A shul in Berlin after the destruction of Kristallnacht
Misjudgement And Sabotage
In The Unheeded Cry, Dr. Fuchs describes the negotiations which Joel Brand and Dr. Rudolph Kastner conducted with Eichmann in Budapest in 1944.
"Other S.S. captains also took part in the talks, amongst them were Klages, head of the S.D. department in Budapest, Kurt Becher, who was in charge of the S.S. administration in Budapest, Wiesenmaier, the German ambassador and others.
"At one of the meetings, Klages surprised Brand by handing him a package that had arrived from Switzerland for the Budapest Rescue Committee and which had been seized by the Germans. The package contained a large sum of money and important letters. In returning the package, the Germans wanted to demonstrate their generosity and to show that they could be relied upon in the discussions.
"There was a letter from Nathan Schwalb in the package, in which he proposed to the Hungarian Jews that they contact the German opposition and set up a common movement together with the Liberals and the Social-Democrats. Schwalb suggested that they set up a partisan movement which would carry out acts of sabotage against the Germans. He promised that if his proposals were adopted, he would be able to offer considerable assistance.
"Brand remarks [writes Dr. Fuchs] that when the members of the Rescue Committee read this, `our hair stood on end.' Schwalb had no idea of the conditions in which the Jews in occupied Hungary were living. Any kind of organized rebellion was out of the question. Schwalb was principally interested in saving Jewish honor. He was concerned that if the Jews did not contribute their share of the victims, they would have no right to receive a share of the land that would be divided up after the Allied victory. Brand notes that Schwalb [apparently] had no idea of what was going on in Budapest, despite the dozens of reports that were sent to him."
Without explicitly reiterating the principle of the problematic letter, this proposal and the others we will mention show that Schwalb was dedicated just to the principle stated there.
In a conversation I had with Hansi Brand [Joel Brand's wife] she told me that Nathan Schwalb used to call their home in Budapest from his residence in Geneva during the war. Usually, her husband Joel picked up the receiver, but on one occasion, she took the call and talked with Schwalb.
This was the content of their talk, as she repeated it to me. Schwalb asked her to take care of organizing an armed Jewish resistance movement in Hungary. She told me that she was shocked. "When over here we are busy trying to save our lives," she said, "he was sitting there thinking about armed resistance!"
Professor Kranzler describes the Sternbuch's attempts to save the remnant of European Jewry who were languishing in the concentration camps, by negotiating with Himmler himself. These discussions were carried out through Musy, the former Swiss president. The discussions were successful and on the seventh of February, 1945, one thousand, two hundred and ten inmates of the Thereisandstadt camp reached Switzerland.
Two weeks later, a second train was to arrive with two thousand more internees, including some from Bergen-Belsen. The Nazis were willing to go through with the deal, particularly Himmler himself who was in search of an alibi that would protect him after the war.
The most important aspect of the deal, apart from the money that was to be paid, was the promised laudatory headlines in newspapers across the Western world. Of course, the Sternbuchs accepted this condition at once, as long as they had a chance of saving Jews from the camps. However, this introduced an element that eventually led to the failure of their efforts.
The Swiss information agency, Palcor, which was run by Nathan Schwalb, disseminated information throughout Europe with the obvious purpose of torpedoing the negotiations since they were not favorable. The articles in the press were passed by Kurt Becher to General Kaltenbrunner, who showed them to Hitler.
In his fury, Hitler ordered the immediate interruption of the negotiations, preventing the arrival of the second train which was to have brought twelve hundred prisoners from the Thereisandstadt camp and eight hundred from Bergen-Belsen.
Musy, who had gone to Berlin in order to try and salvage something from the wreckage of their plans, wrote to Yitzchok Sternbuch, "It was explained to me last week in Berlin that you can thank Saly Mayer if no further trains of Jews arrive in Switzerland from the German concentration camps."
Mayer was a close colleague of Nathan Schwalb—Schwalb's damaging publication of stories about the negotiations effectively put an end to the Sternbuch's scheme, a scheme to which Mayer had always been totally opposed.
A Grievous Error?
