Michael Dov Weissmandl[a] (25 October 1903 – 29 November 1957) was an Orthodox rabbi who became known for his efforts to save the Jews of Slovakia from extermination at the hands of the Nazis during the Holocaust. He was one of the leaders of the Bratislava Working Group, an underground organization that attempted to save Slovak Jews and other European Jews from deportation to death camps.
Largely by bribing diplomats, Weissmandl was able to smuggle letters or telegrams to people he hoped would help save the Jews of Europe, alerting them to the progressive Nazi destruction of European Jewry. He managed to send letters to Winston Churchill and Franklin D. Roosevelt, and he entrusted a diplomat to deliver a letter to the Vatican for Pope Pius XII.
He originated the proposal to bomb the rails leading to Auschwitz, but his along with subsequent suggestions from others was ultimately not implemented. He and his Working Group helped distribute the Auschwitz Protocols to Switzerland and many other Countries, This triggered large-scale demonstrations in Switzerland, sermons in Swiss churches about the tragic plight of Jews and a Swiss press campaign of about 400 headlines protesting the atrocities against Jews. The events in Switzerland and possibly other considerations led to threats of retribution against Hungary's Regent Miklós Horthy by President Roosevelt, Winston Churchill and others. This was one of the main factors which convinced Horthy to stop the Hungarian death camp transports.
Michael Dov Weissmandl[a]
Weissmandl before the war
|Born||25 October 1903|
|Died||29 November 1957 (aged 54)|
|Parents||Yosef and Gella Weissmandl|
|Yeshiva||Nitra Yeshiva, Mount Kisco, New York|
|Ended||29 November 1957|
Michael Ber was born in Debrecen, Hungary on 25 October 1903 (4 Cheshvan 5664 on the Hebrew calendar) to Yosef Weissmandl, a shochet. A few years later his family moved to Tyrnau (now Trnava, Slovakia). In 1931 he moved to Nitra to study under Rabbi Shmuel Dovid Ungar, whose daughter, Bracha Rachel, he married in 1937. He was thus an oberlander (from the central highlands of Europe), a non-Hasidic Jew.
Weissmandl was a scholar and an expert at deciphering ancient manuscripts. In order to carry out his research of these manuscripts, he traveled to the Bodleian Library in Oxford, England. It is related that he was treated with great respect by the Chief Librarian of the Bodleian after an episode when he correctly identified the author of a manuscript which had been misattributed by the library’s scholars.
While at Oxford University, Weissmandl volunteered on 1 September 1939 to return to Slovakia as an agent of World Agudath Israel. Later he was the first to demand that the Allies bomb Auschwitz. When the Nazis gathered sixty rabbis from Burgenland and sent them to Czechoslovakia, Czechoslovakia refused them entry and Austria would not take them back. Rabbi Weissmandl flew to England, where he was received by the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Foreign Office. Explaining the tragic situation, he succeeded in obtaining entry visas to England for the sixty rabbis.
When the Nazis, aided by members of the puppet Slovak government, began its moves against the Slovak Jews in 1942, members of the Slovak Judenrat formed an underground organization called the Bratislava Working Group. It was led by Gisi Fleischmann and Rabbi Weissmandl. The group's main activity was to help Jews as much as possible, in part through payment of bribes and ransom to German and Slovak officials. In 1942, the Working Group initiated high-level ransom negotiations with the Germans (ref. Fuchs and Kranzler books). The transportation of Slovak Jews was in fact halted for two years after they arranged a $50,000 (in 1952 dollars) ransom deal with the Nazi SS official Dieter Wisliceny.
In 1944, Weissmandl and his family were rounded up and put on a train headed for Auschwitz. Rabbi Weissmandl escaped from the sealed train by sawing open the lock of the carriage with an emery wire he had secreted in a loaf of bread. He jumped from the moving train, breaking his leg in the process, and hid in a secret bunker in suburban Bratislava.
Rudolf Kasztner and his Nazi associate Kurt Becher took Weissmandl from his Bratislava bunker to Switzerland. This was highly unusual for both Kasztner and Becher. There is some speculation that Kasztner and Becher sought to reinforce their alibis for the predictable post-war trials.
After the war, Weissmandl arrived in the United States having lost his family and having been unable to save Slovak Jewry. At first he was so distraught that he would pound the walls and cry bitterly on what had befallen his people. Later he remarried and had children, but he never forgot his family in Europe and suffered from depression his entire life because of the Holocaust.
His second marriage was to Leah Teitelbaum (1924/5–9 April 2009), a daughter of Rabbi Chaim Eliyahu Teitelbaum and a native of Beregszász, Hungary. With his second wife, Weissmandl had five children.
