Who had been really Dr. Benjamin Murmelstein (Lemberg/Lwow 1905 - Rome 1989)?

He considered himself to be the last survivor among the „UNRIGHTEOUS,“ never fully realizing his own innocence. He was named as a “Rabbi, Scholar, Leading Figure in the Holocaust period.”

Even after he passed away, the writer of this note (his son Dr. Wolf Murmelstein) has the painful task to repulse absurd and slanderous accusations, almost always based on “hearsay,” circulating in the clear interest of wrong-doers to discredit a witness.

In 1938, as Austria had been annexed („Anschluss“) to the THIRD REICH, without any international opposition, not even from Benes, he was one of the 17 Community Rabbis in Vienna. In 1939, he was the only one that Chief Rabbi Hertz properly appraised. The Jewish Community of Vienna needed a young manager, certainly not a scholar. Documents submitted to the internationally recognized Nazi Authorities had to be carefully written, taking care with every single word, and in a style a Nazi was willing to understand, certainly not following the style of Goethe, Heine, Schiller, etc.

Nowadays, Jewish Leaders earn honors, while in that time of darkness they earned, at least, harsh threats of harm. One of the very few surviving Jewish Leaders was Rabbi Benjamin Murmelstein, who was almost never asked to give evidence.

Gideon Hausner, who never explained why he did not call Benjamin Murmelstein to give evidence at the Eichmann trial, then mentioned him as an “Associate” of Eichmann in the book JUSTICE IN JERUSALEM. A Nazi could not have a Jewish associate while Gideon Hausner was well aware that a poor Shoah survivor could not afford to sue a big publishing house, based in New York.

The full absurdity of the above mentioned view of Gideon Hausner and Prof. Anna Hajkova is well expressed by the ironic remark of SS Ltd Karl Rahm (the last Commandant of Theresienstadt) in a hearing before the Investigating Magistrate of Litomeric People's Court: “No, things were not so. Murmelstein did not give us orders.”

On October 14, 2007 at the Vienna Film Museum, the first part, referring to Vienna, of the series of interviews granted in 1976 by Benjamin Murmelstein to Claude Lanzman had been shown. In the discussion following, Vienna Jewish Community Secretary General Raimund Fastenbauer thought it right to speak of Benjamin Murmelstein as a “Collaborateur” called “Murmelschwein."

The writer of this article, who for health reasons could not attend the meeting, learned of that incident only in October 2011 after finding a reference on the Internet. His letter of protest, addressed to Vienna Jewish Community President Muzicant, was answered by one of the Principals of a big Vienna Legal Firm. The letter, mailed by DHL, warned the writer not to publicize his protest to the media or on the Internet. Interesting indeed.

Furthermore, the writer could read in the right-wing Catholic on-line journal “KREUTZ NET” the article: “Was hat die Kultusgemeinde zu verstecken?" ("What had the Vienna Jewish Community to hide?”) thereby learning about Mr. Muzicant’s refusal to make some documents – among them the personal file Benjamin Murmelstein – available to researchers. Very interesting too.

In the Murmelstein file, researchers will find evidence about his post war treatment: All personal belongings – also the 3000 volume library – had been sequestrated by the Community Leadership (persons formerly far away from Jewish life) who had been put in command in 1945 by the Soviet authorities.

The writer’s claim for damages in 1997 had been answered in the manner of Swiss banks or insurance companies. A letter addressed to acting Vienna Chief Rabbi had not even been answered. It is well known worldwide that the writer cannot afford high costs of a trial; those damages were listed as due to the “War end troubles” in order to have at least a modest government reparation granted.

In order to better understand how Benjamin Murmelstein could face the Nazis and achieve the Emigration of about 120,000 Jews from Vienna – between 1938 and 1941 – and hand over to the International Red Cross Committee the only surviving Ghetto, Theresienstadt (Terezin), one must consider his background.

Indeed, serving as the Rabbi of Vienna XX° District (Brigitenau), he could learn about the real problem of simple or poor people. In his service at the Doebling High School, he got experience in talking with anti-Semite youngsters. As a scholar and lecturer at the Vienna Rabbinical College, he could, in many articles, show the Jewish roots of several New Testament statements. So, in 1934, he was the only one able to repulse the offensive statements of Severin Grill in his book TALMUD UND SCHULCHAN ARUCH.

In 1938, after the “ANSCHLUSS,” Dr. Murmelstein felt that the Rabbi should not be the first one to flee. Since the Community needed a manager, and not a scholar, he followed the call of Community Head Loewenhertz to set up and run the Emigration Department and cope with the main new task. So, as he was asked to do, he postponed his own emigration. A „Certificate for Palestine“ issued by Jerusalem „Jewish University“ had been endorsed to Abimelech Rimaldt in 1939, so he could reach safe heaven and start a political career. After 1945, Rimaldt strictly avoided any contact.

In May 1938, Benjamin Murmelstein had to meet Adolf Eichmann, who was busy setting up his infamous CENTRAL OFFICE FOR JEWISH EMIGRATION, perhaps following the model of the former Bavarian State Police Central Office for Gypsies, which had started full operations in August 1938 in Vienna and then also in Prague and Berlin.

On November 10, 1938 – REICHSKRISTALLNACHT – Benjamin Murmelstein had to watch Adolf Eichmann, with an SS group, destroying the seats in the Vienna Seitenstettengasse Synagogue. Furthermore, if he had been called as a witness, Benjamin Murmelstein could have given evidence about how Eichmann and Friends made profit on confiscated Jewish Assets, so as, by a new Travel Agency, to exploit the fear of unfortunate people afraid to be considered “unwilling to emigrate” and sent instead to a Lager (camp). Paying in advance, one had to book emigration groups directed to somewhere, to avoid being considered “unwilling to emigrate.” The destination of Columbia could not be reached because the visa had been forged.

Community Head Loewenhertz, in 1938, had looked for a young associate in order to cope with all the new tasks which arose after the Nazis took power in Austria, but as an experienced politician, he certainly did not want a deputy who might be chosen by the Nazis to replace him. So he advised Benjamin Murmelstein to submit applications for suitable foreign positions.

Unfortunately, in November 1939, applications could only be submitted:

In Stockholm, to the Deputy of Chief Rabbi Ehrenpreis, already 70 years old. But Rabbi Ehrenpreis, who in 1943 still pretended to have had no information about things going on in Germany, opposed even a pro-forma invitation in order that a young family could have a visa granted and, so, the possibility to reach a safe haven.

In Philadelphia to the Jewish Theological Seminary. But there one of the Professors was still angry for an old debate of 1930 and found it right – in that circumstances - to oppose the call necessary for an USA “No quota visa”.

Benjamin Murmelstein was still too bound to the Conservative-Orthodox Jewish way of thinking that he did not send an application to the Uppsala Bishop Schoederblum, Chancellor of that University, or the Jewish Union College of Cincinnati, which belongs to the Liberal Reform movement.

