Holocaust Education & Archive Research Team
Essays & Editorials
2008 - 2009
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2006 - 2007
The Last "Unrighteous" the story of Benjamin Murmelstein
Guest Publication by Holocaust survivor Wolf Murmelstein
[Please note the following is the original text as submitted by the author. No edits specific to grammar or translation have been made]
[photos added to enhance the text]
Who had been really Dr. Benjamin Murmelstein (Lemberg/Lwow 1905 - Rome 1989)? He considered himself the last survivor among the "UNRIGHTEOUS“ never fully realizing his own innocence. But, when stated as “Rabbi, Scholar, Leading Figure in the Holocaust period”. Even after he had passed away the writer of this note has the painful task to repulse absurd and slanderous accusations, almost always based on “hear say” circulating in the clear interest of wrongdoers to discredit a witness.
In 1938, as Austria had been annexed ("Anschluss“) to he THIRD REICH without any international opposition, not even of Benes, he was one of the 17 Community Rabbis at Vienna while in 1939 he was the only one; what only Chief Rabbi Hertz properly appraised. The Jewish Community of Vienna needed a young manager, certainly not a scholar. Documents submitted to the internationally recognized Nazi Authorities had to be written caring every single word and in a style a Nazi was willing to understand; certainly not following Goethe, Heine, Schiller, etc. Nowadays Jewish Leaders earn honors while in that time of darkness they earned, at least, harsh menaces. One of the very few survived Jewish Leaders was Rabbi Benjamin Murmelstein, almost never asked to give evidence.
Gideon Hausner, who never explained why he did not call Benjamin Murmelstein to give evidence at Eichmann trial, then mentioned him as “Associate” of Eichmann in the book JUSTICE IN JERUSALEM. A Nazi could not have a Jewish associate while Gideon Hausner was well aware that a poor Shoah survivor could not afford to sue a New York based big publishing house.
The full absurdity of the above mentioned view of Gideon Hausner and Prof. Anna Hajkova is well expressed by the ironical remark of SS Ltd Karl Rahm in a hearing before the Investigating Magistrate of Litomeric People Court: “No, things were not so. Murmelstein did not give us orders”
At October 14, 2007 at the Vienna Film Museum the first part, referring to Vienna, of the series of interviews granted in 1976 by Benjamin Murmelstein to Claude Lanzman had been shown. In discussion following Vienna Jewish Community Secretary General Raimund Fastenbauer found it right to speak of Benjamin Murmelstein as a “Collaborateur” called “Murmelschwein, . The writer, who for health reasons could not attend the meeting, learned of that incident only in October 2011 finding a reference in Internet. His letter of protest addressed to Vienna Jewish Community President Muzicant had been answered by one of the Principals of a big Vienna Legal Firm, letter mailed by DHL, warning the writer not to publicize his protest to media or in Internet… interesting indeed.
Furthermore, the writer could read in the right-wing Catholic on-line journal “KREUTZ NET” the article “Was hat die Kultusgemeinde zu verstecken/What Vienna Jewish Community has to hide?” learning so about Mr Muzicant’s refusal to make some documents – among them the personal file Benjamin Murmelstein – available also very interesting.
In the Murmelstein file researchers will find evidences about the after war treatment: All personal belongings – also the 3000 volume library – had been sequestrated by the Community Leadership (persons
former far away from Jewish life) put in command in 1945 by the Soviet authorities. The writer’s claim for damages in 1997 had been answered at the manner of Swiss banks or insurance companies. A letter addressed to acting Vienna Chief Rabbi had not been even answered. It is well known worldwide that the writer cannot afford high costs of a trial; those damages were so listed as due to the “War end troubles” in order to have at least a modest government reparation granted.
In order to better understand how Benjamin Murmelstein could face the Nazis and achieve the Emigration of about 120.000 Jews from Vienna – between 1938 and 1941 – so as to hand over to International Red Cross Committee the only survived Ghetto, Theresienstadt/Terezin, one ought to consider his background.
Indeed, serving as Rabbi in Vienna XX° District (Brigitenau) he could learn about the real problem of simple or poor people. In his service at the Doebling Highschool he got experience in talking with anti-Semite youngsters. As scholar and lecturer at Vienna Rabbinical College he could in many articles show the Jewish roots of several New Testament statements. So, in 1934, he was the only one able to repulse the offensive statements of Severin Grill in the book TALMUD UND SCHULCHAN ARUCH.
In 1938, after the “ANSCHLUSS”, he felt that the Rabbi should not be the first to flee. So, as the Community needed a manager and not a scholar, he followed the call of Community Head Loewenhertz to set up and run the Emigration Department and cope with the main new task. So, as asked to do, he postponed his own emigration. A „Certificate for Palestine“ issued by Jerusalem „Jewish University“ had been endorsed to Abimelech Rimaldt who could so in 1939 reach safe heaven and then start a political career. After 1945 Rimaldt strictly avoided any contact.
In May 1938 Benjamin Murmelstein had to meet Eichmann, busy to set up his infamous CENTRAL OFFICE FOR JEWISH EMIGRATION, perhaps following the model of the former Bavarian State Police Central Office for Gypsies, which started full operating in August 1938 at Vienna and then also in Prague and Berlin. At November 10 1938 – REICHSKRISTALLNACHT – Benjamin Murmelstein had to watch Eichmann with an SS group destructing the seats in Vienna Seitenstettengasse Synagogue.
Furthermore, if had been called, he had could give evidence on how Eichmann and Friends took profit on confiscated Jewish Assets so as, by a new Travel Agency, exploit the fear of unfortunate people afraid to be considered “unwilling to emigrate” and sent in a Lager. Paying, in advance, one had to book to emigration groups directed to somewhere, avoiding so to be considered “unwilling to emigrate”. The destination Columbia could not be reached as the visa had been forged.