Schwalb's opinion of the Europe Plan is contained in a letter he wrote which is dated, 4 December, 1942. He writes, "I'll tell you what I think. With regard to Slovakia, I entertained questions of principle as well as doubts about practicality of the entire issue of negotiations, and whether or not to believe the promises of Weissmandel. The arrangement in Slovakia proves that they do, after all, stand by their word."
Schwalb expresses himself positively in this letter regarding the plan that Rav Weissmandel had proposed of saving all the Jews who had not yet been transported to the camps. He also mentions that he had "both questions of principle and doubts about the practicality" of negotiations. During our conversation, I asked him about this. I said, "From here it's clear that you opposed using bribery to save the Jews of Slovakia."
He replied, "No. What I had in mind was connected with the organization of armed resistance, bunkers and the like."
This exchange took place at the end of our meeting. After two hours of conversation, Schwalb was very weak and it's possible that he didn't understand the context of my question. On this point, he benefits from the doubt.
What does emerge though, is further corroboration of Schwalb's entire attitude to European Jewry during the war. It must also be borne in mind that compared with the leadership of the yishuv in Eretz Yisroel and the policies which they pursued, Schwalb emerges a tzaddik—no irony intended!
In fact when we met, Schwalb himself had some harsh criticisms to make of the leadership in Eretz Yisroel and their shortcomings. This only brings the question of his motives for making his statement into sharper focus.
To Do But Not To Say
There is no doubt that the writing of the letter in question, if indeed Schwalb wrote it, was a grievous error on his part. As everybody knows, there is a certain class of policy which, even if it is implemented, is never committed to writing.
That the policy of the leaders of the yishuv was thought by them to be in this category is clear from remarks made by Gruenbaum in a meeting of the Zionist Executive Committee on the eighteenth of January, 1943. The topic of discussion was the funding of rescue work. In reply to a request to withdraw money from deposits belonging to the Zionists to finance efforts to rescue European Jews, Gruenbaum had the following to say:
"Lately, a certain opinion has begun to hold sway in Eretz Yisroel, which I deem to be extremely dangerous for Zionism. I am at a loss to understand how, in a meeting in Jerusalem, people call out to me, `If you don't have money, take it from Keren Hayesod—take money from the bank, there's money there.' I consider it my obligation to resist this onslaught.
"When they asked me, `Can't you give Keren Hayesod's money for rescuing Jews?' I said, `No,' and now I'm saying it again—no! ... I know people wonder why I feel this should be said. My friends have advised me that even this course is correct, it should not be publicized... I cannot agree with that. In my opinion, the flood of opinion which relegates Zionist activities to second place must be resisted."
Schwalb it seems, fell victim to the same mistake as Gruenbaum. The same advice that he received from "friends," advising him that, "even if this course is correct, it should not be publicized," could apparently have been given to Schwalb as well. What led to his statement under oath denying having written the letter, may have therefore been the judgment of his peers that the letter was a mistake. As the letter's author, Schwalb would have to absorb all the repercussions of his denial.
When I had finished gathering the material for this article, I contacted Schwalb and asked for his comments before I prepared it for publishing. His words to me were, "We'll yet take care of you."
Why Do The Archives Remain Closed?
Here is an item entitled, "From Nathan Schwalb's Private Archive," which was written by Arieh Benter and which appeared in Israel's popular daily, Ma'ariv.
"The Histadrut will hand over all the material and documentation in its possession relating to the rescue and welfare activities carried out on behalf of European Jewry during the Second World War, to the National Archives and the public," the Histadrut's Secretary General Yisrael Keisar told Ma'ariv yesterday, in response to the accusations leveled by Professor Olsberg, the Director of the National Archives, who claimed that the archives of the Labor Movement and of Machon Lavon were deliberately concealing historical material concerning the activities of Nathan Dror—Nathan Schwalb, the Hechalutz representative in Geneva during the Holocaust.
"`For the past six years, we have been trying to acquire this archival material, which is important for Holocaust research, but to no avail,' says Professor Olsberg. `Nathan Dror's strong opposition is preventing the transfer of material through the Histadrut. The affair raises suspicions that the backing which Schwalb is receiving stems from their wishes to cover up the failures of the European representatives during the Holocaust. I would guess that the opposition to the material's transfer is rooted in the fear that researchers will show that Nathan Dror worked according to directives from the Histadrut, to engage in rescue on the basis of party affiliation. As long as we are prevented from examining the material, these fears cannot be dismissed.' Professor Olsberg says that the Histadrut supports Dror's opposition to the transfer of the material because to this day, he is active in collecting money in Germany for them."
