FLEISCHMANN, GISI


FLEISCHMANN, GISI (1897–1944), Zionist women's leader in Bratislava who played a prominent part in rescue operations during the Holocaust. At the outbreak of World War II, she was in London and returned home to be with her family, which included a husband and two daughters as well as an ailing mother. She sent her two daughters to Palestine, but she herself remained in Bratislava, perhaps primarily for personal reasons and involved herself intensely in efforts to help the community. First she acted within the Ústredňa Židov (Jewish Council) as chief of the *Hicem department for emigration. In the summer of 1942 she became the guiding spirit of the "Working Group," a secret rescue organization for Jews that included herself and an ultra-Orthodox rabbi, Michael Weissmandel, who was related to her as a second cousin by marriage. It was rare, perhaps unprecedented, for an ultra-Orthodox rabbi and a woman Zionist to cooperate fully, and even more rare for the Zionist woman to assume the primarily leadership role. As a member of the Slovak Central Refugee Committee, she cooperated, albeit not without considerable tension, with Joseph Blum of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, who later left for Hungary, and Fleischmann then became for all intents and purposes the Joint's person in Bratislava.

Fleischmann maintained a secret correspondence written in code with Jewish organizations in the free world, mainly with the He-Ḥalutz center at Geneva and with representatives of the *Jewish Agency in Istanbul. She reported on the condition of European Jewry under German occupation and she also traveled to Hungary to collect funds for rescue activities from the Hungarian Jewish communities. It was under her leadership though at Rabbi Weissmandel's initiative that a plan was devised to bribe Eichmann's representative in Slovakia, Dieter Wisliceny, to halt the deportation of the Jews. When an initial bribe and the promise of more funds to come seemed to work and the deportations of Slovakian Jewry were halted for a time, the working group devised a bold scheme, the *Europa Plan, to rescue the remaining Jews. Historians now know that is was not the bribe to Nazi officials but to Slovakian officials that halted the deportations and the chances of any success for the Europa plan were far-fetched. In 1943 she directed rescue operations of survivors of Polish ghettos, including groups of orphans, across the Polish-Slovak-Hungarian borders. In the spring of 1944 she conveyed the first eyewitness testimony on the death camps when the Auschwitz report was compiled by two men, Rudolf Vr'ba and Alfred Wetzler, who had escaped from Auschwitz on April 7, 1944, and reconfirmed by two later escapees, Arnost Rosin and Czeslaw Mordowicz, who reached Slovkia in June 1944. During the mass deportations in the autumn of 1944, she was arrested by the Germans and sent to Auschwitz with a special instruction, RU-Rueckkehr unerwuenscht ("return undesirable"), and on arrival in Auschwitz she was immediately killed. Fleishmann was described as a woman of organizational talent, intellectual ability, emotional involvement, and political savvy.

BIBLIOGRAPHY:

L. Rothkirchen, Ḥurban Yahadut Slovakyah (1961), index, includes Eng. summary; O.J. Neumann, Be-Ẓel ha-Mavet (1958), passim; idem, Gisi Fleischmann (Eng., 1970); M.D. Weiss-mandel, Min ha-Meẓar (1960), passim; N. Levin, The Holocaust (1968), index. ADD. BIBLIOGRAPHY: J. Chapion, In the Lion's Mouth: Gisi Fleishmann and the Jewish Fight for Survival, (1987); Y. Bauer, Rethinking the Holocaust (2001), 1678–5; idem, Jews for Sale (1994).

[Livia Rothkirchen /

Michael Berenbaum (2nd ed.)]


Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.