In November 1946, Weissmandl and his brother-in-law, Rabbi Sholom Moshe Ungar, re-established the Nitra Yeshiva in Somerville, New Jersey, gathering surviving students from the original Nitra Yeshiva. With the help of Rabbi Shraga Feivel Mendlowitz, Rabbi Weissmandl bought the Brewster estate in Mount Kisco, in Westchester County, New York and moved his Yeshiva there in 1949. There he established a self-sustaining agricultural community known as the "Yeshiva Farm Settlement". At first this settlement wasn't welcome by its neighbors, but in a town hall meeting, Helen Bruce Baldwin (1907–1994) of nearby Chappaqua, wife of New York Times military correspondent and Pulitzer Prize winner, Hanson W. Baldwin, impressed by Rabbi Weissmandl, defended its establishment and wrote a letter-to-the-editor to the New York Times regarding it. Weissmandl designed the community's yeshiva to conform with Talmudic accounts of agricultural settlements, where a man would study Torah continuously until an age suitable for marriage, whereupon he would farm during the day and study in the evenings. While this novel approach was not fully realized, the yeshiva flourished. Currently, the settlement is known as the Nitra community.
During his later years, Weissmandl suffered from chronic heart disease and was frequently hospitalized. He suffered a severe heart attack in the early winter of 1957 and was hospitalized for several weeks. Upon his release, he attended the yeshiva's fundraising banquet, and then was readmitted to the hospital. His health deteriorated and he died on Friday, 29 November 1957 (6 Kislev 5718) at the age of 54. His second wife never remarried.
Two of Weissmandl's books were published posthumously.
In 1958, Rabbi Weissmandl republished the magnum opus of Rabbi Jonah Teomim-Frankel, Kikayon D'Yonah with his own footnotes and glosses. In the introduction to this volume, Rabbi Weissmandl gives an emotional history lesson.
The Aid and Rescue Committee, or Va'adat Ha-Ezrah ve-ha-Hatzalah be-Budapesht (Vaada for short; name in Hebrew: ועדת העזרה וההצלה בבודפשט) was a small committee of Zionists based in Budapest in 1944-45, who helped Hungarian Jews escape the Holocaust during the German occupation of Hungary. The Committee was also known as the Rescue and Relief Committee, and the Budapest Rescue Committee.
The main personalities of the Vaada and the efforts of Jewish rescue in Hungary were Dr. Ottó Komoly, president; Rudolf Kastner, executive vice-president and de facto leader; Raoul Wallenberg, the Swedish diplomat who resided in Hungary; Per Anger, Swedish diplomat who was awarded the "Righteous Among the Nations" title; Samuel Springmann, treasurer; and Joel Brand, who was in charge of tijul, or the underground rescue of Jews. Other members were Hansi Brand (Joel Brand's wife); Moshe Krausz and Eugen Frankl (both Orthodox Jews); and Ernst Szilagyi from the left-wing Hashomer Hatzair.Auschwitz Protocols
The Auschwitz Protocols, also known as the Auschwitz Reports, and originally published as The Extermination Camps of Auschwitz and Birkenau, is a collection of three eyewitness accounts from 1943–1944 about the mass murder that was taking place inside the Auschwitz concentration camp in German-occupied Poland during the Second World War. The eyewitness accounts are individually known as the Vrba-Wetzler report, Polish Major's report, and Rosin-Mordowicz report.Hansi Brand
Hajnalka "Hansi" Brand (née Hartmann; 26 August 1912 – 9 April 2000) was a Hungarian-born Zionist activist who was involved, as a member of the Budapest Aid and Rescue Committee, in efforts to rescue Jews during the Holocaust.Jonah Teomim-Frankel
Rabbi Jonah Teomim-Frankel, sometimes written as Jonah Teomim Frankel (1595-1669) was author of the book Kikayon deYona. The word "tə'omim" (תְּאוֹמִים) means "twins".Karel František Koch
Karel František Koch (29 June 1890 – 24 January 1981) was a Czech doctor known for rescuing Jews in Bratislava during the Holocaust. After the Communist takeover, he was jailed, but managed to escape the country shortly after the Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968 and settled in Canada.Karol Hochberg
Karol Hochberg (1911–1944, also Karl or Karel) was a collaborator during the Holocaust, who led the "Department for Special Affairs" within the Ústredňa Židov, the Judenrat in Bratislava which was created by the Nazis to direct the Jewish community of Slovakia.Kastner trial
The Attorney-General of the Government of Israel v. Malchiel Gruenwald, commonly known as the Kastner trial, was a libel case in Jerusalem, Israel. Hearings were held from 1 January to October 1954 in the District Court of Jerusalem before Judge Benjamin Halevi (1910–1996), who published his decision on 22 June 1955.Killing Kasztner
Killing Kasztner: The Jew who Dealt with the Nazis is a feature-length theatrical documentary about Rudolf Kastner and directed by Gaylen Ross.Ross first learned of Kasztner while working on another documentary, Blood Money: Switzerland's Nazi Gold. Ross interviewed a Hungarian woman who asserted that Kasztner had saved her life. Ross spent the next eight years researching and filming the documentary on Kasztner. She interviewed survivors who had been rescued by Kasztner, Kasztner's living relatives, the son of the opposing lawyer in Kasztner's case, historians, journalists, and Kasztner's assassin, Ze'ev Eckstein.
