation with Hochberg in
1943, when the scales of war were already a little out of balance
for Hitler's Germany after the heavy defeats in the east and the
support of the allies by American might, Rabbi Weissmandl was
able, with American might, Rabbi Weissmandl was able , with careful
tact, to introduce doubts into Hochberg's mind about German world
conquest, and more specifically about Hochberg's own position
after the war. He conveyed to him that it would be very much to
his and his chief's advantage to make some provisions for their
own safety. In this respect, he was now authorized to offer the
promise of World Jewry that if they would stop all further transports,
he and Wisliceny would be save.
Hochberg became enraged at such suggestions,
but as the conversation progressed, he became much softer and
began to listen carefully to what was proposed. He listened and
replied, "I must go to see Wisliceny."
He left immediately and Rabbi Weissmandl
waited. Every minute seemed like an hour; every hour seemed endless.
He sat there exhausted, awaiting the reply fateful for the remaining
Jews of Slovakia, with so many hanging in the balance.
He had set there for many hours, when suddenly
the door burst open and Hochberg hurried into the room. Speaking
rapidly and with great excitement, he said, "the deal is
done. My chief asked for $50,000 and no further transports will
be sent; but he lays down the following terms: Wisliceny will
show his goodwill: three transports -- next Tuesday, next Friday,
the following Tuesday -- each of about 3000 souls, will be held
up, but on Friday after that, the first Installment of $25,000
must be handed over. After that, there will be no further transports
for seven weeks, to enable the second installment of $25,000 to
be obtained and paid, after which there will be a final stopping
of all transports. There is one further condition. You must be
able to show that the money comes from abroad and not from Slovakian
The latter was an important point to this
S.S. henchman, as a guarantee that it was world Jewry who was
behind the deal, and who would finally keep its promise for his
safety. In any case, Rabbi Weissmandl did not then think that
Slovakian Jews could possibly find such a sum, as by that time
they had been stripped of all their possessions. On that other
hand, he did not imagine for one moment that the wealthy "Joint"
would not provide such a relatively small sum to save literally
tens of thousands of lives from total annihilation in the German
Rabbi Weissmandl left Hochberg's office with
hope and joy. He hurried home to Nitra to inform his father-in-law
and to set about getting the deal consummated. The Rabbi of Nitra,
in spite of his happiness at the possibility of saving so many
lives, expressed some reservation. He felt that from a distance
the "Joint" would not see their tragedy, and that the
Zionist leaders working together with the "Joint" had
a different calculation. But he suggested, representatives from
beyond the "Kanzelel" -- the Council of Orthodox Jewish
Communities -- should be drawn into this, and even the Zionists
and non-Orthodox groups taken into partnership.
The name of Mrs. Gisi Fleischman came to
the forefront, as she was of Zionist circles and also the pre-war
representative of the "Joint" in Slovakia. Besides her
prominence, she was a good-hearted and courageous women and her
word would carry weight with the "Joint". It was also
decidedly to call on Mr. Fuerst -- known for both his integrity
and financial ability.
Among the weapons with which the Zionists
have equipped themselves to pierce the walls of resistance to
their influence, there is one most predominant. This is "ahavas
Yisroel" -- love of the fellow Jew. This slogan and catch-phrase
carries extra weight with the religious Jew to whom this concept
has a special attraction. The Zionists have explained that their
aim is achieving statehood is to provide a refuge and shelter
for much tormented Jewry.
The long, bloody paths of our, till now, 2000 year long exile,
with its inquisitions, persecutions, pogroms, slaughter and torture,
has always been at the front of every Jews mind. Seldom was there
a place on this earth inhabited by Jews, or a stretch of time,
without blood and tears at the hands of our many persecutors of
all nations. It was these pogroms that provided, for the short-sighted,
the initial conditioning to seek a solution in the outward idea
of Zionist achievements.
Possibly the Zionists, themselves, at the
first steps of inception, were honestly taken by the idea of that
solution; and it was this kernel of compassion that gave to them
the power to influence others with this superficial consideration.
Zionism has built on the basis that the solution of nationhood
applicable to any other nation is in the same way also applicable
to Jewry, as they could see no difference between the nations
of the world and the Jewish people. As they see it, Jews regulate
their fate by the same ways and means as all other peoples. The
belief in exile by Heavenly Decree as a punishment for our sins,
and the belief in Heavenly Redemption by the Will of the Creator
was, to Zionism, non-existent. People's thoughts were not directed
to the fundamental, all-embracing heresy upon which Zionism was
established, but grasped only the attractive promises that were
offered because unfortunately, Zionism arrived in the most feeble
and small of all generation, coupled with distressing happenings,
which contributed to the closing of people's minds to the truth
and to their being led astray by the Zionist Idea.
How much were Rabbi Weissmandl and his colleagues
overcome with joy when they succeeded in getting the right people
together! How great was their hope! But how much were they overwhelmed
by sorrow when they tried to get things in motion, and how great
was their frustration when they learned that the Zionists, together
with the "Joint", stopped every outside help from reaching
them. This was not only when it was a question of saving the remnants
of the Jews of Slovakia -- about 40,000 souls -- but also when
the possibility of saving what was still left of the Jews of Poland
and Hungary was in question; a matter then of millions of souls.
Then, too, the Zionists deliberately prevented any help from being
extended under various excuses that even a child could see through.
This was their policy -- stupid and merciless -- but they perused
it relentlessly. In the end, they admitted openly that their policy
was not to help fellow Jews, but to let them perish in the tens
of thousands and in their millions.
This is forever unforgettable and unforgivable.
Zionist "ahavas Yisroel" must be displayed conspicuously
and beyond any doubt.