Community Head Loewenhertz in 1938 had looked for a young associate in order to cope with all the new tasks arisen after the Nazis took power in Austria, but as experienced politician, certainly did not want a deputy which could be chosen by the Nazis to replace him. So he advised Benjamin Murmelstein to submit applications for suitable foreign positions. Unfortunately, in November 1939 applications could be submitted only:
Benjamin Murmelstein was still too bond to the Conservative-Orthodox Jewish way of thinking that he did not send an application to the Uppsala Bishop Schoederblum, Chancellor of that University, or the Jewish Union College of Cincinnati which belongs to the Liberal Reform movement.
As better shown in following, after 1945 the Conservative Rabbinical class, at least, did not care about the fate of Rabbi Benjamin Murmelstein.
When discussing the way he managed the emigration –between 1938 and 1941 - of about 120000 Jews from Vienna to safe havens one ought to consider that an emigration department differed from a tour operator company. Furthermore, under Nazi rule a Jewish Leader could not afford to behave gentlemen like as strict orders had to be obeyed:
Among the many rumors on Benjamin Murmelstein two deserve to be quoted for their special stupidity:
1. “……. does he accept bribery?” „Not personally; the son, a student, acts a money collector“
At spring 1939, the son (“a student”?) was not even three years old.
2. “…… Murmelstein had been paid for granting Eichmann Hebrew tuition”
a. Murmelstein noted that Eichmann could not even distinguish Hebrew letters from scribbles.
b. It is reported that Eichmann, when captured in 1960, recited the first verse of the SHEMA. This may only depend on his staying after 1945 in a DP Camp where he, like other hiding Nazis, had had some contact with Jewish refugees. His claim to have had granted tuition by Leo Baeck is only one of his many lies.
Even Simon Wiesenthal, still in 1970, referred to this tale; it seems that he had been unable to find-out Benjamin Murmelstein in Rome Telephone Directory in order to learn the truth.
Until August 1939, even after Vienna British Consulate had ceased operations, Murmelstein could send persons to the United Kingdom as the Home Office knew his signature.
As Murmelstein had not been heard, no one questioned Eichmann thoroughly on the way he fooled and used a former banker who was Jewish only according the Nazi racial theories. That person had joined the Community just in 1938 and started dealing with the emigration of wealthy persons. In August 1943, that unfortunate person had been sent to Auschwitz, on order of Vienna Gestapo. Eichmann then made a trip to
Auschwitz in order to meet that, unfortunate, banker; the claim to have obtained for him a lighter work from Commander Hoess is only one of his many lies. Career, and life of that unfortunate banker ended some weeks later; a clear example of “personal relationship” between a SS Officer and a Jew.
At Vienna Murmelstein had to cope with many difficulties, the hardest were:
In December 1939 an accident occurred as Eichmann and aides had spied on by their “Gestapo Comrades”. Eichmann could obtain within two hour a strict order “from the highest authority” (Heydrich?) and settle the affair. It was very dangerous for any Jewish Leader to be involved in that rivalry.
Jewish religious rules and traditions could hardly be followed:
As he had not been heard at the Eichmann Trial, Murmelstein could not give proper evidence about the NISKO AFFAIRE which had not been made clear in Court verdict.
In October 1939 Murmelstein and other Jewish Leaders had been sent to Nisko, in Poland, between Sun and Bug rivers near to Lublin and the then Demarcation Line. According Eichmann, who had quoted a Hitler speech, a Jewish Self Governed region should be established there. At arrival of the first Jewish group, Eichmann delivered a speech about the things to do and services to set on. Eichmann ended the speech with a smile saying: “Otherwise it would mean to die”.
Murmelstein at a certain moment obtained a written authorization to leave the camp in order to make out “better settlement opportunities” but, indeed, in order to get assistance by Lublin Jewish Community. He could so note that the project of a Jewish settlement in the area had no support by the newly established
German Authorities; District Prefect and Lublin Area SS Commander had not been even informed. The infamous General Governor Hans Frank then stated to be the only one “to represent the Fuehrer” in Poland and Eichmann had to order the Jewish Leaders to return to Vienna and Prague and take advantage of the few still remaining emigration opportunities.
Eichmann, promoted to the rank of Major, at December 1939 became the head of the CENTRAL OFFICE FOR JEWISH AFFAIRS at the RSHA central in Berlin. He continued so his infamous career and was in charge, first for Germany, Austria, Boemia-Moravia and later for other Nazi-Fascist ruled countries.
At the 1961 trial in Jerusalem, Attorney General Hausner – showing so a lack of right historical knowledge - did not realize that Eichmann had had no “authority” over the Ghettoes in Poland, Baltic Regions and Belarus. Defense Counsel Servatius avoided recalling attention on this error.
Eichmann still continued to speak about emigration while in 1940 the remaining opportunities were very few. Noteworthy that in December 1940 Benjamn Murmelstein had been ordered to work out and submit an essay about a possible Jewish Homeland. Driven by his Zionist ideals – although as a rabbi had had to avoid any official affiliation – Benjamin Murmelstein expressed the view that a Jewish Homeland can be settled only in Palestine with the help of “that power which at the end of war will be leading in Near East Aerea”. It seems that Eichmann commented:” Murmelstein does not understand that only Germany can win the war and so be the leading power in Near East Area”. The matter is what did, in that time, know Eichmann who in November 1937 visited the Near East Area for talks with Arab representatives?
