WEINREB, FRIEDRICH (Fryderyk, Freek, Fischel; 1910–1988), economist. An unprecedented controversy developed in the Netherlands in the 1960s over the World War II activities of Friedrich Weinreb, a native of Lemberg whose family had settled in Scheveningen during World War I. When the Nazis occupied the Netherlands in 1940 Weinreb was a senior staff member of the Netherlands Economic Institute in Rotterdam. In 1941, shortly after losing his job due to anti-Jewish measures, he started a swindle, telling fellow Jews that the Nazis had permitted him to set up emigration destined for unoccupied France and Portugal. Three to four thousand Jews paid him to be on his – unfortunately, only imaginary – emigration list. He also managed to deceive the Nazis, collaborating with them in a second imaginary emigration plan that helped the Nazis track down Jews and Jewish valuables. He went into hiding with his family in 1944.
After the liberation Weinreb was sentenced to six years of imprisonment for swindling and betraying fellow Jews. Some sympathizers regarded him as a second Dreyfus and campaigned for his release. Owing to Queen Wilhelmina's jubilee he was released in December 1948.
The debate about his war past began in 1965, when the Dutch-Jewish historian J. Presser, basing his opinions mostly on Weinreb's voluminous memoirs, declared him an alternative hero who had resisted the Nazis with cunning and deceit. After the publication of Weinreb's memoirs in 1969 many journalists, politicians, historians, and critical intellectuals became involved in a public debate. Two publicists, Renate Rubinstein and Aad Nuis, and a Weinreb Committee dedicated themselves to the cause of Weinreb's rehabilitation. The dispute split society into Weinreb believers and non-believers, the latter being a minority. In particular, the novelist W.F. Hermans and journalist and high school teacher Henriëtte *Boas became fierce opponents of Weinreb. The 1976 report issued by the Rijksinstituut voor Oorlogsdocumentatie (Netherlands Institute for War Documentation) determined that he was a fantasizer and swindler, whose memoirs were largely false, and that his collaboration had resulted in 70 deaths. His activities did contribute to some Jews' survival, but most Jews who fell for Weinreb's swindle were deported and killed.
The enigma of Weinreb's beguiling talents is the more interesting because he proved to be a charlatan in other spheres of life as well, conning high-ranking officials of the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, leading a group of religious followers from 1948, and being convicted in 1957 and 1968 for posing as a medical doctor and for sexual offenses. Eventually, to avoid imprisonment, Weinreb left the country in 1968. He settled in Switzerland, where he continued to be a religious guru until his death in 1988.
Weinreb inspired extreme characterizations ranging from "messianic" to "the embodiment of evil." He won goodwill and stirred up trouble wherever he went. For a small group of followers Weinreb remains a hero and a guru. In fact, he was both a villain and a victim, and his historical accounts proved a miscellany of fact and fabrication, hardly suitable as a reliable historical source.
His memoirs cover the following: on World War II, Collaboratie en Verzet (1969); on the aftermath, De gevangenis, Herinneringen 1945–1948 (1989); on religion, De Bijbel als schepping (1963) and Ontmoetingen met mensen en engelen (religious memoirs; 1982).
J. Presser, Ondergang (1965) (the paragraph on Weinreb was omitted in the English edition); D. Giltay Veth, A.J. van der Leeuw, Rapport… inzake de activiteiten van drs. F. Weinreb… (1976); R. Grüter, Een fantast schrijft geschiedenis (1997) (with extensive bibliography).