Find more information about

at the Center for Jewish History:

NOTE: you will be redirected
to the Web site for the

Weissmandel, Mikha’el Dov Ber

(1903–1958), a leading figure in rescue efforts in Slovakia during the Holocaust and a staunch opponent of Zionism after the war. An acclaimed student in the Slovak yeshivas of Sered, Tirnoy, and Nitra, Mikha’el Dov Ber Weissmandel also examined Hebrew rabbinical manuscripts in the Bodleian Library in Oxford. In 1935 he participated in a delegation headed by his father-in-law, Rabbi Shemu’el David ha-Levi Ungar, leader of Slovak Orthodox Jews, to the Agudas Yisroel gathering in Palestine.

In March 1942 deportations began from Slovakia to Auschwitz and Weissmandel became one of the leading figures in the Pracovna Skupina (Working Group), together with his relative Gisi Fleischmann. He initiated the idea, known as the Europa Plan, of bribing Adolf Eichmann’s envoy to Bratislava, Dieter Wisliceny, in order to stop the deportations.

Weissmandel and his associates in the Working Group tried other rescue efforts as well, sending food packages and valuables to deportees in Poland, and attempting to smuggle them into Hungary, which was at that time still a relatively free country. Following the German invasion of Hungary in March 1944, he tried to persuade Jewish leaders to resume contacts with Wisliceny, yet changed his mind when the deportations from Hungary to Auschwitz began in mid-May. He pleaded that Jews in Hungary try to escape, or at least avoid handing over any lists or entering the ghettos. He was active in notifying both Jewish and non-Jewish leaders and institutions worldwide about the Auschwitz Protocols and called urgently for bombing the camp and the railways and bridges leading to it.

Deportations from Slovakia were resumed in the summer of 1944. In October Weissmandel and his family were apprehended and sent to Auschwitz. He managed to jump off the train and hid in Bratislava, trying to initiate more rescue activities. On Passover 1945 he and other Jews were rescued by Rezső Kasztner and taken to Switzerland. In 1946 he immigrated to the United States, where he reestablished the Nitra Yeshiva in Mount Kisco, New York, and began a new family.

While there is general consent that Weissmandel dedicated himself heroically to rescue efforts, and was an outstanding personality held in the highest regard, there is an ongoing dispute regarding his accusations that world Jewry—particularly the World Jewish Congress (WJC), the Joint Distribution Committee, and the Zionist leadership—neglected to send the down payment required for life-saving bribery. The Orthodox world later adopted this grave accusation, using as proof Weissmandel’s letters and speeches, which were published after his death by his students and disciples. Secular historiography and research, especially in Israel, claim that small sums could not halt the death machinery, and other factors stopped it in late 1942; that the editors of Weissmandel’s book, entitled Min ha-metsar (From the Abyss; 1960), admitted that letters sent by representatives of world Jewish organizations to explain their alleged objection to send the funds to Slovakia, or their copies, were never found, and therefore were quoted “from memory”; and that Wisliceny stopped negotiating when the funds eventually arrived. The Europa Plan affair remains a bitter bone of contention between the Orthodox and secular Jewish worlds, the former claiming that the Jews of Europe were abandoned, and the latter that these allegations originate in Orthodoxy’s need to fortify itself against the secular and the Zionist.

Suggested Reading

Shlomo Aronson, Hitler, the Allies and the Jews (Cambridge and New York, 2004); Yehuda Bauer, Jews for Sale? Nazi-Jewish Negotiations, 1933–1945 (New Haven, 1994), pp. 62–101; Gila Fatran, Ha-Im ma’avak ‘al hisardut: Hanhagat yehude Slovakyah ba-sho’ah, 1938–1944 (Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, 1992); Abraham Fuchs, The Unheeded Cry: The Gripping Story of Rabbi Weissmandl, the Valiant Holocaust Leader Who Battled Both Allied Indifference and Nazi Hatred (Brooklyn, N.Y., 1984); Oskar (Yirmiyahu) Neumann, Be-Tsel ha-mavet: Ha-Ma‘arakhah le-hatsalat yehude Slovakyah, trans. Y. Rabi (Tel Aviv, 1958).