1. At the “FUEHRER HEADQUARTER”, in December 1940, it was already clear that Germany had to come into the war so in Libya/Egypt as in Greece where Italian armies had beat a withdrawal
2. The Mufti El Husseini, after having met Mussolini in Rome, preferred to go to Berlin where he had a talk with Hitler.
3. Syria and Lebanon stood under the French “Collaborateur” Vichy government control.
4. In Iraq Prime Minister El Kailani, like other Arab nationalist, was in favor of the Axis Powers.
5. From bases on Rhodes, Island Italian bombers had reached Haifa and Tel Aviv.
6. There were still politicians in the United Kingdom who favored a treaty with Nazi Germany.
In 1941 Jewish Emigration from Germany, Austria and Boemia-Moravia had been first limited and then prohibited and in September 1941 wearing of the Yellow Star had been ordered.
Just at Eve of Yom Kippur the Vienna Branch of CENTRAL OFFICE FOR JEWISH EMIGRATION – SS Ltd Alois Brunner – informed about the start of the deportation for “Resettlement in the East”. The problem of the selection of the persons to set on the transport lists arose:
1. In Berlin (and so for the other “Old Reich” towns) Leo Baeck said that only the Jewish Leadership could cope with that task in a human way.
2. In Vienna Benjamin Murmelstein preferred to follow the LOD RULE and let the CENTRAL OFFICE to work out the lists and then ask for exemption of persons where a reason understandable for the SS could be stated. Community staff members had to go with the SS men in order to grant assistance to the, unfortunate, selected persons. That kind of “participation” could not be avoided as SS Ltd Brunner mad clear that otherwise the Nazi Youth (Hitler Jugend) would be “sent out for the task”.
The opinion of Hanna Arendt - Jewish Leaders, by their “participation”, helped the Nazis to fasten the deportations - hardly meets any test of consistency:
1. Hanna Arendt, in 1940, could reach New York and stay safe as there had been Jewish Leaders and volunteers who “participated” in order to help fellow Jews to leave Nazi-Fascist ruled Europe.
2. Jewish Leaders certainly were not stronger as the various army commanders and statesmen who surrendered to Nazi Germany. Jewish communities in those time of darkness stood in an often hostile or, at least, indifferent environment.
3. As disciple of the Nazi Philosopher Heidegger Hanna Arendt is hardly entitled to sentence on Jewish Leaders, almost all Martyrs. In other site should be discussed whether and how Hanna Arendt’s opinions had been influenced by Heidegger theories.
4. When reporting on the Eichmann trial Hanna Arendt failed to note that Attorney General Hausner had not called a witness like Benjamin Murmelstein to give evidence.
But at a certain moment the Nazis realized that the tale of “resettlement of Jews for work” hardly could justify deportation of aged or sick persons, war officers holding medals for merit, etc. Furthermore, as explained by Himmler: “Germans all agree on the idea to get rid of Jews. But then every German has his own Jews stating that this is a right Jew; send away the others but let him stay here”. What Himmler did not explain was that some Germans could not be ignored at all. Besides, there were under the Jews highly qualified persons well known abroad. Who could not simply disappear in East? T
he solution was THERESIENSTADT, a little town in Bohemia surrounded by walls and with many barracks, just on the Reich border, better known under the Czech name TEREZIN. There Eichmann had the opportunity of a Ghetto under his own authority and to show the real meaning of his “great ideas”. Many Germans could so “be in peace with their conscience” having obtained for their “right Jew” – a relative, a divorced wife, etc. – a place in the “Model Ghetto”. Qualified Jews know abroad could so, for a while, send, postcards.
From October 1941 until September 1942 Benjamin Murmelstein had to watch the deportations. At Yom Kippur 1942 he had a nervous crisis for desperation about things happened in the year. He was in doubt to be ritually qualified to lead the prayer service with the very few believing Jews still in Vienna.
From the start to the end of the deportation waves almost all Jews had been deported from Vienna. Beside the very few believing Jews – community staff members – there were many persons in mixed marriage and descendants of Jewish parents or grand-parents. In that year Benjamin Murmelstein had to face the Vienna Branch of CENTRAL OFFICE FOR JEWISH EMIGRATION where the rule was “promises are valid only when served”. Amid harsh orders he tried to save what possible. The number of the few believing Jews for the community staff had been the result of a difficult “bargaining” (requests had to be submitted in a suitable form) with SS Ltd Alois Brunner. At end of August 1942 Benjamin Murmelstein with family was about to be sent to Terezin. But:
1. Eichmann decided to delay the “re-organization” of Terezin “Jewish Self-Government”;
2. Prof. Victor Christian recalled attention on the high scholarly qualities – he sad to be still needed at Vienna – of Benjamin Murmelstein and obtained from the Gestapo the authorization for a series of lectures on Jewish Literature.
To attend those lectures, in the rooms of Jewish Community, was Prof Christian himself, Pastor Hans Jungreithmeyer (“Aryan expert for Hebrew” of Vienna Gestapo) and few other scholars. It is to be pointed out that only Prof. Christian and Pastor Jungreithmeyer were allowed to talk with Murmelstein.
The claim of one of the other attending scholars – later Professor of Evangelical Theology – to have had “troubles with the Police” after Murmelstein had refused to listen his attempt to inform about things going on in the “East” turns out to be only a defamation:
a. An “Aryan” had to be allowed by the Gestapo to have contacts with a Jew.
b. For a Wehrmacht soldier on leave even the suspect of an attempt to inform anyone, especially a Jew, on things going on in the “East” would have resulted, at least, in being sent in a “Lager”.