As better shown in the following, after 1945 the Conservative Rabbinical class, at least, did not care about the fate of Rabbi Benjamin Murmelstein:

When discussing the way he managed the emigration –between 1938 and 1941 - of about 120,000 Jews from Vienna to safe havens, one ought to consider that an emigration department differed from a tour operator company. Furthermore, under Nazi rule, a Jewish Leader could not afford to behave like a gentleman, as strict orders had to be obeyed: He who had obtained the visa on the passport had to leave within a few days. He who had been included in a group had to reach the meeting center at the exact day and hour; delays or “booking changes” were unthinkable, especially when the group traveled on a train with a strict time table and was escorted by the SS to the border.

Remembering that meeting departure time was strictly mandatory, Murmelstein acted on behalf of general Jewish interests so that the Nazis would not suspect any Jewish unwillingness to emigrate. The tale that he had forced people to leave is slanderous nonsense.

Among the many rumors about Benjamin Murmelstein, two deserve to be quoted for their special stupidity:

“……. does he accept bribery?” „Not personally; the son, a student, acts a money collector“ In the Spring of 1939, the son (“a student”?) was not even three years old.

“…… Murmelstein had been paid for granting Eichmann Hebrew tuition” Murmelstein noted that Eichmann could not even distinguish Hebrew letters from scribbles.

It is reported that Eichmann, when he was captured in 1960, recited the first verse of the SHEMA. This may only depend on his staying after 1945 in a DP Camp where he, like other hiding Nazis, had had some contact with Jewish refugees. His claim of having been granted tuition by Leo Baeck is only one of his many lies.

Even Simom Wiesenthal, still in 1970, referred to this tale; it seems that he had been unable to find the name Benjamin Murmelstein in the Rome Telephone Directory in order to learn the truth.

Until August 1939, even after the Vienna British Consulate had ceased operations, Murmelstein could send persons to the United Kingdom as the Home Office knew his signature.

As Murmelstein had not been heard, no one questioned Eichmann thoroughly on the way he fooled people and used a former banker, who was Jewish only according the Nazi racial theories. That person had joined the Community in 1938 and had started dealing with the emigration of wealthy persons. In August 1943, that unfortunate person had been sent to Auschwitz, on the orders of the Vienna Gestapo. Eichmann then made a trip to Auschwitz in order to meet that unfortunate banker, who claimed to have obtained for him lighter work from Auschwitz Commander Rudolf Hoess; this is only one of his many lies. The career, and life, of that unfortunate banker ended some weeks later: a clear example of a “personal relationship” between an SS Officer and a Jew.

In Vienna, Murmelstein had to cope with many difficulties; the hardest were:

The rivalry between the CENTRAL OFFICE FOR JEWISH EMIGRATION set up by Eichmann - first in Vienna and then in Prague, Berlin, etc. - following the model of the CENTRAL OFFICE FOR GYPSIES at the former Bavarian State Police and the GESTAPO Offices for Jewish Affairs .

In December 1939, an accident occurred when Eichmann and aides were spied upon by their “Gestapo Comrades.” Eichmann was able to obtain within two hours a strict order “from the highest authority” (Heydrich?) and settle the affair.

It was very dangerous for any Jewish Leader to be involved in that rivalry.

The priorities to be set for including persons in various emigration groups: In this matter “advice” (pressure) from abroad had to be repulsed.

Decisions had to be taken, almost always at once, and many pretty favors could not be granted. Since “the enemy was listening,” explanations were impossible.

Jewish religious rules and traditions could hardly be followed:

In 1938, Murmelstein had to cut his beard, and not even in his office could he stay with the “kippa;” nor could he spend time studying or discussing “Halacha.”

Often, he had been called to the CENTRAL OFFICE or to the GESTAPO on Shabbat or Holidays, even when he had to leave the Synagogue Service. In 1941, the CENTRAL OFFICE informed him about the start of Deportations to the East on the Eve of Yom Kippur.

When the departure of an emigration group had been set for Saturday evening, clearly even on Shabbat, Murmelstein had to stay in his office.

For the production of MATZOT, authorization had to be obtained.

As he had not been heard at the Eichmann Trial, Murmelstein could not give proper evidence about the NISKO AFFAIR, which had not been made clear in the Court verdict.

In October 1939, Murmelstein and other Jewish Leaders had been sent to Nisko, in Poland, between the Sun and the Bug rivers, close to Lublin, and the then Demarcation Line. According to Eichmann, who had quoted a Hitler speech, a Jewish Self Governed region would be established there. At the arrival of the first Jewish group, Eichmann delivered a speech about the things to do and services to be set. Eichmann ended the speech with a smile saying: “Otherwise it would mean to die”.

Murmelstein, at a certain moment, obtained a written authorization to leave the camp in order to make “better settlement opportunities” but, indeed, in order to get assistance from the Lublin Jewish Community. He noted that the project of a Jewish settlement in the area had no support by the newly established German Authorities; the District Prefect and Lublin Area SS Commander had not even been informed.

The infamous General Governor Hans Frank, who was then said to be the only one “to represent the Fuehrer” in Poland, and Eichmann had to order the Jewish Leaders to return to Vienna and Prague where they could take advantage of the few remaining emigration opportunities.

Eichmann, promoted to the rank of Major in December 1939, became the head of the CENTRAL OFFICE FOR JEWISH AFFAIRS at the RSHA central office in Berlin. He continued his infamous career and was in charge, first for Germany, Austria, Boemia-Moravia, and later for other Nazi-Fascist ruled countries.

At the 1961 Eichmann trial in Jerusalem, Attorney General Hausner – showing a lack of correct historical knowledge -- did not realize that Eichmann had had no “authority” over the Ghettoes in Poland, the Baltic Regions and Belarus. Defense Counsel Servatius avoided calling attention to this error.

Eichmann still continued to speak about emigration, but in 1940, the remaining opportunities were very few. It is noteworthy that in December 1940, Benjamn Murmelstein had been ordered to work out a plan, and submit an essay, for a possible Jewish Homeland. Driven by his Zionist ideals – although as a rabbi he had to avoid any official affiliation – Benjamin Murmelstein expressed the view that a Jewish Homeland could be settled in Palestine only with the help of “that power which at the end of war will be leading in the Near East Area.” It seems that Eichmann commented: "Murmelstein does not understand that only Germany can win the war and be the leading power in Near East Area."

The point is "What did Eichmann know at that time?" In November 1937, he had visited the Near East Area for talks with Arab representatives.

At the “FUEHRER HEADQUARTERs,” in December 1940, it was already clear that Germany had to come into the war in Libya and Egypt, as in Greece where Italian armies had beat a withdrawal

The Mufti El Husseini, after having met Mussolini in Rome, preferred to go to Berlin where he had a talk with Hitler.

Syria and Lebanon stood under the French “Collaborateur” Vichy government control.

In Iraq, Prime Minister El Kailani, like other Arab nationalists, was in favor of the Axis Powers.

From bases on Rhodes Island, Italian bombers had reached Haifa and Tel Aviv.

There were still politicians in the United Kingdom who favored a treaty with Nazi Germany.

In 1941, Jewish Emigration from Germany, Austria and Boemia-Moravia had been first limited and then prohibited and, in September 1941, wearing of the Yellow Star had been ordered.

On the Eve of Yom Kippur, the Vienna Branch of the CENTRAL OFFICE FOR JEWISH EMIGRATION – SS Ltd Alois Brunner – informed us about the start of the deportation for “Resettlement in the East.”

