WEISSMANDEL, MICHAEL DOV


WEISSMANDEL, MICHAEL DOV (1903–1956), rabbi and Jewish resistance leader. An Orthodox rabbi, son-in-law and close associate of Rabbi Unger of Nitra, Weissmandel began his public and social activities during the Nazi period when Jews were deported from Slovakia, engaging non-Jewish emissaries to send food, clothing, and money to the deportees temporarily "settled" in the territories of the General Government in Poland. Weissmandel belonged to the core of the underground "Working Group" and was the initiator of the *Europa Plan to rescue the remnants of European Jewry, seeking to bribe Nazi officials to forestall the deportation of Jews. When an initial $20,000 ransom to Dieter Wisliceny, Eichmann's deputy in Slovakia, which he reported to his superiors, halted a limited deportation, the Working Group and Weissmandel in particular thought they had hit upon a formula that might save Jews. When the vast sums promised were not forthcoming from the West, most particularly from the *American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, which was prohibited by law from transmitting funds behind enemy lines during wartime, Weissmandel turned bitter and interpreted the slow responses that he was receiving from Switzerland as indifference born of assimilation. In a remarkable and extraordinary situation, he worked closely with a woman Zionist leader, Gisi *Fleischman, in a rare display of cooperation. Fleischmann and Unger were cousins and this certainly helped mediate the vast political divide. His letters, addressed to the Jewish leadership of the free world "in the style of the Marranos," castigated indifference and begged for action to save the Jewish remnants from extermination. He was frantic and he communicated this both in his letters and his postwar memoirs. He sought $200,000 as a down payment on a $2 million ransom. In April 1944, he warned Hungarian Jewry of the impending deportations. He was part of the group that received the report from Rudolf Vrba and Alfred Wetzler, who had escaped from Auschwitz on April 7 and reported both on the activities of Auschwitz and of the plans for the impending arrival of Hungarian Jews. On May 27 two more Jews, Czeslaw Mordowicz and Arnost Rosin, escaped; their report was direct evidence of what was happening to Hungarian Jews (437,000 Jews were deported on 147 trains from May 15 to July 8, 1944, mostly to Auschwitz, where most were gassed upon arrival). The Working Group passed on this information to world leaders, the government of Slovakia, and the Catholic Church. Weissmandel implored world Jewish leaders to demand that the Allies bomb the murder installations at Auschwitz. In the autumn of 1944, the deportations from Slovakia resumed. He was deported with his family but jumped from the transport on its way to Auschwitz. His wife and children were killed at Auschwitz. Later he was on the Kasztner train that went to Switzerland. After the war he lived in the United States and reestablished the Nitra Yeshiva in Mount Kisco, New York, where he died. His book of memoirs, Min ha-Meẓẓar ("From the Depths"), was published posthumously in 1960. It is a bitter, condemnatory work, powerful and furious. It is also a problematic work for historians as it is difficult to tell what he wrote and what was written by his brother and students after he died.

BIBLIOGRAPHY:

L. Rothkirchen, Ḥurban Yahadut Slovakya (1961), index (comprehensive English summary); O.J. Neumann, Be-Ẓel ha-Mavet (1958), passim; N. Levin, The Holocaust (1968), 535–47. ADD. BIBLIOGRAPHY: Y. Bauer, Jews for Sale: Nazi-Jewish Negotiations, 19331945 (1994).

[Livia Rothkirchen /

Michael Berenbaum (2nd ed.)]


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