The delay of Murmelstein Family deportation lasted only to the end of January 1943 when Eichmann wanted to report for JANUARY 30 – anniversary of Hitler’s rise to power - the deportation of Jewish Leadership of Berlin, Vienna and Prague. So Murmelstein and some other Community Staff member with families had to go to THERESIENSTADT/TEREZIN.
At Vienna University some years Benjamin Murmelstein was the only student eventually attending lectures of Victor Christian on the findings of David Heinrich Mueller of Yemenite Literature; so a certain relationship came out. Victor Christian, as mentioned above, accepted to discuss the Doctor Dissertation of Benjamin Murmelstein about ADAM, A CONTRIBUTION TO MESSIANIC STUDIES which hardly met with Semitic Philology but there had been no other suitable Professor.
In March 1938 Victor Christian been appointed Dean of Faculty of Philosophy and Vice Chancellor of Vienna University., Benjamin Murmelstein, thanks to this relationship, could submit the problem of Jewish students having only to discuss their Doctor Thesis. Victor Christian obtained that those students could “discuss” in the summer 1938 period getting their doctorate; in some cases Benjamin Murmelstein acted as procurator.
After the interruption of the series of lectures on Jewish Literature Professor Christian and Pastor Junghreitmeyer submitted a DEMAND FOR RELEASE FROM GHETTO of Benjamin Murmelstein recalling his high scholarly qualification. They did not realize the absurdity of such a request which, at any rate, resulted helpful in some way.
The first Elder of Terezin, Jacob Edelstein since months was suspected for having contacts with the so called Czech Resistance. Eichmann thought it right to follow a “cautious proceeding”. At January 31 1943 new Elder of Terezin became Paul Eppstein, just arrived from Berlin. Jacob Edelstein was downgraded to First Deputy Elder and Second Deputy Elder was named Benjamin Murmelstein. All the three of them had been busy to manage, in their communities, the emigration of fellow Jews to safe heavens failing so to get safe themselves with their families and now they shared the responsibility for the “Model” Ghetto.
The Ghettoes in the Holocaust period were not Jewish Communities but FORCED COMMUNITIES as the Nazis considered persons as Jewish on racial, not religious, criteria. So in the Ghettoes together with believing Jews there were those converted to other faiths, the agnostics, Zionists, Czech, German, Austrian nationalists, persons having some Jewish ancestors, etc. etc. So persons who did not share the same Faith not always had been aware to share the same fate and had to live and work together.
In the “TRIUMVIRATE” set up at order of Eichmann, Murmelstein had to work, in the capacity of “Second Deputy Elder” on side with the ”Elder” Eppstein, and the “First Deputy Elder” Edelstein and, by the subdivision of tasks, supervise the “HEALTH AND WELFARE” and “TECHNICAL SERVICES” Departments.
In his task Benjamin Murmelstein had to master the problem of different backgrounds and ideas:
1. Jacob Edelstein in 1941 hoped that Terezin would be a good training camp (HAKSCHARAH) for the Youth in view of a future life in Palestine. As a Zionist official he felt bond to party-loyalty.
2. Paul Eppstein, a young promising sociologist, in 1933 joined the staff of the REICHSVERTRETUNG
(After 1939 REICHSVEREINIGUNG)- where he worked in the emigration sector and in 1940 he had to replace Leo Baeck as Chief Executive. Until his Martyrdom he had difficulty to realize that in the Reich ruled by a criminal gang – internationally acknowledged as government – assurances or other statements of a “state official” were only tricky ones.
3. Staff members of the two departments Benjamin Murmelstein had to supervise were mainly of Bohemia-Moravia origin and secular, agnostic or not of Jewish Faith. Besides there was also the variances between Czech nationalists, German and Austrian patriots, Communists and Zionists.
While coordination of work required the German tongue for a better understanding resulted helpful that Benjamin Murmelstein, as from Lvov, know the Polish tongue very similar to Czech. The version that he started to learn Czech for opportunism turns clearly out as a stupid tale.
The first problem to master was the typhus epidemic in spring 1943 very dangerous in the overcrowded Ghetto very near to the then Reich border. The Nazis certainly did not care about the health of Ghetto inmates but wanted to avoid risks of contagion on the nearby Reich area of Letimaritz/Litomerice and others. To overcome the reluctance of many, mainly pious elderly people, to undergo vaccinations it was necessary to enforce the action necessary for survival making the release of monthly food stamps dependent from obedience of the order. Critics show only ignorance of the problem’s seriousness.
As mentioned above, in February 1943 Prof. Victor Christian submitted a Demand in order to obtain the release of Murmelstein from the Ghetto as his scholarly qualifications were still needed in Vienna. That absurd demand however reached the SS Culture Department and so turned to be helpful. In spring 1943 Benjamin Murmelstein had been commanded to set up and supervise a team with the task to work out a catalogue of Hebrew Books the Nazis robbed in many Jewish libraries; a good opportunity for many rabbis to have suitable work.
In August 1943 Benjamin Murmelstein, who “forgot” to let the team detach the “ex libris” from the volumes, had to receive the visit of the SS Colonel expert in Judaica and supervisor of the plunder of many European Jewish Libraries. Showing and commenting many, previously selected, interesting volumes could divert attention from this “sabotage”.
It is stated that Benjamin Murmelstein had been hated and feared and called “murmelschwein”. This is certainly true as he so in the Council of Elders as in daily supervising work in the HEALTH AND WELFARE and TECHNICAL SERVICES he had a very critical attitude on certain positions of privilege. He hold the view to master many problems cutting privileges – clearly those not dependent on “good connections” with the SS - fighting so much of the related corruption and the business “cigarettes in change of stolen food” or so. Persons – cooks, warehouse keepers, etc. etc. - who were “disturbed” in their affaires indeed hated and feared Benjamin Murmelstein.