The problem of the selection of the persons to send on the transport lists arose:

In Berlin (and so for the other “Old Reich” towns ) Leo Baeck said that only the Jewish Leadership could cope with that task in a humane way.

In Vienna, Benjamin Murmelstein preferred to follow the LOD RULE and leave the CENTRAL OFFICE to work out the lists and then ask for exemption of persons where a reason understandable for the SS could be stated. Community staff members had to go with the SS men in order to grant assistance to the "unfortunate" selected persons. That kind of “participation” could not be avoided as SS Ltd Anton Brunner (Commandant of Theresienstadt at that time) made it clear that otherwise the Nazi Youth (Hitler Jugend) would be “sent out for the task”.

The opinion of Hanna Arendt that the Jewish Leaders, by their “participation,” had helped the Nazis to hasten the deportations, hardly meets any test of consistency:

Hanna Arendt, in 1940, was able to go to New York and stay safe there, because there had been Jewish Leaders and volunteers who “participated” in order to help fellow Jews to leave Nazi-Fascist ruled Europe.

Jewish Leaders certainly were not stronger than the various army commanders and statesmen who surrendered to Nazi Germany. Jewish communities in those times of darkness stood in an often hostile or, at least, indifferent environment.

As a disciple of the Nazi Philosopher Heidegger, Hanna Arendt is hardly entitled to pass judgment on Jewish Leaders, who were almost all Martyrs. On the other hand, it should be discussed whether, or how, Hanna Arendt’s opinions had been influenced by Heidegger's theories.

When reporting on the Eichmann trial, Hanna Arendt failed to note that Attorney General Hausner had not called a witness like Benjamin Murmelstein to give evidence.

But at a certain moment, the Nazis realized that the tale of “resettlement of Jews for work” could hardly justify deportation of aged or sick persons, war officers holding medals for merit, etc.

Furthermore, as explained by Heinrich Himmler: “Germans all agree on the idea of getting rid of the Jews. But then every German has his own Jews, stating that this is a righteous Jew; send away the others but let him stay here.” What Himmler did not explain was that some Germans could not be ignored at all. Besides, there were among the Jews highly qualified persons well known abroad, who could not simply disappear in the East.

The solution was THERESIENSTADT, a little town in Bohemia surrounded by walls and with many barracks, just on the Reich border, now better known under the Czech name TEREZIN. There Eichmann had the opportunity to set up a Ghetto under his own authority and to show the real meaning of his “great ideas.” Many Germans could then “be at peace with their conscience” having obtained for their “righteous Jew” – a relative, a divorced wife, etc. – a place in the “Model Ghetto.” Qualified Jews, known abroad, could for a while, send postcards.

From October 1941 until September 1942, Benjamin Murmelstein had to watch the deportations. At Yom Kippur 1942, he had a nervous crisis of desperation about things that happened in that year. He was in doubt about being ritually qualified to lead the prayer service for the very few believing Jews still in Vienna.

From the beginning to the end of the deportation waves, almost all Jews had been deported from Vienna. Besides the very few believing Jews – community staff members – there were many persons in mixed marriage and descendants of Jewish parents or grand-parents. In that year Benjamin Murmelstein had to face the Vienna Branch of the CENTRAL OFFICE FOR JEWISH EMIGRATION where the rule was “promises are valid only when served.” Amid harsh orders, he tried to save what was possible.

The number of the few believing Jews for the community staff had been the result of a difficult “bargaining” (requests had to be submitted in a suitable form) with SS Ltd Alois (Anton) Brunner. At end of August 1942, Benjamin Murmelstein, with his family, was about to be sent to Terezin. But Eichmann decided to delay the “re-organization” of Terezin “Jewish Self-Government.”

Prof. Victor Christian recalled the attention on the high scholarly qualities – he had to be still needed in Vienna – of Benjamin Murmelstein and obtained from the Gestapo the authorization for a series of lectures on Jewish Literature.

Attending those lectures, in the rooms of the Jewish Community, were Prof Chistian himself, Pastor Hans Jungreithmeyer (“Aryan expert on Hebrew” of theVienna Gestapo) and few other scholars. It is to be pointed out that only Prof. Christian and Pastor Jungreithmeyer were allowed to talk with Murmelstein.

The claim of one of the other attending scholars – later Professor of Evangelical Theology – to have had “troubles with the Police” after Murmelstein had refused to listen to his attempt to inform about things going on in the “East,” turns out to be only a defamation:

An “Aryan” had to be allowed by the Gestapo to have contact with a Jew.

For a Wehrmacht soldier, on leave, even the suspicion of an attempt to inform anyone, especially a Jew, on things going on in the “East” would have resulted, at least, in being sent in a “Lager.”

The delay of the Murmelstein Family deportation lasted only to the end of Jannuary 1943 because Eichmann wanted to report on JANUARY 30 – the anniversary of Hitler’s rise to power - the deportation of Jewish Leadership of Berlin, Vienna and Prague. So Murmelstein and some other Community Staff member with families had to go to THERESIENSTADT (TEREZIN).

At Vienna University, for some years, Benjamin Murmelstein was the only student eventually attending lectures of Victor Chirstian on the findings of David Heinrich Mueller of Yemenite Literature; so a certain relationship came about. Victor Christian, as mentioned above, agreed to discuss the Doctor Dissertation of Benjamin Murmelstein about ADAM, A CONTRIBUTION TO MESSIANIC STUDIES which hardly met with Semitic Philology but there had been no other suitable Professor.

In March 1938, Victor Christian was appointed Dean of Faculty of Philosophy and Vice Chancellor of Vienna University. Benjamin Murmelstein, thanks to this relationship, could submit the problem of Jewish students having to discuss their Doctor Thesis. Victor Christian obtained permission for those students, getting their doctorate in the Summer 1938 period, to “discuss”; in some cases Benjamin Murmelstein acted as procurator.

After the interruption of the series of lectures on Jewish Literature, Professor Christian and Pastor Junghreitmeyer submitted a DEMAND FOR RELEASE FROM THE GHETTO of Benjamin Murmelstein, recalling his high scholarly qualifications. They did not realize the absurdity of such a request which, at any rate, was helpful in some way.

The first Elder of Terezin, Jacob Edelstein, was suspected for some months of having contacts with the so-called Czech Resistance. Eichmann thought it right to follow a “cautious proceeding.” On January 31, 1943, Paul Eppstein became the new Elder of Terezin; he had just arrived from Berlin. Jacob Edelstein was downgraded to First Deputy Elder and Benjamin Murmelstein was named the Second Deputy Elder. All the three of them had been busy managing, in their communities, the emigration of fellow Jews to safe havens, and had failed to fing safe havens for themselves and their families; now they shared the responsibility for the “Model” Ghetto.

During the Holocaust period, the Ghettos were not Jewish Communities but FORCED COMMUNITIES since the Nazis classified persons as Jewish on racial, not religious, criteria. So in the Ghettoes, together with believing Jews, there were those converted to other faiths, and the agnostics, Zionists, Czech, German, and Austrian nationalists, persons having some Jewish ancestors, etc. etc. So persons, who did not share the same Faith and had not always been aware that they would share the same fate, now had to live and work together.

