Bratislava During the Holocaust
The Working Group
Prominent Members of the Working Group
Gisi Fleischmann, 1897 – 1944
Gisi Fleischmann, née Fischer, was in her forties during the Holocaust, the mother of two daughters, Aliza and Yehudit, who made aliyah and immigrated to Eretz Israel before the war. Fleischmann was active in public affairs, particularly in the fields of welfare and Jewish emigration. She founded the first branch of WIZO in Slovakia, was a member of that organization’s board of directors, and a representative on the executive committee of the Histadrutin Slovakia. She was also one of the Zionist representatives on the Joint Distribution Committee, and active in HICEM (the Hebrew Sheltering and Immigrant Aid Society).
When the Jewish Center (Ústredna Židov or ÚŽ) was created in Bratislava, Fleischmann was placed in charge of the emigration department. Her office, not far removed from the main office of the organization, became the meeting place for those who were not satisfied with the way the Jewish Center was being run. Fleischmann’s special personality, her easy manners, organizational skills and the solidarity she evinced with the members of the community made her the leader of the group, the only woman in a group of men. Together with Rabbi Weissmandel, who was also related to her, and the other members of the group, she worked to save Jews in Slovakia, smuggling them into Hungary and spreading information about their destruction in Poland.
Fleischmann was one of the head negotiators with the Germans in the attempt made by the Working Group to bargain for the Jews’ lives. As part of her duties she met several times in Hungary with Jewish leaders, and also attempted to enlist support from the Switzerland representatives of the Joint Distribution Committee and Hechalutz movements in order to raise money to bribe the Nazis.
Time and time again Fleischmann refused to save herself. On the 15th of October 1944, Fleischmann was arrested and deported to the Sered camp. On the 17th of October she was deported to Auschwitz under the category of ‘RU’ – Rückkehr Unerwünscht, or ‘return not desired’. This was the last deportation from Slovakia to the gas chambers. When the deportation train arrived in Auschwitz, three names were called out over the public address system – one of them was Fleischmann’s. She was taken by two SS men and never seen again.
Rabbi Michael Dov Weissmandel, 1903 – 1956
Rabbi Weissmandel was an Orthodox rabbi from Nitra, the son-in-law of the leader of the extreme anti-Zionist wing of the international Agudat Yisrael, Rabbi Shmuel David HaLevi Ungar.
In the spring of 1942, at the height of the deportation of the Slovakian Jews to their deaths, Rabbi Weissmandel and his colleagues in the Working Group made an attempt to save the Jews of Europe. Rabbi Weissmandel was one of the initiators of the idea of paying a ransom to the SS in order to put a stop to the deportations to Poland. In 1944, after a two year interlude, the deportations from Slovakia to Auschwitz resumed. In October 1944 Rabbi Weissmandel and his family were deported to Auschwitz. Rabbi Weissmandel managed to escape from the deportation train, and took refuge in a bunker in the vicinity of Bratislava; in order to better hide himself, he shaved off his beard. Weissmandel survived, but his wife and children were murdered in Aushcwitz. After the war, Weissmandel emigrated to the United States.
Andrew (Ondrej) Steiner, 1908 – 2013
Steiner was an architect, the head of the building department in the Jewish Center. He supported the establishment of the forced labor camps for Jews in Slovakia, and was involved in their creation. A member of the Working Group, Steiner conducted most of the negotiations with Dieter Wislieceny, Eichmann’s representative in Slovakia. In September 1944 he found himself in an area controlled by the Slovak rebels, and did not return to Bratislava. After the war he emigrated to the United States.
Dr. Tibor Kovacs
Kovacs was an assimilated Jew, who worked in the welfare office of Jewish Center in Bratislava, primarily on matters having to do with labor; he was also a member of the Working Group. When the deportation of whole families from Slovakia began, Kovacs sat as the head of the appeals department, and attempted to impede the arbitrary deportation of families who had received deferrals. In October 1944 Kovacs himself was targeted for arrest; he was warned and went into hiding. After the war he was the main witness in the trial of Dr. Anton Vasek, of the Slovakian Ministry of Interior, who was in charge of the deportation of Jews of Slovakia to their deaths.
Kovacs committed suicide in Czechoslovakia in the 1950s.
Dr. Oskar (Yirmiyahu) Neumann
Dr. Neumann was a Zionist activist, a member of the Slovakian Jewish National Party, and the head of the Zionist movement in Slovakia during the war. He was in charge of the training department of the Jewish Center in Bratislava, and was later appointed the head of the Jewish Center. Neumann was also a member of the Working Group. He was deported to Theresienstadt and survived. After the war he was elected the first chairman of the Histadrut of Czechoslovakia. In 1946 he immigrated to Palestine. He passed away in Israel in 1981.
Avraham Abba Frieder, 1911 – 1946
Rabbi Frieder served as the rabbi of the Jewish community of Nové Mesto Nad Váhom. Later he became the chairman of Yeshurun – the organization of liberal communities, and a member of the Working Group. Between 1942 and 1944 he was one of the supporters of establishing labor camps for Jews within Slovakia, in order to forestall their deportation to the death camps in Poland. He made use of his special ties to the Slovakian Minister of Education, Jozef Sivak, to further requests and obtain information which helped save Jewish lives. Frieder also initiated the surveillance operations undertaken to discover the fate of the deportees to Poland, with whom he attempted to maintain contact. He survived the war, but his wife and daughter perished. He passed away in Bratislava in 1946.
Wilhelm Fürst, 1891 – 1944
Wilhelm (Benjamin Zeev) Fürst was a bank manager in Bratislava before the war. In 1939 he was fired, and worked for a time at the Joint Distribution Committee. When the Jewish Center was established in Bratislava, Wilhelm was appointed to be the director of its Financial Department. He later became a member of the Working Group. In summer 1944 he, his wife Olga, and his two daughters were deported to Auschwitz. Wilhelm and Olga perished; the two girls survived and immigrated to Israel.
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