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Zionist Rescue Efforts: Records From the Eichmann Trial

NB: The following evidence, introduced by the prosecution at the Eichmann trial, proves that Zionist leaders tried to save as many Jews as possible during the Holocaust; that they implored the Allies to open rescue negotiations based on the Brand Mission; that they advocated the mass evacuation of Jews to safe havens outside Palestine; that they demanded Allied threats of reprisals against the Nazis; and that they urged the Allies to bomb Auschwitz.

From The Trial of Adolf Eichmann: Record of Proceedings in the District Court of Jerusalem, Vol. 3 (Jerusalem: Ministry of Justice of the State of Israel, 1992):

Session No. 57,

May 30, 1961

Attorney-General [Gideon Hausner]:

... This is, in fact, the contents of the statement from the Jewish Agency in Jerusalem which was destined for Weizmann via the British Foreign Office. The Jewish Agency expressed its fear that, if there was no possibility of rescuing the Hungarian, Czech and Romanian Jews promptly, their fate would be sealed.

While fully realizing the overwhelming difficulties, they believe that, if the task is faced with the boldness demanded by such an unprecedented catastrophe, these might not prove insurmountable. Shertok is proposing to proceed to Istanbul as soon as he can obtain a Turkish visa...

The next day Dr. Weizmann wrote to Anthony Eden. He thanked him for transmitting the information to him and said he had needed a short respite – one day – in order to recover from the shock he had received. And he said:

It is my paramount duty to try and discover the course of action which offers the best hope of saving Jewish lives.

He requested two things: an immediate meeting with Eden, and obtaining a Turkish visa for Mr. Shertok.

I shall be returning to the next document later on. It is a proposal for bombing the death camps, which was worked out in London at the beginning of July, and which was transmitted – as the Court will subsequently see – to the British Foreign Office. I shall return to this at the appropriate time.

The next document is a cable from Shertok to the Jewish Agency in London. It was transmitted directly in code, and the Court will observe that, whereas the cable was dispatched on 15 June, it was not received in London until 19 June. Shertok relates that he waited four days in Aleppo until he was able

to see [the] friend who arrived [on] Wednesday, 7 June. [I] interviewed him [...] six hours. [I] found him one hundred per cent reliable; [I] was deeply impressed by his purity [of] character [and] spirit.

Thereafter, Mr. Shertok reports that he had a meeting together with the High Commissioner and Ben-Gurion. The High Commissioner contacted London and requested that the gist of the Jewish Agency’s evaluation of the situation be transmitted to Weizmann. Mr. Shertok ended his cable with the following:

Agreed line of keeping [the] door open makes friend’s return absolutely imperative. Please do utmost [on] your part [to] expedite my journey. Inform Nahum. (A reference to Nahum Goldmann.)

... The next document is a personal account submitted by Mr. Shertok as soon as he arrived in London; it is dated 27 June 1944. The Court will see that he arrived at 1:00 p.m. that day, and at 6:00 p.m. the same day he dictated the account. It contains the details of his attempts to secure a visa to Ankara and of his decision to make the journey without a visa; the notification from Ankara not to come without a visa; the assurance of a high-ranking British officer that there would be no difficulty in regard to Mr. Brand’s return.

That was an explicit assurance, on the basis of which Mr. Brand left Turkey and went to Aleppo. And again, a report concerning the conversation with Mr. Brand which was already referred to in the previous document. Thereafter, Sharett writes that he returned to Jerusalem, met with Ben-Gurion, and together they went to the High Commissioner and presented the demands which are detailed on page 13, viz.: Brand was to return; Sharett was to travel to London; a meeting to discuss the release of Jews was to be arranged immediately; the Germans had to be given some sort of indication of the other side’s desire to conduct talks.

... Mr. Sharett concludes with the statement that he returned to Cairo and departed for London the same evening. On 30 June, Mr. Sharett sent a statement to Mr. Ben-Gurion in Jerusalem: He reports about the interview which Professor Weizmann had with Undersecretary Hall. Again the demand to inform the other side immediately about the readiness to initiate talks, in order to rescue as many Jews as possible, and that Brand should return, so that a reply could be transmitted through him to the effect that the matter was being acted upon. At the end of the cable it says that “Hall stated [the] matter is before [the] War Cabinet [and] our suggestions will be transmitted immediately [and] decision will be reached as soon as possible in conjunction with [the] American Government.” This is followed by a discussion of immigration matters, the suggestion of Mr. Gruenbaum; it ends with a request that a warning be given to Hungarian railway men “that whoever operates deportation trains will be considered [a] war criminal.”

... The following are the demands concerning the rescue of the Jews of Hungary which Dr. Weizmann presented in the previous document; they are in paragraph 3:

(a) an intimation should be given to Germany that some appropriate body is ready to meet for discussing the rescue of Jews.

(b) a representative of the American War Refugee Board, if necessary seconded by a British official, should be ready to meet at Istanbul a member of the Nazi group in Budapest to explore possibilities...

It is assumed that the Gestapo has “ulterior motives – avowed or hidden.” Nevertheless, it would be intolerable not to make the maximum effort possible to rescue Jews, be they many or few. If it all boils down to a question of money – it has to be paid. Apart from Brand’s mission,

the Allies should publish a declaration expressing their readiness to admit Jewish fugitives to all their territories, and stating that they have in this the support of neutrals (Switzerland, Sweden, Spain, and possibly Turkey), who are prepared to give temporary shelter to Jewish refugees from massacres.

The Swiss Government should be asked to notify the authorities in Hungary that it is ready to issue certificates of asylum to “the largest possible number of people.” A “stern warning” should be issued to Hungarian officials, railwaymen and the population in general that “anyone convicted of having taken part in the rounding-up, deportation and extermination of Jews will be considered to be a war criminal and treated accordingly.” An appeal should be made to Marshall Stalin that he too should issue a similar warning on the part of the USSR. The “railway line leading from Budapest to Birkenau, and the death camps at Birkenau and other places, should be bombed...”

Such were the demands which Dr. Weizmann presented at the 6 July meeting...

At this point, I am returning to the document dated 11 July, which I previously skipped, which was submitted by representatives of the Jewish Agency at their conversations in London. It deals with the possibilities for bombing, stating arguments both pro and con. It reaches the conclusion that this bombing is essential, because it would have a deterrent effect in any event. It would also “convince the German circles still hopeful of Allied mercy of the genuineness of Allied condemnation of the murder of Jews and could possibly result in internal pressure against the continuation of the massacres.” And finally, in order to convince the Allies further that this was worthwhile, they add that the Auschwitz camp also included German armament works operating for Siemens and Krupp...

On the same day on which the meeting occurred, Mr. Sharett also reported to Mr. Ben-Gurion, as well as to Mr. Nahum Goldmann, about the meeting with Eden in a cable, a copy of which is before you. Mr. Sharett emphasized therein that the time for discussions had passed:

Stage of temporizing thus over and definite steps imperative, if remote chance of saving remnants is not to be missed. We realize our proposals are unorthodox and unprecedented, but they are warranted by tragedy which is without parallel or precedent.