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Volume 18, No.2 / Winter 2005            
Yehuda Bauer: Teaching about the Holocaust (Part 2)
Stories of Jewish Rescuers’ Negotiations with the Nazis

Introduction
Section 1
Highlights of Yehuda Bauer's Thoughts about the Holocaust
Stories of Jewish Rescuers’ Negotiations with the Nazis
Section 2
Classroom Applications
Glossary
Credits
First Issue

One of Yehuda Bauer’s ongoing research interests is in the rescue efforts of Jews who negotiated with the Nazis.  These Jews initially tried to save their own country’s Jews but ended trying to rescue all the Jews of Western Europe.  Bauer’s discussion of these rescuers appears in a number of his texts—Rethinking the Holocaust, A History of the Holocaust, but particularly in Jews for Sale.

Some questions we might consider are the following:

      What were the obstacles these rescuers faced? 

      Why is Dr. Bauer interested in these efforts that for the most part were not successful?

 

In Jews for Sale Dr. Bauer examines the lives of a number of those involved in amidah—standing up against; however, three resisters and rescuers who negotiated with the Nazis: Gisi Fleishmann of Slovakia, Saly Mayer of Switzerland, and Joel Brand of Hungary stand out in his discussions.

 

Slovakia

Gisi Fischer Fleishmann  1897-1944

 

Gisi Fischer was born in 1897 in Bratislava, where her parents had a hotel and restaurant.  As a teen she and her two younger brothers became Zionists (a movement to create a homeland for Jews), the group meeting in her parents’ restaurant.  In her twenties Gisi married Josef Fleischmann and had two daughters whom she would later send to Palestine.  While a young mother, Fleischmann founded the Bratislava branch of the Women’s Zionist Organization (WIZO), became its second president, and in 1937-1939 attended international conferences in Switzerland, Paris, and London where she made important contacts.  By 1939 Fleischmann had also become an important leader in the Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) and the Slovakian Central Refugee Committee.  During this time Gisi considered joining her daughters in Palestine but was unable to leave her ill husband and her frail mother.  So Fleischmann involved herself in facilitating the transport of illegal immigrants to Palestine, delivering and distributing food to refugees, caring for children, and organizing cultural activities. 

In 1940 Gisi Fleischmann became one of the only women to be a member of a major European Judenrat, the Slovak Judenrat or Ústredňa Židov (ÚŽ), heading the Department of Emigration and, later, the “Working Group.”  Her involvement as a woman in the Judenrat was unprecedented—“a radical departure.”  However, Bauer points out, “it was precisely because she was a woman that the individuals who otherwise might have quarreled with each other accepted her leadership” (178).

Fleischmann’s contributions to halting the deportations of Slovak Jews began in 1942 when she and the “Working Group” became involved in an initiative by Rabbi Dov Weissmandel, to bribe Dieter Wisliceny, the Gestapo expert on Jewish Affairs attached to the German embassy at Bratislava, who was supervising the deportations on behalf of Eichmann.  The “Working Group” – mistakenly, as it turned out – believed that these bribes had stemmed the tide of deportations to the ghettos of Poland and to Auschwitz.  However, Slovak officials were also bribed, and the help of the Vatican invoked, and that did help.

Amazingly in 1942, the “Working Group,” led by Fleischmann decided on an ambitious plan—through bribery, to stop the deportations from all over Europe.  They wanted to stop the trains; this was called the Europa Plan.  Ransom negotiations were underway with Wisliceny, with Himmler’s knowledge, but stopped in the summer of 1943.  These negotiations were significant in that this was the only group who tried not only to help their own Jews but also Jews throughout Europe and that the effort was led by a woman in a non-traditional leadership post.

In 1944 Gisi was arrested during an attempt to bribe an official; after four months in prison she was freed and offered an opportunity to immigrate to Palestine.  This time she refused because although her husband had died she was still caring for her sick mother and she felt a strong obligation to her community to continue her efforts to rescue them.  In October 1944, Gisi Fleischmann was arrested and sent to Auschwitz in one of the last transports, October 18th, and she was labeled “RU,” Ruckehr unerwunscht, return undesireable.  No one knows exactly how she was murdered.

Bauer, in Rethinking the Holocaust, concludes that Gisi was unique as a woman in charge of a group representing a whole community.  “She succeeded because of her acceptance even by the ultra-orthodox, her contacts with aid organizations outside her country, and her ability to manipulate and persuade people with diverse ideological and political perspectives” (185).