Professor Yehuda Bauer mentioned to me in conversation that he would be prepared to publicize an open letter in the newspaper, calling on Schwalb to open up his archive.
On the twenty third of Iyar, 5744, Hamodiah published the following story.
"Historian Gad Nachshon, a graduate of the Hebrew University and a pupil of Professors Catelmon, Arieli, Ferver and others, says, `I don't know him and have never seen him. I have only read several of his articles in the weekly, Yisrael Shelanu which appears in the United States.' In reply to one of his articles, this response from Professor Bauer arrived. In answer to his letter, Nachshon relates the following.
"Chava Wegman-Eshkoli wrote her postgraduate thesis in Bar Ilan University under the guidance of the distinguished scholars Drs. Nesanel Katzburg and David Yisraeli. Her thesis was entitled, The Attitude of the Jewish Leadership in Eretz Yisrael to the Rescue of European Jewry, 1942-44. On page one hundred, note 235, she quotes Nathan Schwalb who lives today in Switzerland, from a letter he sent to Zionist trainees, "We must take part in the War and sacrifice victims for we will only have the land with blood."
"Furthermore, Chava Wegman-Eshkoli met Schwalb, who changed his name to Dror, on the nineteenth of February, 1973, in the building of the Executive Council in Tel Aviv. When she repeated this phrase to him, he was taken aback by the quote but did not deny its content.
"The horrifying sentence that states, `We must take part in the war and sacrifice victims for we will only have the land through blood,' which is attributed to Nathan Schwalb, is one of the keys to the research and clarification of the attitude of the Zionist leadership during the Holocaust.
"A large volume of material on this subject has amassed. Renowned Israeli historians are attempting, in any way they can, either to obscure the issue or deny it altogether. The importance of this issue is patently obvious. Schwalb was not a private citizen during the Holocaust. He served as the Hechalutz representative at the Jewish Agency in Switzerland... He was the address for letters from the chareidi Rabbi Weissmandel and the Zionist Gisi Fleischmann, who cried out in their bitterness for help in their rescue work.
"Schwalb has kept an orderly archive and it would be an easy matter to solve the mystery of whether he did, or did not write the letter. Written testimony about the sentence appears in Rabbi Weissmandel's book who quoted it from memory because he had lost the original letters. Schwalb is keeping his archives under lock and key in the Archive of the Labor Movement. Many researchers have complained that there is no free access to the archive, especially in view of the fact that thirty years have elapsed, this being the statutory length of time for the classification of internal documentation."
The archive's prolonged closure has effects on many aspects of War research, some examples of which we will now cite.
In her previously mentioned work, Na'ima Barzel writes, "Oskar Krasnyansky testified that he sent the report which he received from the Slovakian refugee directly to Nathan Schwalb. Since I was unable to examine Schwalb's archive, I was unable to search for the document."
Elsewhere she writes, "The new Slovakian Government which took office on the fifth of September, 1944, cooperated fully with the German authorities in quashing the [Partisan] rebellion. They also carried out the centralization and expulsion of the Jews as reprisals for Jewish participation in the rebellion. As long as researchers are barred entry to Schwalb's archive, it is impossible to fully evaluate the results of the Working Group's contacts during those critical days in September 1944."
Dr. Fuchs too, complains about the continued closure of the archive to the public. In his article in Ha'aretz in 1984 he writes, "Would that the archivists concerned have displayed generosity towards the community of researchers, opening the archives straight after the War, [thus] making it possible to ascertain what happened." Elsewhere Dr. Fuchs writes, "Schwalb's letters are in the Labor Movement's archive and despite the fact that forty years have elapsed, there is no access to them."
Lastly, what did Schwalb himself have to say on this subject? During our conversation I asked him, "Why do you refuse permission to enter your archive?"
His reply was, "The documents are not in order. They are not properly filed."
In the concluding installment of this series, researcher Kaufman considers whether the letter was forged, and draws conclusions.