The film premiered at the 2008 Toronto International Film Festival and has been well received by critics in Israel, Hungary, the US, and the UK. Its U.S. premiere was October 23, 2009.Koso affair
The Koso affair was a bribery scandal involving Isidor Koso, the head of the prime minister's office of the Slovak State. An illegal Jewish organization called the Working Group had been bribing Koso's wife, Žofia Kosova, by paying her son's tuition at a private school in Switzerland. Kosova was arrested at the Swiss border in late October 1943 with 5,000 Swiss francs from the Working Group and a letter from Fleischmann to Saly Mayer, the JDC representative in Switzerland, asking him for another 45,000 Swiss francs. Fleischmann and several other ÚŽ employees were arrested. Extremists in the Slovak government attacked those seen as soft on the Jews, and Koso was dismissed.Kurt Becher
Kurt Andreas Ernst Becher (12 September 1909 – 8 August 1995) was a mid-ranking SS commander who was Commissar of all German concentration camps, and Chief of the Economic Department of the SS Command in Hungary during the German occupation in 1944. He is best known for having traded Jewish lives for money during the Holocaust.Mount Kisco, New York
Mount Kisco is a village and town in Westchester County, New York, United States. The town of Mount Kisco is coterminous with the village. The population was 10,877 at the 2010 census.It serves as a significant historic site along the Washington-Rochambeau Revolutionary Route.Nitra
Nitra (Slovak pronunciation: [ˈɲitra] (listen); also known by other alternative names) is a city in western Slovakia, situated at the foot of Zobor Mountain in the valley of the river Nitra. With a population of about 76,655 it is the fifth-largest city in Slovakia. Nitra is also one of the oldest cities in Slovakia; it was the political center of the Principality of Nitra. Today, it is a seat of a kraj (Nitra Region) and an okres (Nitra District).Ottó Komoly
Otto Komoly (also known as Nathan Kohn) (26 March 1892 – 1 January 1945) was a Hungarian Jewish engineer, officer, zionist, and humanitarian leader in Hungary. He is credited with saving thousands of children during the German occupation of Budapest in World War II.Perfidy (book)
Perfidy is a book written by Ben Hecht in 1961. The book describes the events surrounding the 1954–1955 Kastner trial in Jerusalem.
The book is based on transcripts from the trial and concludes that in 1944 Rudolf Kastner deliberately withheld from the Jews in Hungary, knowledge that the trains the Nazis were putting them on were taking them to death by the gas chamber, not to a fictitious resettlement city as the Nazis claimed and that Kastner then lied about it under oath. One of the supporting facts presented is that, in the Supreme Court appeal of the original verdict implicating Kastner, all five Supreme Court Judges upheld Judge Halevi's initial verdict on the "criminal and perjurious way" in which Kastner after the war had testified on behalf of Nazi war criminal Kurt Becher. Judge Silberg summed up the Supreme Court finding on this point: "[respondent Malchiel] Greenwald has proven beyond any reasonable doubt this grave charge." Most of the judgement was later overturned.Pinchas Freudiger
Pinchas Freudiger, also Fülöp Freudiger, Philip von Freudiger (born 1900 in Budapest, Austria-Hungary, died 1976 in Israel) was a Hungarian-Israeli manufacturer and Jewish community leader.Sereď concentration camp
Sereď concentration camp was a concentration camp built during World War II in the Slovak Republic. It was founded as a labor camp for the Jewish population in September 1941. In September 1944, it was transformed into a concentration camp operated by units of the SS.Shmuel Dovid Ungar
Rabbi Shmuel Dovid Ungar (23 November 1885 – 9 February 1945), also known as Rabbi Samuel David Ungar, was the rabbi of the Slovakian city of Nitra and dean of the last surviving yeshiva in occupied Europe during World War II. He was the father-in-law of Rabbi Chaim Michael Dov Weissmandl, and played a minor role in the Bratislava Working Group's efforts to save Slovak Jews from the Holocaust.Tibor Kováč