Another problem arose with persons who “knew” an SS man and/or a Czech Gendarme and tried to blackmail Jewish leadership. Benjamin Murmelstein, in some cases, had to remind such persons - even in harsh form - that they too were considered only as Jews. At a certain moment – when called for deportation transport on Command’s “Special Order” - such persons had to realize to have only deceived themselves.
In December 1943 order came to start the EMBELLISHMENT of the Ghetto. Benjamin Murmelstein – in charge of supervising so the TECHNICAL SERVICES as the HEALTH AND WELFARE Departments - realized the opportunity to improve, in some way, conditions of Ghetto inmates. But:
1. The SS wanted only a farce of improvement in order to fool foreign visitors.
2. Many technicians – Czech nationalists, Communists – felt bond to “RESISTANCE INCITEMENTS” of Benes, who stood safe in exile,
a. They certainly could not help but perform the works asked by the Command. These brave “resistants” were, of course, eager to satisfy any request of an SS man for his own account.
b. The sabotage of making beds, tables or chairs for aged Jews without any position of privilege or restructure a building making it so a bit more livable for inmates was certainly easier.
In February 1944 Eichmann realized the need to fasten the Embellishment action. Commander Anton Burger had been assigned to Athens in order to force deportation of last remaining Greek Jews and replaced by Karl Rahm who, having the background as engine fitter and amateur painter, was the only capable one in the Eichmann staff to supervise the Embellishment. As a man of the working class (it seems that his brother, as a Communist, was imprisoned at the Dachau Lager) he was not so a fanatical Nazi as his two, “more educated”, predecessors; the difference had been expressed speaking of “Uncle Rahm”, clearly a nonsense as he could be terrifying when getting furious like other SS men. However, belonging to the working class, he was interested in technical questions and ready to listen when visiting facilities and workshops.
With progress of the Embellishing Action – which led to a little but important improvement of conditions – Benjamin Murmelstein had been insulted and blamed as “Collaborateur” On the other had there were attempts to involve him in the corruption net. At his 1944 birthday the main corrupter came wishing with the words “a nude woman is coming” not as embarrassing as the enormous cake actually carried by to men. Benjamin Murmelstein at once commanded to take the cake to the tuberculosis children recovery.
The visit of the Danish Red Cross (Denmark stood under strong German occupation) arrived at June 22, 1944 and could find that the Jews deported from Denmark lived in bearable conditions. Some days later Commander Rahm transmitted the order to continue the embellishment work as other foreign visitors were expected for September 1944. The Jewish Leadership could not know that this was Nazi lie.
Benjamin Murmelstein, hoping to obtain further improvements of life conditions, went on with the Embellishment work; but, however, he felt more and more uneasy:
1. The SS Command wanted to make certain that there were not parachutist hidden in the Ghetto. The Jewish Leadership certainly ignored the foolish action conceived by some idiot in Jerusalem WZO Headquarter to send by parachute volunteers in Italy, Hungary and Slovakia. Only one of these brave volunteers, watched by Nazi spies from Cairo departure until their destination, survived. The Nazis became so even more suspicious about Jewish workers in the last two Ghettoes: Lodz and Theresienstadt/Terezin, where efforts to secure survival by work failed.
2. He had been forbidden to undergo a necessary surgical operation; a bad signal.
3. In August Benjamin Murmelstein had been called at Command to hear SS Major Hans Guenther, to offer, as reward for the good performance of Embellishment work, to be allowed to emigrate to Palestine. Feeling a trick Benjamin Murmelstein answered to have many tasks in Theresienstadt; he certainly had no knowledge about the failed mission and arrest of Joel Brand.
4. Later in August, instead of other foreign visitors, the Film action started. It is not clear who wanted to fool at that time SS Major Hans Guenther; nowadays some scenes are well exploited by Holocaust deniers.
In September 1944, a day after Rosh ha Shana (Jewish New Year) order came to select 5000 Men (former Officers holding decorations too) to be enlisted for work in Germany (near Dresden) as “after an inspection the setting up of workshops in Theresienstadt/Terezin turned out to be impossible”. Two leading Council Members had to go “to set up the new …” The first transport was scheduled to leave the day after Yom Kippur, the holiest Jewish Fast Day.
In the afternoon of that Yom Kippur Benjamin Murmelstein had to watch the arrest of his predecessor Paul Eppstein and take the full burden. He was so in chair at the emergency meeting of the Council of Elders just at the end of the Fast. Attending personally the departure of the two transports “for work” he could avoid that any confusion due to tricky abuses with “last minute substitutions”; so, unlikely to previous transports, no one more than ordered left.
Benjamin Murmelstein, still in the official capacity of “Second Deputy Elder” tried to re-start the Ghetto after that enormous loss of men in working age. At October 6 he learnt at the daily morning “rapport” that no further transports would leave. Two hours later he had been called again and ordered to make selections for other transports. In a nerve crisis, feeling “all is lost”, he lost control of words and started to explain the impossibility of further transports. Commander Rahm shouted “No bargaining here, get out!” After waiting half an hour out of the office of the Commander, Benjamin Murmelstein learnt that selections for the new transports should be effected by the SS.
In following three weeks every inmate had to appear and face the Commander; Benjamin Murmelstein then received the lists of selected persons to call. He could only submit applications for exemptions stating reasons which seemed acceptable for the SS; but many had been turned down according criteria only to be conjectured. I is well known and made certain, that Benjamin Murmelstein could obtain the exemption of about 500 person and, very important, without any replacement.
In order to show the absurdity of many, slanderous, tales it is necessary point out, summarizing, that:
1. In September (October 1944 no one at Theresienstadt/Terezin knew the real destination of the transports or what was going on there. Even Commander Rahm, in 1947, denied to have had any information.