In the “TRIUMVIRATE” set up on the orders of Eichmann, Murmelstein had to work, in the capacity of “Second Deputy Elder,” along side the ”Elder” Eppstein, and the “First Deputy Elder” Edelstein and, by the subdivision of tasks, he had to supervise the “HEALTH AND WELFARE” and “TECHNICAL SERVICES” Departments.

In his tasks, Benjamin Murmelstein had to master the problem of different backgrounds and ideas:

Jacob Edelstein, in 1941, was hoping that Terezin would be a good training camp (HAKSCHARAH) for the Youth in preparation for a future life in Palestine. As a Zionist official, he felt bound to party-loyalty.

Paul Eppstein, a young promising sociologist, in 1933 joined the staff of the REICHSVERTRETUNG (after 1939 REICHSVEREINIGUNG) where he worked in the emigration sector and in 1940 he had to replace Leo Baeck as Chief Executive. Until his Martyrdom, he had difficulty in realizing that in the Reich, which was ruled by a criminal gang – internationally acknowledged as a government, assurances or other statements of a “state official” were only tricky ones.

Staff members of the two departments Benjamin Murmelstein had to supervise were mainly of Bohemia-Moravia origin and secular, agnostic or not of the Jewish Faith. Besides, there were also the variances between Czech nationalists, German and Austrian patriots, Communists and Zionists.

While coordination of the work required the German language for a better understanding, it was helpful that Benjamin Murmelstein, from Lvov, knew the Polish language which was very similar to Czech. The story that he started to learn Czech for opportunism clearly turns out to be a stupid tale.

The first problem that had to be mastered was the typhus epidemic in spring 1943. The epidemic was very dangerous in the overcrowded Ghetto that was very near the then Reich border. The Nazis certainly did not care about the health of Ghetto inmates but wanted to avoid the risk of contagion on the nearby Reich area of Letimaritz (Litomerice) and other areas. To overcome the reluctance of many, mainly pious elderly people, to undergo vaccinations, it was necessary to enforce the action necessary for survival, making the release of monthly food stamps dependent on obedience of the order. Critics show only ignorance of the problem’s seriousness.

As mentioned above, in February 1943, Prof. Victor Christian submitted a Demand in order to obtain the release of Murmelstein from the Ghetto as his scholarly qualifications were still needed in Vienna. That absurd demand however reached the SS Culture Department and turned out to be helpful. In the Spring of 1943, Benjamin Murmelstein had been commanded to set up and supervise a team with the task of working out a catalogue of Hebrew Books that the Nazis had stolen from many Jewish libraries. This was a good opportunity for many rabbis to have suitable work.

In August 1943, Benjamin Murmelstein, who “forgot” to let the team detatch the “ex libris” from the volumes, had to receive the visit of the SS Colonel expert in Judaica and supervisor of the plunder of many European Jewish Libraries. Showing and commenting many, previously selected, interesting volumes could divert attention from this “sabotage.”

It has been stated that Benjamin Murmelstein was hated and feared and called “Murmelschwein.” This is certainly true because in the Council of Elders, as in daily supervising work in the HEALTH AND WELLFARE and TECHNICAL SERVICES, he had a very critical attitude on certain positions of privilege. He held these views to master many problems cutting privileges – clearly those not dependent on “good connections” with the SS - fighting so much of the related corruption and the business of “cigarettes in exchange for stolen food” or so. Persons – cooks, warehouse keepers, etc. etc. - who were “disturbed” in their affairs indeed hated and feared Benjamin Murmelstein.

Another problem arose with persons who “knew” an SS man and or a Czech Gendarm and tried to blackmail Jewish leadership. Benjamin Murmelstein, in some cases, had to remind such persons - even in harsh form - that they too were considered only as Jews. At a certain moment – when called for deportation transport on Command’s “Special Order” - such persons had to realize that they had only deceived themselves.

In December 1943, an order came to start the EMBELLISHMENT (beautification) of the Ghetto. Benjamin Murmelstein , who was in charge of supervising the THECHNICAL SERVICES and the HEALT AND WELLFARE Departments, realized that this was an opportunity to improve, in some way, conditions of Ghetto inmates. But the SS wanted only a farce of improvement in order to fool foreign visitors.

Many technicians – Czech nationalists, Communists – felt bound to the “RESISTANCE INCITMENTS” of Benes, who was safe in exile.

They certainly could not help but perform the works asked by the Command. These brave “resistants” were, of course, eager to satisfy any request of an SS man for his own account.
The sabotage of making beds, tables or chairs for aged Jews without any position of privilege or restructuring a building, making it a bit more livable for inmates, was certainly easier.

In February 1944, Eichmann realized the need to hasten the Embellishment action. Commander Anton Burger had been assigned to Athens in order to force deportation of the last remaining Greek Jews and had been replaced by Karl Rahm who, having the background as engine fitter and amateur painter, was the only one capable in the Eichmann staff of supervising the Embellishment. As a man of the working class (it seems that his brother, as a Communist, was imprisoned at the Dachau concentration camp) Rahn was not as much a fanatical Nazi as his two “more educated” predecessors. The difference had been expressed by speaking of “Uncle Rahm,” which was clearly nonsense, as he could be terrifying when getting furious, just like other SS men. However, belonging to the working class, he was interested in technical questions and ready to listen when visiting facilities and workshops.

With progress of the Embellishing Action – which led to a little, but important, improvement of conditions – Benjamin Murmelstein had been insulted and blamed as a “Collaborateur.”

On the other hand, there were attempts to involve him in the corruption net. On his 1944 birthday, the main corrupter came to wish him a happy birthday with the words “a nude woman is coming,” not as embarrassing as the enormous cake actually carried in by two men. Benjamin Murmelstein at once commanded that the cake be taken to the children recovering from tuberculous.

The visit of the Danish Red Cross (Denmark stood under strong German occupation) arrived on June 22, 1944 and found that the Jews who had been deported from Denmark lived in bearable conditions. Some days later, Commander Rahm transmitted the order to continue the embellishment work as other foreign visitors were expected for September 1944. The Jewish Leadership could not know that this was another Nazi lie.

Benjamin Murmelstein, hoping to obtain further improvements of living conditions, continued with the Embellishment work, but, however, he felt more and more uneasy:

The SS Command wanted to make certain that there were no parachutists hidden in the Ghetto. The Jewish Leadership certainly ignored the foolish action conceived by some idiot in the Jerusalem WZO Headquarters to send by parachute volunteers in Italy, Hungary and Slovakia. Only one of these brave volunteers, watched by Nazi spies from their Cairo departure until their destination, survived. The Nazis became even more suspicious about Jewish workers in the last two Ghettoes: Lodz and Theresienstadt, where efforts to secure survival by work failed.

He had been forbidden to undergo a necessary surgical operation; a bad signal.

In August 1944, Benjamin Murmelstein had been called from Command to hear SS Major Hans Guenther offer, as a reward for the good performance of Embellishment work, to allow him to emigrate to Palestine. Sensing a trick, Benjamin Murmelstein answered that he had many tasks to do in Theresienstadt; he certainly had no knowledge of the failed mission and arrest of Joel Brand.