Hungary

Joel Brand  1907-1964

Joel Brand was born in Transylvania in 1907; then his family moved to Germany in 1910.  Brand became a Communist and was arrested and then released in 1934 when he settled in Budapest, Hungary.  He became a Zionist.  In 1935 Brand married Hansi Hartmann, and when Hansi’s brother was deported in 1941, Brand gave Josezf Krem, a Hungarian espionage agent, money to save his wife’s relatives.  From then on Brand was involved in smuggling and aiding refugees from Poland and Slovakia to reach the relative safety of Hungary.  After the invasion and the beginnings of the deportation of Hungarian Jews to Auschwitz and the labor camps, Brand became involved in trying to negotiate with the Nazis to rescue Jews in return, at first, for money, then for goods. 

After the occupayton of Hungary in March, 1944, Eichmann, complying with an order of Himmler, summoned Brand and proposed to him “trucks for blood”: 10,000 trucks and consumer staples, tea, coffee, sugar, and soap, for one million Jews.  So Brand went to Istanbul to contact Allied intelligence, in order to rescue the Jews of Hungary.  With him Himmler’s men sent Bandi Grosz, a Jewish espionage agent, to negotiate a more important deal for the Sicherheitsdienst (SD), the German intelligence service, for a separate peace with the Americans or British.  From Istanbul, Brand and Grosz went to Syria where they were arrested and were later taken to Cairo for interrogation by the Allies.  The Allies would not negotiate with the SS.  But they did release Brand, regarding him as an honorable representative, and he was sent to Palestine.  He died in Israel in 1964.

  

Switzerland

Saly Mayer  1882-1950

Saly Mayer, born in Switzerland in 1882, was a lace manufacturer who retired early because he had political ambitions.  During 1936 through 1942 he was the head of the Union of Swiss Jewish Communities (SIG) and from 1940 also the JDC representative in Switzerland.  Because Mayer was a Swiss citizen and a conservative, he tried to act within the laws of Switzerland—for this he faced some criticism especially for accepting the restrictive policies of the Swiss government toward Jewish refugees.

However, despite a lack of funds (they were tied up by United States and Swiss laws), Mayer made many promises to the Nazis, meeting them on the Bridge of St. Margarethen, between Germany and Switzerland, and promising them machines and industrial goods (which he did not have), if they would stop the deportations of the Hungarian Jews, and permit the Red Cross to help Jews (and others) in concentration camps. 

He did buy tractors and shipped them to Germany in order to convince the Germans to continue negotiations, contrary to US and Swiss instructions.  Mayer’s actions probably contributed to the rescue of the Jews of Budapest from deportations.

Mayer also tried to help Gisi Fleischmann raise a percentage of the money demanded by Wisliceny. 

From August 1944, Saly negotiated with Himmler through SS Colonel Kurt Becher, Himmler’s confidant.  Mayer offered Himmler five million dollars if Germany would stop their anti-Jewish policy, improve the conditions for all foreign workers, and stop the deportation of all the Jews, not only the Hungarian Jews.  He furthermore tried to secure Nazi consent for the IRC to send concentration camp orphans to Switzerland and to provide food and clothing for camp inmates.  Himmler was trying to arrange negotiations with the Allies, and Mayer eventually was able to arrange a meeting between the Nazi Becher and an American diplomat, Rosswell D. McClelland, in Zurich, so as to persuade the Nazis to allow help to the Jews.   After the war, Mayer continued as liaison for the JDC in Central Europe.  However, Mayer died not long after the war—in 1950.

 

Essential Questions:

 

What sacrifices did these rescuers make?  As a mother?  As an activist?

Why does Bauer consider that, as a woman, Gisi was an especially effective leader?

In the “Epilogue” of Jews for Sale, Bauer says some of these rescuers were not knights in shining armor.  Brand, for example, was “an adventurer and a drinker” (259).  Does a hero have to be a “Knight in shining armor”?  Would you call these rescuers heroes?

Elie Wiesel said, “Let us not forget, after all, that there is always a moment when the moral choice is made.”  What moral choices did these rescuers make?  When did these three rescuers make their moral choices?

Despite their limited successes, why overall did they fail?

After the war, Bauer relates, those who survived were “reviled, accused, and attacked” because people thought they should have saved more lives.  Bauer concludes that they “should be judged, not by their success or failure, but by the answer to a basic moral question: Did they try?”(260).   Do you think they tried?

 
 
 

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