2. Selections for those transport lists had been done by the SS and Benjamin Murmelstein hold no power to remove any person but, as made certain, Benjamin Murmelstein obtained exemptions from transports without any substitution so fewer inmates had to leave than scheduled by the Nazis. A merit or guilt?
At beginning of November 1944 in the Ghetto were few men however more women in working age and many aged persons.
But: There were about 300 well known persons whom the Nazis could not let disappear in a simple way; therefore the Ghetto had to be made fit for receiving other foreign visitors. Considering that a Ghetto seen by foreign visitors would have more chances of survival, Benjamin Murmelstein took action in following steps:
a. Women , instead of men, had to perform heavy works. Elderly people and children over 10 years had been called to suitable tasks.
b. In order to grant a fair food distribution privileges were cut.
c. In order to have various more nourishing food stuff available, packs from abroad addressed to people not present any more (passed away or deported) could be handed out only to close relatives. Proxies (obtained almost always in a tricky way) to have such gift packs handed out had been voided. The precious food stuff acquired in that way made a better rewarding of special heavy works and a better care of needy and sick people possible.
a. A Five Member Council – aged gentlemen but well known abroad – had been appointed.
b. At prestigious, but indeed meaningless, positions persons well known abroad had been
appointed; so at the Board of the “Ghetto Bank” the former CEO of the most important Austrian
Bank and two Ministers could be shown.
c. Rabbi Leo Baeck had been named Head of the Social Assistance Department, actually run by a
very valid lady.
5. Order and strict secrecy had to be assured:
a. Instead of standing on trial at the Ghetto Court – whose verdicts had to be validated by Commander – lawbreakers had been put on arrest by “Police Act” avoiding so useless fuss.
b. Night silence had to assured and gatherings had to be avoided.
c. Persons had to be available and found at daily evening presence control.
d. In order to prevent thefts, storekeepers were hold personally responsible until thief found out.
Clearly the action of Benjamin Murmelstein did not meet common democratic or juridical standard nor he could behave in the way considered after the events should have been “politically correct”; at least for school book authors, essayists, politicians delivering hypocrite speeches at commemoration ceremonies.
Critics fail to consider that he, like any other Jewish Leader of that time of darkness, had to act in very hard and special circumstances; in a race with time, in a struggle with one of the cruelest tyrannies of history risen to destroy the Jewish people. Historians dealing with the deeds of the unfortunate Judenrat should strictly avoid to consider tales or malicious gossip. His manners had been, indeed, very rude as his only mean to keep order was shouting and “police acts” but, by keeping order by himself he could reduce to minimum the presence in the Ghetto of the SS men who could so prefer to amuse themselves (getting often drunk, etc.) in their quarter.
The following tale deserves to be mentioned for its stupidity:
It had been reported in the book of the third Jewish Elder of Slovakia, how, one day, Benjamin Murmelstein offended an old Rabbi of Vienna shouting rude words, present many bystanders. The truth was that not a rabbi but an elderly man from Germany wanted to hand out a letter, addressed to an inmate, he had found among the potatoes he was sorting and thought, typical German attitude, his duty to denounce this forbidden act.
Taking that letter, present many bystanders, compelled to forward it just to the Commander with terrible consequences. The only way to refuse taking that letter avoiding risk of denounces, was getting furious and shout loudly very rude expressions. Besides, the third Elder of Slovakian Jews, Oskar Neumann, believed to have had a good relationship with SS Captain Wisliceny … ; therefore he is not entitled to pronounce sentences on other Jewish Leaders or report tales without any knowledge of things.
H.G.Adler, in his very important history of Theresienstadt/Terezin acknowledged that in November December 1944 there were many amazing improvements of conditions but failed to mention how those were due to the strong action of Benjamin Murmelstein.
It had been made certain in People Court that Benjamin Murmelstein had the first alarming information about things going when the first group of Slovakian Jews reached Theresienstadt/Terezin at end of December 1944. So he could fully evaluate the danger connected to a strange building project as the work had to be done only following oral instructions without any written schemes and drawings. The statement of H.G.Adler that “protests had been made before Commander Rahm” is in no way accurate. An inmate had to be called to go to the Command. Only the Elder – Benjamin Murmelstein – had to go every morning, and, when called, in other hours too.
Benjamin Murmelstein - after having given instructions for the event he would be arrested – faced the Commander reporting that inmates were startled and a mass escape should be difficult to avoid. Commander Rahm replied that he was following instructions to set up bombproof stores for the provisions (a version he hold even when on trial in People Court in 1947!) and Jews had to work instead gathering on main square. But: Following day he left for Prague returning after three days with the order to stop that work.
1. Such an order could be given only by SS General K.H.Frank High SS and Police Commander and Reich Minister for the Bohemia-Moravia Protectorate. Indeed Frank considered the Ghetto a
good trump card in order to reach a deal with Allied Commanders.
2. After on order of Himmler the Auschwitz Gas Chambers ceased the murder, Eichmann wanted
to go on with killing and, like some other Lager Commander, thought to set up his own Gas Chamber. This fact, which proves Eichmann’s wide own power, never had been cleared .
As, at begin of February 1945, a transport with 1200 inmates could leave for Switzerland – thanks to efforts of Past President J.M. Musy – Benjamin Murmelstein had been available in office by night (at 4 on clock!) and so a person could solve her problem and leave together with her relatives. The writer had been informed accordingly by the Lady.