Later in August 1944, instead of other foreign visitors, the Film action started. It is not clear who wanted to fool at that time SS Major Hans Guenther; nowadays some scenes in the Theresienstadt film are well exploited by Holocaust deniers.

In September 1944, a day after Rosh ha Shana (Jewish New Year) an order came to select 5,000 Men (former Officers holding decorations too) to be enlisted for work in Germany (near Dresden) because “after an inspection the setting up of workshops in Theresienstadt/Terezin turned out to be impossible.” Two leading Council Members had to go “to set up the new …” The first transport was scheduled to leave the day after Yom Kippur, the holiest Jewish Fast Day.

In the afternoon of that Yom Kippur, Benjamin Murmelstein had to watch the arrest of his predecessor Paul Eppstein and take the full burden. He was at the emergency meeting of the Council of Elders just at the end of the Fast. Attending personally the departure of the two transports “for work,” he could avoid that any confusion due to tricky abuses with “last minute substitutions.” Unlike previous transports, no one more than those ordered left.

Benjamin Murmelstein, still in the official capacity of “Second Deputy Elder,” tried to re-start the Ghetto after that enormous loss of men of working age. On October 6th, he learnt at the daily morning “rapport” that no further transports would leave. Two hours later, he was called again and ordered to make selections for other transports. In a nerve crisis, feeling “all is lost,” he lost control of words and started to explain the impossibility of further transports. Commander Rahm shouted “No bargaining here, get out!” After waiting half an hour outside the office of the Commander, Benjamin Murmelstein learnt that selections for the new transports would be effected by the SS.

In the following three weeks, every inmate had to appear and face the Commander; Benjamin Murmelstein then received the lists of selected persons to call. He could only submit applications for exemptions stating reasons which seemed acceptable to the SS, but many had been turned down according to criteria only to be conjectured. It is well known and made certain, that Benjamin Murmelstein obtained the exemption of about 500 persons and, very importantly, without any replacements.

In order to show the absurdity of many slanderous tales, it is necessary point out, summarizing, that:

In September and October 1944, no one at Theresienstadt knew the real destination of the transports nor what was going on there. Even Commander Rahm, in 1947, denied having had any information.

Selections for those transport lists had been done by the SS and Benjamin Murmelstein had no power to remove any person but, as was made certain, Benjamin Murmelstein obtained exemptions from transports without any substitution so fewer inmates had to leave than were scheduled by the Nazis. A merit or a guilt?

At the beginning of November 1944, there were few men in the Theresienstadt Ghetto. However, there were more women of working age and many aged persons.

But: There were about 300 well known persons whom the Nazis could not let disappear in a simple way; therefore the Ghetto had to be made fit for receiving more foreign visitors. Considering that a Ghetto, seen by foreign visitors, would have more chances of survival, Benjamin Murmelstein took action in following steps:

The Ghetto had to be cleaned; the precious (last) supplies had to be unloaded from trains and stored; facilities had to be operating. This required a working week of 70 hours – 10 hours a day – and possible overtime. Women , instead of men, had to perform heavy work. Elderly people and children over 10 years old had been called upon to do suitable tasks.

In order to grant a fair food distribution, privileges were cut.
In order to have a variety of more nourishing food stuff available, packs from abroad addressed to people not present any more (passed away or deported) could be handed out only to close relatives. Proxies (obtained almost always in a tricky way) to have such gift packs handed out had been voided. The precious food stuff acquired in that way made a better reward for special heavy work and it made better care of needy and sick people possible.

In order to supply at least a small piece of bread in the foreseeable troubled times, storage of a great quantity of flour was necessary. Benjamin Murmelstein found the right way to persuade Commander Rahm to order the requisition of the flour from a nearby mill to be stored in the bakery warehouse. Until liberation at the end of the war, an order for distribution of bread had been granted. That achievement had been jeopardized by the careless talk of the Bakery Head in the presence of high rank SS officers.

Benjamin Murmelstein submitted a report stating that it was still possible go forward with the embellishment action in order to receive further foreign visitors. At a control visit of a high ranking SS Officer, the Ghetto – being already cleaned – the order to start the embellishment action again had been issued.

a. A Five Member Council – aged gentlemen but well known abroad – had been appointed.
b. In prestigious, but indeed meaningless, positions persons well known abroad had been appointed; at the Board of the “Ghetto Bank” the former CEO of the most important Austrian Bank and two Ministers could be shown.
c. Rabbi Leo Baeck had been named Head of the Social Assistance Department, actually run by a very valid lady.

Order and strict secrecy had to be assured:

Instead of standing trial at the Ghetto Court – whose verdicts had to be validated by the Commander – lawbreakers had been put on arrest by “Police Act” avoiding a useless fuss.

Night silence had to assured and gatherings had to be avoided.
Persons had to be available and found at the daily evening presence control.

In order to prevent thefts, storekeepers were held personally responsible until the thief was found out.

Clearly the action of Benjamin Murmelstein did not meet common democratic or juridical standards, nor he could behave in the way considered, after the events, to have been “politically correct,” at least for school book authors, essayists, and politicians delivering hypocritical speeches at commemoration ceremonies.

Critics fail to consider that he, like any other Jewish Leader of that time of darkness, had to act in very hard and special circumstances; in a race with time, in a struggle with one of the cruelest tyrannies of history risen to destroy the Jewish people.

Historians dealing with the deeds of the unfortunate Judenrat should strictly avoid considering tales or malicious gossip. His manners had been, indeed, very rude as his only means to keep order was shouting and “police acts” but, by keeping order himself, he could reduce to a minimum the presence in the Ghetto of the SS men who preferred to amuse themselves (getting often drunk, etc.) in their quarters.

The following tale deserves to be mentioned for its stupidity:

It had been reported in the book of the third Jewish Elder of Slovakia, how, one day, Benjamin Murmelstein offended an old Rabbi of Vienna shouting rude words, in the presense of many bystanders.

The truth is that, not a rabbi, but an elderly man from Germany wanted to hand out a letter, addressed to an inmate, that he had found among the potatoes he was sorting and thought, with a typical German attitude, that it was his duty to denounce this forbidden act.

Taking that letter, in the presence of many bystanders, he had been compelled to forward it to the Commander with terrible consequences. The only way to refuse to take that letter and avoid the risk of being denounced, was to become furious and loudly shout very rude expressions.

Besides, the third Elder of Slovakian Jews, Oskar Neumann, is believed to have had a good relationship with SS Captain Wisliceny … Therefore he is not entitled to pronounce judgments on other Jewish Leaders or report tales without any knowledge of things,

H.G. Adler, in his very important history of Theresienstadt acknowledged that, in November and December 1944, there were many amazing improvements of conditions but failed to mention how those were due to the strong action of Benjamin Murmelstein.

It had been established in the People's Court that Benjamin Murmelstein had the first alarming information about things going on when the first group of Slovakian Jews reached Theresienstadt at end of December 1944. So he could fully evaluate the danger connected to a strange building project as the work had to be done only following oral instructions without any written schemes and drawings.