Tibor Kováč (1905–1952) was an activist in the illegal Working Group resistance organization during the Holocaust in Slovakia; he also worked for the welfare department of the Ústredňa Židov (ÚŽ), the Judenrat in the Slovak State.During the deportations from Slovakia in 1942, Kováč served on the Department of Appeals at the ÚŽ, which was set up to help Jews gain exceptions and ensure that those issued would be honored. It is unclear how effective this department was in saving Jews from deportation. The Working Group also attempted to bribe Slovak officials in order to halt the deportations. One of its targets was Anton Vašek, head of the Ministry of the Interior department responsible for implementing the deportations. Because he was Vašek's former classmate, Kováč was given the responsibility of negotiating with him. He visited Vašek's office almost daily to deliver bribes and provide Vašek with excuses to explain delays in deportations to his superiors. Due to Vašek's intervention, a 26 June transport of Jews was cancelled; Vašek presented Interior Minister Alexander Mach with a falsified report that all non-exempt Jews had already been deported. Mach was skeptical about the report, however, and the deportations resumed in July.On 28 August 1944, the Germans invaded Slovakia, triggering the Slovak National Uprising. Kováč remained in Bratislava while his group attempted to negotiate with the Nazis. On 28 September, Kováč and another Working Group activist, Michael Dov Weissmandl, were summoned to the office of their negotiating partner, SS officer Alois Brunner, who arrested them. Kováč and Weissmandl witnessed the use of stolen lists of Jews to prepare for a massive roundup that evening; 1,800 Jews in Bratislava were captured. Kováč was allowed to remain in Bratislava after the roundup along with another colleague, Gisi Fleischmann. Fleischmann was arrested by the SS on 15 October and killed at Auschwitz concentration camp, but Kováč managed to go into hiding and survived the war. He served as the main witness for the prosecution during Vašek's trial for his participation in the Holocaust. Philosophically, Kováč was an assimilationist and decided to remain in Czechoslovakia after the Soviet takeover. He was harassed by the secret police, which led him to commit suicide in 1952.Working Group (resistance organization)
The Working Group (Slovak: Pracovná Skupina) was an underground Jewish organization in the Axis-aligned Slovak State during World War II. Led by Gisi Fleischmann and Rabbi Michael Dov Weissmandl, the Working Group rescued Jews from the Holocaust by gathering and disseminating information on the Holocaust in Poland, bribing and negotiating with German and Slovak officials, and smuggling valuables to Jews deported to Poland.
In 1940, SS official Dieter Wisliceny forced the Slovak Jewish community to set up the Jewish Center (ÚŽ) to implement anti-Jewish decrees. Members of the ÚŽ unhappy with collaborationist colleagues began to meet in the summer of 1941. In 1942, the group worked to prevent the deportation of Slovak Jews by bribing Wisliceny and Slovak officials, lobbying the Catholic Church to intervene, and encouraging Jews to flee to Hungary. Its efforts were mostly unsuccessful, and two-thirds of Slovakia's Jews were deported to the Auschwitz concentration camp and camps and ghettos in the Lublin Reservation. Initially unaware of the Nazi plan to murder all Jews, the Working Group sent relief to Slovak Jews imprisoned in Lublin ghettos and helped more than two thousand Polish Jews flee to relative safety in Hungary during Operation Reinhard. The group transmitted reports of systematic murder received from the couriers and Jewish escapees to Jewish organizations in Switzerland and the Aid and Rescue Committee in Budapest.
After transports from Slovakia were halted in October 1942, the Working Group tried to bribe Heinrich Himmler through Wisliency into halting the deportation of European Jews to Poland (the Europa Plan). Wisliceny demanded a $3 million bribe, which far exceeded the Working Group's ability to pay, and broke off negotiations in September 1943. In April and May 1944, the Working Group collected and disseminated the Vrba–Wetzler report by two Auschwitz escapees documenting the murder of hundreds of thousands of Jews. By stimulating diplomatic pressure against the Hungarian government, the report was a major factor in regent Miklós Horthy's decision to halt the deportation of Hungarian Jews to Auschwitz in July. After the Slovak National Uprising in fall 1944, the Germans invaded Slovakia and the Working Group attempted to bribe the Germans into sparing the Slovak Jews. Its failure to clearly warn Jews to go into hiding is considered its greatest mistake.
Most historians agree that the actions of the Working Group had some effect in halting the deportations from Slovakia between 1942 and 1944, although the extent of their role and which of their actions should be credited is debated. The group's leaders believed that the failure of the Europa Plan was due to the indifference of mainstream Jewish organizations. Although this argument has influenced public opinion and Orthodox Jewish historiography, most historians maintain that the Nazis would not have allowed the rescue of a significant number of Jews. It has also been argued that the Working Group's negotiations were collaborationist and that it failed to warn Jews about the dangers awaiting them, but most historians reject this view. Israeli historian Yehuda Bauer considers the Working Group's members flawed heroes who deserve public recognition for their efforts to save Jews.