At March 5, 1945 Eichmann, ending his control visit, said: “So, as the Ghetto is, the visit may come.” The first result of the efforts of Murmelstein and the many workers – mainly women – of the Ghetto. During the visit Benjamin Murmelstein made a review of Ghetto organization and answering a question of Eichmann said: “… no opposition here”. Eichmann remarked: “If so, whom are you quarreling with?”
The long waited International Red Cross Committee visit arrived at April 6, 1945. Benjamin Murmelstein had to deliver a speech – previously controlled, maybe approved by Himmler – and guide the visitors along an established Ghetto tour. In the final salutation, he put in (at great personal risk) twice the words. “the fate of Theresienstadt is of great concern for me”. This call for help had been suddenly caught and the Red Cross Delegates suddenly obtained from Minister SS General K.H.Frank assurance that no one inmate would be removed from the Ghetto and the authorization to establish an office in Prague.
But Eichmann and some aides still wanted to slaughter the Ghetto. As Minister SS General K. H. Frank considered the Ghetto as a trump card in the attempt to deal with Allied Commanders – he had asked the Red Cross Delegates to forward a letter – found two possible tricks:
1. Threaten and pressing Benjamin Murmelstein by taking his 8 year old son as hostage. The writer
had been summoned to Command and questioned by three of the worst aides of Eichmann, but
then permitted to go “home”.
2. In war-time any revolt, special when near the combat front, can be put down. For the Nazis such repressions were good opportunities for mass slaughters.
How to provoke in Theresienstadt/Terezin a revolt to put down, with following mass slaughter? The tricky way followed by Eichamm staff was in 3 steps:
1. LIBERATION OF “DANISH” JEWS.
On April 15, 1945 the “Danishes” left Theresienstadt/Terezin on a convoy of 8 buses. The departure
of that privileged group protected from abroad left Benjamin Murmelstein feel a bit uneasy while
the inmates were quite excited as hope of near end of war – with German defeat – increased.
2. KASTNER VISIT ON APRIL 16.
The inmates could watch a Jew (without Yellow Star!) toured around in the town by the SS and allowed to meet at the SS quarter a person he knew to inform – bypassing so the Elder – the inmates about the next overhanding of the Ghetto. Inform or excite?
3. THE FARCE -REVOLT OF NIGHT 17/18.
At midnight, just after having answered usual phone call of the SS on duty – “Yes Sir, all in order.” -
Benjamin Murmelstein had been “alerted” by an associate: “Germans fled away; a joyous crowd is
Clearly someone wanted inmates excited, but why?
Benjamin Murmelstein somehow managed to let crowding inmates return to their quarters but
then he was asked again whether the leaflet order-sheet was authentic or not. So hurried to put
things in order; some minutes later on main square the encounter with the SS, all holding machine
guns and looking very excited. The furious Commander mentioned that an inmate, trying to leave
Officer who called on the SS.
In a nearby shanty the still furious Commander let the men stay at the wall, first step for well known
“action”. Benjamin Murmelstein, in this desperate moment, risked and recalled Rahm “What are You
going to here? Do You not know what it is the time?” After a moment of hesitation the Rahm began:
“Gentlemen, near end of war is possible and all of us will return home but order and discipline!”
At the following morning rapport the Commander show a copy of the infamous leaflet remarking: “No need to send it to Prague.” And then: “Fortunately I have not met crowds on street, In such circumstances one cannot help but shoot.” Benjamin Murmelstein made every possible effort to keep Rahm calm; in various modes he reported how the inmates appreciated the speech “Gentlemen …” and hoped he would stay as “German General Consul” or so, at least in order to grant security.
To have so avoided a mass slaughter of all Ghetto inmates had been a merit or a guilt as not politically correct?
Indeed, it seems that in many USA Universities the prevailing opinion is that a revolution should have been attempted. So Benjamin Murmelstein as the writer often had to recall that even any suspect of riots in view of an uprising would have only jeopardized the International Red Cross action to achieve the Ghetto survival. Benjamin Murmelstein, the writer agrees, remarked that having prevented school book authors from writing stupid “politically correct” tales and politicians, or so, from delivering, more or less hypocrite, speeches at various commemorations is considered nowadays as a heavy guilt.
Having avoided a mass slaughter does not matter too much or it is not rightly appreciated. Indeed, survivors could claim their rights to have assets returned and/or subsidies granted.
In following days International Red Cross Delegate M. Dunand came informing the coming of transports from the “Lagers” and that he had been entrusted with the protection of Theresienstadt/Terezin. Red Cross Delegate Paul Dunand could so give shelter to thousands of unfortunate people needing a place where start recovery just thanks to heavy and risky efforts of Benjamin Murmelstein for the survival of Ghetto Theresienstad/Terezin. Because of typhus epidemic of the Lager inmates arrived a strong isolation had been necessary in order to prevent diffusion among Ghetto inmates. What really had been going on in the Lagers and specifically at Auschwitz was now known in cruel details.
At May 3 and 4 1945 Red Cross Delegate M. Dunand established his office in the Command building and had meeting with the Elder, the Council Members and the Department Heads. From the minutes, in French, of the May 3 meeting results that Leo Baeck expressed his feeling of thankfulness for the strong work performed by Benjamin Murmelstein hoping that his capability will be available to the new Administration; that expression of wisdom, and good common sense, had not been followed.
May 5 1945, at the last morning rapport, Benjamin Murmelstein handed out Rahm his formal resignation and then passed power to Council, headed by Leo Baeck. In afternoon, a phone call from Rahm: “The old shitters slinked away, come on you”. At the reply “I am not any more in office.” Rahm answered: “You too shitted?”: clearly, Benjamin Murmelstein could not help but go; so he received the remaining funds. Rahm and the last SS man still there left then by car, still in uniform and bearing weapons. Benjamin Murmelstein returned in Administration quarter where all the Council members were, already, present; one wondered whether the check drawn in German would be still welcomed by Bauschwitz Saving Bank. At May 6 1945 Leo Baeck, by letter, expressed Benjamin Murmelstein Council’s thanks for work performed.