The statement of H.G. Adler that “protests had been made before Commander Rahm” is in no way accurate. An inmate had to be called to go to the Commander. Only the Elder – Benjamin Murmelstein – had to go every morning, and, when called, in other hours too.

Benjamin Murmelstein - after having given instructions in the event that he might be arrested – faced the Commander, reporting that inmates were startled and a mass escape would be difficult to avoid. Commander Rahm replied that he was following instructions to set up bombproof stores for the provisions (a version he held even when on trial in People's Court in 1947!) and the Jews had to work instead gathering on the main square. But: the following day he left for Prague, returning after three days with the order to stop that work.

Such an order could be given only by SS General K.H. Frank High SS and Police Commander and Reich Minister for the Bohemia-Moravia Protectorate. Indeed Frank considered the Ghetto a good trump card in order to reach a deal with Allied Commanders.

After an order from Himmler, the Auschwitz Gas Chambers had ceased the murder of Jews. Eichmann wanted to go on with the killing and, like some other Lager Commander, he thought to set up his own Gas Chamber. This fact, which proves Eichmann’s own wide power, never had been cleared .

As, at the begining of February 1945, a transport with 1,200 inmates had left for Switzerland – thanks to the efforts of Past President J.M. Musy – Benjamin Murmelstein had been available in the office at night (at 4 o' clock!) and so a person could solve her problem and leave together with her relatives. The writer had been informed accordingly by the Lady.

On March 5, 1945 Eichmann, ending his control visit, said: “So, as the Ghetto is, the visit may come.” The first result of the efforts of Murmelstein and the many workers – mainly women – of the Ghetto. During the visit Benjamin Murmelstein made a review of the Ghetto organization and answering a question of Eichmann said: “… no opposition here.” Eichmann remarked: “If so, whom are you quarreling with?”

The long waited International Red Cross Committee visit arrived on April 6, 1945. Benjamin Murmelstein had to deliver a speech – previously controlled, maybe approved by Himmler – and guide the visitors along an established Ghetto tour. In the final salutation, he put in (at great personal risk) twice the words: “the fate of Theresienstadt is of great concern for me.” This call for help had been suddenly noticed and the Red Cross Delegates suddenly obtained from Minister SS General K.H. Frank assurance that not one inmate would be removed from the Ghetto and the authorization to establish an office in Prague.

But Eichmann and some aides still wanted to slaughter the Ghetto. As Minister SS General K. H. Frank considered the Ghetto as a trump card in the attempt to deal with Allied Commanders – he had asked the Red Cross Delegates to forward a letter – he considered two possible tricks:

Threaten and pressure Benjamin Murmelstein by taking his 8 year old son as a hostage. The writer had been summoned to the Command and had been questioned by three of the worst aides of Eichmann, but was then permitted to go “home.”

In war time, any revolt, especially when near the combat front, can be put down. For the Nazis such repressions were good opportunities for mass slaughters.

How could the Nazis provoke a revolt in Theresienstadt to be put down with mass slaughter? The tricky way, which was followed by the Eichmann staff, was in 3 steps:

On April 15, 1945 the “Danishes” left Theresienstadt on a convoy of 8 buses. The departure of that privileged group, protected from abroad, left Benjamin Murmelstein feeling a bit uneasy while the inmates were quite excited as the hope of the end of war – with German defeated – increased.

The inmates could watch a Jew (without a Yellow Star!) being taken on a tour around Theresienstadt by the SS, and allowed to meet, at the SS quarters, a person he knew, and to inform – bypassing the Elder – the inmates about the next overhanding of the Ghetto. Inform or excite?

At midnight, just after having answered the usual phone call of the SS on duty – “Yes Sir, all in order.” -- Benjamin Murmelstein had been “alerted” by an associate: “Germans fled away; a joyous crowd is singing and dancing.” The SS wanting to know whether “all was in order” and a joyous crowd in street? Clearly someone wanted the inmates to be excited, but why?

Benjamin Murmelstein somehow managed to get the crowd of inmates to return to their quarters but then he was asked again whether the leaflet order-sheet was authentic or not. So he hurried to put things in order; some minutes later on the main square, there was an encounter with the SS, all holding machine guns and looking very excited.

The furious Commander mentioned that an inmate tried to leave the officer who called on the SS. In a nearby shanty, the still furious Commander let the men stay at the wall, the first step for a well known “action.” Benjamin Murmelstein, in this desperate moment, risked calling Rahm: “What are You
going to do here? Do You not know what it is the time?”

After a moment of hesitation, Rahm began:

“Gentlemen, the near end of war is possible and all of us will return home but we need order and discipline!”

At the following morning rapport, the Commander showed a copy of the infamous leaflet remarking: “No need to send it to Prague.” And then: “Fortunately I have not met crowds on the street. In such circumstances one cannot help but shoot.”

Benjamin Murmelstein made every possible effort to keep Rahm calm; in various modes he reported how the inmates appreciated the speech “Gentlemen …” and hoped he would stay as “German General Consul” or so, at least in order to grant security.

To have so avoided a mass slaughter of all the Ghetto inmates had been a merit, or a guilt as not politically correct?

Indeed, it seems that in many USA Universities, the prevailing opinion is that a revolution should have been attempted. So Benjamin Murmelstein, as the writer often had to recall, knew that even any suspicion of riots, in view of an uprising, would only have jeopardized the International Red Cross action to achieve the Ghetto survival. Benjamin Murmelstein, the writer agrees, remarked that having prevented school book authors from writing stupid “politically correct” tales and politicians, or so, from delivering, more or less hypocrital, speeches at various commemorations is considered nowadays as a heavy guilt.

Having avoided a mass slaughter does not matter too much or it is not rightly appreciated. Indeed, survivors could claim their rights to have assets returned and/or subsidies granted.

In the following days, International Red Cross Delegate M. Dunand came with information about the coming of transports from the “Lagers” and that he had been entrusted with the protection of Theresienstadt. Red Cross Delegate Paul Dunand could so give shelter to thousands of unfortunate people needing a place where to start recovery just thanks to the heavy and risky efforts of Benjamin Murmelstein for the survival of Ghetto Theresienstad. Because of the typhus epidemic in the Lager when the inmates arrived, a strong isolation had been necessary in order to prevent diffusion among the Ghetto inmates. What really had been going on in the Lagers and specifically at Auschwitz was now known in cruel details.

On May 3rd and 4th, 1945, Red Cross Delegate M. Dunand established his office in the Command building and had a meeting with the Elder, the Council Members and the Department Heads. From the minutes, in French, of the May 3rd meeting, it is known that Leo Baeck expressed his feeling of thankfulness for the strong work performed by Benjamin Murmelstein hoping that his capability will be available to the new Administration. That expression of wisdom, and good common sense, had not been followed.

May 5, 1945, at the last morning rapport, Benjamin Murmelstein handed Rahm his formal resignation and then passed power to Council, headed by Leo Baeck.

In the afternoon, a phone call from Rahm: “The old shitters slinked away, come on You.” At the reply “I am not any more in office.” Rahm answered: “You too shitted?” Clearly, Benjamin Murmelstein could not help but go; so he received the remaining funds. Rahm and the last SS man still there left then by car, still in uniform and bearing weapons.

