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November 29: Bribery for Survival

November 28, 2015

WeissmandlClassicRabbi Michael Ber Weissmandl, who organized, (with Gisl Fleischmann) what he called his “Working Group” of Jewish leaders who tried to use bribery to delay the transport of Slovakian and Hungarian Jews to concentration camps, died in Mt. Kisco, New York on this date in 1957. Weissmandl was a scholar at Oxford University when he volunteered to return to Slovakia as an agent of World Agudath Israel. His first deed was to rescue a group of sixty stateless rabbis; Weissmandl managed to convince the Archbishop of Canterbury and the British Foreign Office to grant visas to England for them all. Next, he organized members of the Slovakian Judenrat to initiate bribe-paying to Nazi and Slovakian officials. In late 1942, an agreement was negotiated for a $2 million ransom to temporarily stop most transports, but even the 10 percent downpayment was not available from the Jewish Agency — whom Weissmandl controversially accused of having a Zionist agenda that would only support the rescue of Jews to Palestine. This Working Group was also a key distributor of the report by Rudolf Vrba and Alfréd Wetzler, escapees from Auschwitz, which helped trigger Roosevelt and Churchill to threaten Hungary’s fascist government with postwar punishment if it did not immediately halt transports to Auschwitz. Weissmandl was rounded up with his family and put on a train to Auschwitz in the spring of 1944, but he escaped by sawing open the lock of the carriage with a tool he had secreted in a loaf of bread. His wife and child did not get out with him; their deaths haunted him for the rest of his life.

"Let this outcry be heard over all the radios and read in all the newspapers of the world, that unless they stop at once the deportations of Hungary's Jews — then will Germany be forever exiled from civilization.... We ask that the crematoria in Auschwitz be bombed from the air. They are sharply visible, as shown on the enclosed map.... Such bombing will delay the work of the German murderers.... What is more important — to bomb persistently all the roads leading from Eastern Hungary to Poland and to bomb persistently the bridges in the neighborhood of Karpatarus. Drop all other business to get this done. Remember that one day of your idleness kills twelve thousand souls.... You, our brothers, sons of Israel, are you insane? Don't you know the Hell around us? For whom are you saving your money?" —Rabbi Weissmandl, May 15, 1944, from a cave near Lublin