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July 9: Assassinating a Nazi

Lawrence Bush
July 8, 2016

David Frankfurter, a Croatian Jew who in 1936 assassinated Wilhelm Gustloff, a leading Nazi in Switzerland, was born on this date in 1909. Frankfurter, the son of a rabbi, was studying medicine in Germany when the Nazis came to power. He continued his studies in Bern, Switzerland in 1934, where he witnessed growing Nazi sentiment among German-speaking Swiss and the rise of anti-Semitic torments and attacks. In 1936, Frankfurter purchased a gun and went to Gustloff’s home, where he waited for Gustloff to get off the phone, identified himself as a Jew, and shot the Nazi three times. Frankfurter then called the police from a neighbor’s house and presented himself at the precinct. The Swiss government prosecuted him for murder and sentenced him to an eighteen-year prison term and subsequent expulsion from the country; the Nazis refrained from making a retaliatory pogrom against German Jews because of the approaching Munich Olympics. Frankfurter’s father died in a concentration camp. After the war, Frankfurther was pardoned for his crime, and later settled in Israel, where he died at 73.

“I am going out to do one or two shootings. The time for judgment has arrived.” --David Frankfurther (in a note scrawled on a cigarette package)

​​​​Lawrence Bush edited Jewish Currents from 2003 until 2018. He is the author of Bessie: A Novel of Love and Revolution and Waiting for God: The Spiritual Explorations of a Reluctant Atheist, among other books. His new volume of illustrated Torah commentaries, American Torah Toons 2, is scheduled for publication this year.