The Friday when the first installment of
$25,000 had to be paid was fast approaching and there was not
yet a way how this money could be found for Wisliceny. Mrs. Flesichman
was also the representative of the World Jewish Congress and well
known to the Jewish Agency. She was, therefore, considered to
be the most suitable person to make contact with these organizations.
Her words would be listed to....
The pressure became even greater when it
was seen the S.S. oligarchy was in earnest. The first transport
has been stopped. But how can contact be made with Zurich, with
New York and with Jerusalem, the seat of the Jewish Agency, which
influenced and coordinated the work of these other two bodies?
Slovakia was then a small country sealed off by the German occupation
of the surrounding territory. There was no common border with
any free country, so how could any message be conveyed to the
Shloime Stern was instrumental in finding
a temporary solution. He obtained a diplomatic courier, who was
prepared to take all the important messages to the "Joint"
in Zurich. He was also able to borrow money, temporarily, from
various sources in Slovakia, putting together the equivalent of
the enormous sounding sum of $25,000. The money obtained was changed
on the back market for dollars and handed over to Hochberg for
Wisliceny. Hochberg accepted it and came back with the message
that there would be no further transports for seven weeks, which
time was set for the completion of the deal.
They were all convinced that once the diplomatic
courier would get their message to the "Joint" and the
Jewish Agency, not $50,000 but ten times $50,000 wold at once
be put at their disposal for this and similar "deals."
Surely Jews the world over would dance for joy upon hearing that
at last the door was open in the inner circles of the S.S. and
a way found to rescue their fellow Jews.
Mrs. Fleischman sat down to write the memorandum
to Salli Mayer, the "Joint" representative in Switzerland.
She was careful in her every word, explaining the situation of
hope that had been ignited. The "Joint" should hasten
its help at this last moment and miss the life-saving opportunity
that had been so dramatically forced. The memorandum was sent
to the "Joint", to the Jewish Agency and to a personal
friend of hers, Mr. N. Schwalbe in Zurich. And then they sat down
Days went by, swallowed by weeks, and of
the seven not many were left. The time for the final settlement
was fast approaching and a great sum of money was needed. Many
people had managed to escape from the hell of Poland to Slovakia
on their way to Hungary and Romania, which were not yet being
so intensely processed by the Hitler hordes. They were not a thousandth
of a percent of those who were so brutally done to death, but
still a number to be supported and a problem of Slovakian Jewry.
Money was needed to bribe the Slovakian genarmerie and police
to stop their pressure for the deportations to continue. Money
was needed for the labor camps in Sered, Novaki and Wiener in
The Slovakian anti-Semitic government had
built these camps for a slave labor before deportation began,
and it was put to those Jews still left there that if they, themselves,
would build up and increase the capacity of those labor camps,
they would absorb more and so relieve the pressure for "deportations."
and above all, the money was needed to refund the temporary loans
from so many sources that had gone towards the first payment to
Wisliceny and to provide the second $25,000 that would finally
seal this blood transaction.
All this money was a matter of life or death
for the tens of thousands of Jews in Slovakia and, in the end,
for millions still alive throughout Europe. Who could provide
and who should provide, if not the "Joint" and the Jewish
Agency, who held possession of the vast sums of money given by
Jews the world over for the help of their brethren in need? Was
there anywhere at all any need that was greater?
The diplomatic courier left for Zurich, holding
in his hands the lamentations of the strangling remnants of Jewry;
in his hands, their appeal from death.
This courier had to spend some days in Zurich
before his return. He was awaited with mounting anxiety, for with
his advent were tied up all the hopes of the masses under sentence.
And he returned. But not even a letter was
sent with him by those "help organizations" only a verbal
message that they had no time to write, and of help there was
no mention at all.
Rabbi Weissmandl writes that on hearing this
message, they 'felt as though the house had collapsed on them'.
It was only Mrs. Fleischman who started to explain matters after
this great shock. She said that "uncle" Salli Mayer
was a very cautious man and it was necessary to write again. It
was also necessary to write to Mr. Silbersten, the Jewish Congress
representative. "And who knows, maybe they are doing something
great," she added. Maybe for such a big undertaking they
had to refer to New York and Jerusalem -- who knows?
Rabbi Weissmandl, himself, followed up with
letters to the Agency and the "Joint" in the name of
the Rabbis left in Slovakia -- letters of tears and of pleading
-- but still there was no reply. Meanwhile, the seven weeks had
passed and they had to send to Hochberg, asking him to explain
to Wisliceny that the messenger that was to bring the money from
Switzerland had met with an accident and was delayed in a hospital
there. He would be bringing the money in three or four weeks time.
Wisliceny agreed to wait.
In the end, a letter did come from the "Joint";
a letter written by Salli Mayer, which said that $50,000 was a
lot of money for such a small country, and that in the previous
year's budget of the "joint", only a few thousand dollars
had been allocated for them. The "Joint" had to be run
according to their system. The explanation given in the memorandum
why they now need all this money and the documentary evidence
as to what was happening in Poland, to which country the "deportations"
took place, were exaggerated stories. This was the way of Eastern
European Jewry, who were always asking for money. In general,
he added, it was impossible to send anything at all just then,
as the money was coming from America, which had prohibited the
sending of funds to enemy countries. What was possible to do was
to render some small help, monthly, if the "Joint" in
Hungary would agree to do this out of the blocked account that
been held since the outbreak of the war.
Rabbi Weissmandl and his colleagues read
the letter, but they could not believe it had been written by
fellow Jews. Their hearts stopped beating when its contents became
clear to them. But this was not the end. There was a further letter.
It fully explained the first. But it was more deadly and more
devastating. It disclosed the bottomless abyss to which born-
Jews can sink -- the responsibility of Zionism.