Benjamin Murmelstein returned to the Administration quarter where all the Council members were already present; one wondered whether the check drawn in German would still be welcomed by Bauschwitz Saving Bank. On May 6, 1945 Leo Baeck, by letter, expressed to Benjamin Murmelstein the Council’s thanks for work performed.

After the Red Army reached Theresienstadt on May 8th – the day of the official German surrender, while Feld Marschall Ferdinand Schoerner still resisted with about one million armed men – Benjamin Murmelstein had been called by the Russian Command, questioned by an NKVD Colonel and asked to write a History of Theresienstadt/Terezin.

It is noteworthy that no envoy of the World Jewish Congress and/or American Joint Jewish Distribution Committee European Headquarters reached Theresienstadt to hear Benjamin Murmelstein report on events; he did not understand that alarming signal and thought it right to reach Paris by himself. So he, with his family, joined a group going to France but was stopped by Communist highwaymen, deprived of personal documents, and compelled to return to Theresienstadt where he was put under arrest, like some former staff member.

In 1945, Eduard Benes, in order to divert attention from his 1938 political bankruptcy, had to launch a campaign of trials against collaborationists which the Communist Party found suitable in order to destroy the Middle Class: as Clement Gottwald expressed in a rude way: “The bourgeois parties offered … but even their bum.”

Indeed, in three years, in 1948, Benes went politically bankrupt again and for good. Showing a Rabbi from Vienna, borne in Lwow, as a Collaborateur created a great propaganda effect, useful to divert attention from the infamous Benes Decrees which considered valid the 1939/40 forced sales to Germans of Jewish assets that so could be confiscated as “German Properties”. This explains the shameful behavior of Prague Jewish Community – in 1945 a close Benes associate became President and Chief Rabbi Sicher in 1939 had been among the first to flee to safe haven, as the Murmelstein case concerns:

There was a Jewish prison inmate never visited and who knew of the Yom Kippur date only accidently. The letter from South America with the offer of a thankful person of Vienna to sustain all expenses of assistance and defense had been withheld and suppressed. Slanderous statements had been put into circulation.

A race to submit denouncements, raising more or less absurd accusations, started. After six months of confrontations, Prague State Police proposed to turn down accusations but, on request of Communist Party, the political commission decided to put the case to the Litomerice People's Court. After nine months, the State Attorney did not submit a request for trial and, so, the Investigating Magistrate pronounced acquittal as all accusations were found to be baseless.

But, in order to be suddenly released, Benjamin Murmelstein had to sign a paper renouncing to indemnity for unjust imprisonment, Benes style democracy. Costs of defense and personal assistance had been supported by friends – fellow inmates – who appraised deeds performed, while the Joint (disregarding 1940 commitments) and other Jewish institutions left Benjamin Murmelstein alone.

The family found shelter in Budapest, assisted by relatives, and had to stay there until 1949.

In 1947, in a trial against the last Commander Rahm, Benjamin Murmelstein was the crown witness and considered fully trustworthy, having been fully rehabilitated. This was in a People's Court known for having been rigorous.

In any democracy, a verdict of acquittal means that the defendant was found not guilty and deserves the respect of his good name and honor. Furthermore, from a religious point of view, when the authority of a “non hostile” government states that the accusation of cooperation with the enemy was found to have been baseless, so there is an obstacle less to the coming of the Messiah.

As far as Benjamin Murmelstein was concerned, none of those principles had been respected and the slanderous hate campaign went on, mainly in books and in articles in newspapers; even in dissertations. Sometimes Benjamin Murmestein could reply, but for a thoroughly revised edition of his book, no German publishing house could be found. Only a part of the few interviews he had given are available; most have not been used and are lying, perhaps, in archives.

The family passed many needy difficult years, being deprived of many opportunities by that that campaign. For many years Benjamin Murmelstein was very ill; conditions worsened continuously, the result of seven year's stress facing the Nazis and of imprisonment.

In 1947, then Chief Rabbi Prato (who remained safe from 1939 to 1945), ignoring the rule “not to pass sentence on your fellow man without having been near him” barred Rabbi Benjamin Murmelstein from Community membership. While at his passing away in 1989, then Rome Chief Rabbi Toaff, who too had denied membership, relying only on hearsay, ordered the “simple burial” with a grave on the cemetery hedge, not in that with his wife, and to not say the ”Yzkor” prayer for “having him have part in coming world”.

Indeed, Chief Rabbi Toaff, deeply involved in Interfaith Dialogue, followed in the case of a Rabbi who stood with his Community in “those times of darkness” old, already outdated, Catholic rules concerning unfrocked priests.

Furthermore, so Prato as Toaff had been well connected with leftist circles. In the rabbinical class prevailed the opinion that even in the case of a Rabbi who stood with his flock in Shoa, the Halacha rule of “Town authority” had to be anyway applied and considered the writer’s seeking for justice only highly annoying. Indeed, after the war and Shoah ended, most of the rabbis turned again to their century-long meaningless theoretical and ritual discussions and/or got involved in so-called “Interfaith Dialogue” without the necessary knowledge of historical and/or literary background which, indeed, Benjamin Murmelstein had had. So they cannot even answer the simple question “Who is a Jew?”

The rabbinical class does not realize that – as the Nazi definition of Jew based on racial and not religious criteria – rabbinical courts cannot hear all important witnesses (which can be called to give evidence in state courts) and, therefore, are not qualified to sentence in Shoah cases. Right to apply for revision of verdicts and basic human rights of defense are not guaranteed in Rabbinical Law system. So, sentences pronounced by authorities of “non hostile governments” ought to be obeyed in force of the rule: “State Law is Law”.



The debate over the "Judenrat" - Jewish officials who, on behalf of their communities, had to face the Nazi-Fascist authorities in Shoah time - is still going on: In the present pages the writer wants to defend the good name of those unfortunate persons. The main question "tragic figures or guilty forever?" should be subdivided, and answered, as follows:


The Judenrat had been selected mainly among former Community Officials, such as Board members and high ranking clerks; besides, Eichmann wanted to secure also the experience that local Zionist leaders had in the emigration sector. Later, mainly in the Ghettoes, also persons with little or no community affiliation had been appointed.

In 1938 at Vienna, Loewenhertz (Community Manager and Zionist leader), after some weeks of imprisonment, had been appointed by the SS with the order to set up the emigration; Goering had forecasted a two-year time frame for Vienna without Jews. In 1939 at Prague, Weidman, the only qualified Community clerk in office that the Nazis had met upon their arrival, had been appointed; President and Vice-president stood already safe abroad. In 1939 at Lodz, the famous Chaim Rumchowsky had been appointed perhaps only accidentally. In 1941, in many Lithuanian communities, the Judenrat had been chosen by draw. Clearly the right knowledge of German was important.


Persons who stood safe in the time of "that darknes" worked out the theory that the Judenrat, by taking the burden of their appointment, made it easier for the Nazis to manage the deportation of the Jews. This theory should be evaluated, as much as according to moral point of view as according to consistency with real conditions of power in that time in those countries.