After the Red Army had reached Theresienstadt/Terezin at May 8 – the day of official German surrender, while Feld Marschall Ferdinand Schoerner still resisted with about one million armed men – Benjamin Murmelstein had been called on Russian Command, questioned by an NKVD Colonel and asked to write a History of Theresienstadt/Terezin.
Noteworthy that no envoy of World Jewish Congress and/or American Joint Jewish Distribution Committee European Headquarter reached Theresienstadt/Terezin to hear Benjamin Murmelstein report on events; he did not understand that alarming signal and thought it right to reach Paris by himself. So he, with family, joined a group directed to France but had been stopped by communist highwaymen, deprived from personal documents, compelled to return to Theresienstadt/Terezin where he had put on arrest so as some former staff member.
In 1945, Eduard Benes, in order to divert attention from his 1938 political bankruptcy, had to launch a campaign of trials against collaborationists which the Communist Party found suitable in order to destruct the Middle Class: as Clement Gottwald expressed in rude way: “The bourgeois parties offered … but even their bum.” Indeed, in three years, in 1948, Benes got politically bankrupt again and for good.
Showing a Rabbi from Vienna, borne in Lwow, as Collaborateur granted a great propaganda effect, useful to divert attention from the infamous Benes Decrees which considered valid the 1939/40 forced sales to Germans of Jewish assets that so could be confiscated as “German Properties”. This explains the shameful behavior of Prague Jewish Community – in 1945 a close Benes associate became President and Chief Rabbi Sicher in 1939 had been among the first to flee to safe heaven- as the Murmelstein case concerns:
1. There was a Jewish prison inmate never visited and who knew of Yom Kippur date only accidently.
2. The letter from South America with the offer of a tankful person of Vienna to sustain all expenses of assistance and defense had been withhold and suppressed.
3. Slanderous statements had been put in circulation.
A race to submit denounces raising more or less absurd accusations started. After six months of confrontations, Prague State Police proposed to turn down accusations but, on request of Communist Party, the political commission decided to put the case to the Litomerice People Court. After nine months State Attorney even did not submit any request of trial and, so, Investigating Magistrate pronounced acquittal as all accusations had resulted as baseless. But, in order to be suddenly released, Benjamin Murmelstein had to sign a paper renouncing to indemnity for unjust imprisonment, Benes style democracy. Costs of defense and personal assistance had been supported by friends – fellow inmates – who appraised deeds performed. While the Joint (disregarding 1940 commitments) and other Jewish institutions left Benjamin Murmelstein alone. The family found shelter in Budapest, assisted by relatives, and had to stay there until 1949. In 1947, in trial against last Commander Rahm, Benjamin Murmelstein was the crown witness and considered fully trustworthy having been fully rehabilitated. So in a People Court known for having been rigorous.
In any democracy a verdict of acquittal means that defendant resulted not guilty and deserves respect of his good name and honor. Furthermore, from religious point of view, when authority of “non hostile” government stated the accusation of cooperation with enemy resulted have been baseless so there is an obstacle less to the coming of Messiah. As Benjamin Murmelstein concerns none of those principles had
Been respected and the slanderous hate campaign went on, mainly in books and in articles on newspapers; even in dissertations. Sometime Benjamin Murmestein could reply but for a thorough revised edition of his book no German publishing house could be found. Only a part of the few interviews he had been asked is available; most had not been used and is lying, perhaps, in archives.
The family passed many needy difficult years being deprived from many opportunities by that hat campaign. For many years Benjamin Murmelstein was very ill; conditions worsened continuously; result of seven year stress facing the Nazis and that of imprisoning. In 1947, then Chief Rabbi Prato (who stood safe from 1939 to 1945) ignoring the rule “not sentence on your fellow without having been near him” barred Rabbi Benjamin Murmelstein from Community membership. While at his passing away in 1989 then Rome Chief Rabbi Toaff, who too had had denied membership, relying only on hearsay ordered the “simple burial” with grave on cemetery hedge, not in that with his wife, and to not say the” Yzkor” prayer for “having him have part in coming world”.
Indeed, Chief Rabbi Toaff, deeply involved in Interfaith Dialogue, followed in the in the case of a Rabbi who stood with his Community in “those times of darkness” old, already outdated, Catholic rules concerning unfrocked priests. Furthermore, so Prato as Toaff had been well connected with leftist circles. In the rabbinical class prevailed the opinion that even in the case of a Rabbi who stood with his flock in Shoa, the Halacha rule of “Town authority” had to be anyway applied and considered the writer’s seeking for justice only highly annoying. Indeed, after war and Shoah end most of the rabbis turned again to their century long meaningless theoretic and ritual discussions and/or got involved in so called “Interfaith Dialogue” without the necessary knowledge of historical and/or literary background which, indeed, Benjamin Murmelstein had had. So they cannot even answer the simple question “Who is a Jew?”
The rabbinical class does not realize that – as the Nazi definition of Jew based on racial and not religious criteria – rabbinical courts cannot hear all important witnesses (which can be called to give evidence in state courts) and, therefore, are not qualified to sentence in Shoah cases. Right to apply for revision of verdicts and basic human rights of defense are not guaranteed in Rabbinical Law system. So, sentences pronounced by authorities of “non hostile governments” ought to be obeyed in force of the rule: “State Law is Law”.
Copyright: 2012 Wolf Murmelstein H.E.A.R.T