The moral point of view:

In 1941, the rabbis of the Vilna School in Lithuania ruled that the burden had to be taken by accepting appointment as Judenrat. The Rabbi of Kaunas/Kovno ruled that in the event the enemy had decided to exterminate a community, but by one means or another, it is possible to put safe a part of the community, then the leaders have to call upon all their spiritual forces and make every possible effort to put safe that part of their community.

In Poland, a Rabbi remarked that "the law of a kingdom is law even if it is a bad law."

The real conditions of power at that time in those countries:

In 1933 Hitler had been appointed Chancellor by President Hindenburg, according to the Weimar Constitution procedures. So the Holy Seat, as with other foreign governments, had regular diplomatic relationships and negotiated treaties with the Nazi regime, while the racial laws had been considered internal affairs, not subject to any objection. There had not been, in 1938, any meaningful objection to the annexation of Austria, while that of the Sudetenland resulted from the Munich treaty. In March 1939, as Bohemia-Moravia became a Protectorate, Prime Minister Chamberlin expressed deep feelings of sympathy.

The Jewish leaders - Baeck (Berlin), Loewenhertz (Vienna), Murmelstein (Vienna/Terezin), Cerniakow (Warsaw), Rumchowsky (Lodz), Gens (Vilna), Elkes (Kaunas/Kovno) and others - could not be stronger than many "statesmen," nor resist better than the governments of all the countries defeated and overrun by the Wehrmacht. They had to cope with the real conditions of power and "as ruled by Rabbi Ytzhak Shapiro of Kaunas/Kovno," put safe the part of their communities that was possible.

The visas for emigration had been granted by the various consular officials on passports issued by the Nazi police. The International Red Cross Commission had to deal through the German General Consul at Geneva in order to obtain access to the last Concentration Camps to help the survivors. In a briefing on May 4th 1945, the Red Cross Delegate M. Paul Dunant referred to the State Minister for the Protektorate, SS General K. H. Frank, and to the Security Police Chief SS Colonel Weinmann for having granted the safe handing over of power at Theresienstadt and the release of the prisoners of the nearby prison. Indeed M. Paul Dunant took over the control of the Theresienstadt Ghetto on May 5th, as the last Commander had just received a regular order to leave from SS General K. H. Frank. The Red Army reached Theresienstadt only two days later.


With the racist laws, economic and social conditions of Jews got continuously worse, so the need for social and educational services that communities had to grant was increasing. Until 1938, people willing to emigrate had to be advised, while from 1938 on, a proper emigration service had to be set up and assistance given for people imprisoned in the Concentration Camps, since for persons at every possible contact with the Nazis, red-tape was involved. Furthermore, new heavy tasks arose in 1939 with the outbreak of war, as Eichmann made an attempt to establish a kind of "Super Ghetto" in Poland, between the Sun and Bug rivers, in the Lublin distict.

As the first groups of Jews from Vienna and Prague had reached the little Polish town of Nisko, thought to become the centre of that "Super Ghetto," Eichmann in a speech explained clearly the need of various kinds of work to be performed because "otherwise it would mean to die." Indeed, in the Ghettoes, the Judenrat had to take care of various town services, distribution of food, utilities, etc.

The recruitment of working groups to work for the German army or factories seemed a good way for survival. That this recruitment later turned out as the first step for further deportations is tragic but the Judenrat can not be blamed for it. A Judenrat had the need to keep under strict control, in too many instances without success, all the many associates in order to prevent abuses against the weak categories (like aged or sick people, orphans) since they had dangerous contact with the SS, who looked every time for informers.

Clearly, strict secrecy had to be kept on meaning and details of every action aimed to help people to survive; unfortunately the SS had too many well-informed informers. So a Judenrat stood between the hammer of the SS with its harsh orders and the anvil of the fellow inmates with their natural, but in no way realistic, expectations. When denying a request, the Judenrat could not state the real reasons and so these tragic figures are blamed even sixty years later for the sins of the SS.


At the time of "that darkness," Jewish leaders could meet only high-ranking SS officers who had only strict margins of power and were themselves spied upon. Furthermore, the encounters were between those who hated and those who were hated, between one who was sitting comfortably in his armchair and one who had to stand for hours receiving foolish orders expressed in a rude way and could not make any objection. It should be noted that any encounter a Judenrat had with the SS Commander could turn out to be the last one. Indeed, Gens of Vilna had been shot in the mouth as soon he was about to enter the Commander's Office, Eppstein of Theresienstadt had been shot in a nearby prison suddenly after having been put under arrest, etc.

Any request for allowance of conditions, for exemption from deportation transport, etc. had to be submitted in a way that an SS could understand. And in the event, the allowance or the exemption had not been granted for reasons never stated and which today can only be conjectured. Fellow inmates, followed years later by so-called historians, of course blame the Judenrat as not capable or brave enough.

A Judenrat, after having stood for hours before a rude SS officer, certainly could not behave in a polite, gentlemanlike way; the physical stress should be properly considered. In the states allied with Hitler, the Jewish leaders had some possibility of approaching higher ranking figures. In Bulgaria, it was possible to save almost the entire community and in Rumania a large part. In Slovakia, high-ranking officials had been bribed and the deportations had been stopped; a part of the community could survive.


The first to blame the Judenrat had been, already before the liberation, persons who stood safe in London, Jerusalem, New York or Geneva and, as shown by historians like Hilberg or Laqeur, they had been unable to start any useful action to help those who stood in the hell of that darkness. For such persons, the accusations raised by former inmates against the Judenrat, almost all dead as Martyrs, resulted in being very useful in order to divert attention from their failure to start any useful action, just as from their own political bankruptcy in 1938 and 1939.

The accusations raised by former inmates against the Judenrat can be subdivided into four classes:

1. Accusations arising from hysteria and a persecution complex which suddenly resulted in absurdity at hearings by investigating officers or magistrates.

2. Accusations raised by persons who had been prevented by the Judenrat from trafficking in various ways.

3. Accusations raised by persons for the denial of petty, but absurd, favours.

4. Accusations raised, mainly by Communists, for the purpose of political hatred. Indeed in Poland, the Communist government had an interest in blaming the Judenrat and speaking about Jewish accomplices, in order to have the support of anti-Semite nationalists. Besides those who wanted to divert attention from their failures to help or to politically bankrupt, the absurd accusations against the Judenrat turned out to be advantageous for banks, insurance companies, big corporations and many persons who had bought Jewish properties at very bargain prices. Indeed, the few survivors among the Judenrat - Loewenhertz (Wien), Murmelstein (Wien/Theresienstadt), Cohen (Netherlands) - would have been precious for their knowledge about details of the seizures of Jewish properties in order to obtain a prompt restitution, at a time when documents had been still available and survivors would have had so many more opportunities to start again. Some years later, the "revisionist historians" could speak about Jewish accomplices and guilt.

The writer of the present essay is the son of the last survivor among the few Judenrat who reached the liberation alive, and he feels therefore that it is his duty to fight for the reputation of those Martyrs who had left no one who could do this.

Ten Basic Facts About Theresienstadt

Theresienstadt, a Special Case in Shoah History

Otherwise, It Would Mean to Die

The Jewish Community of Salonica during the Shoah