“Round up 135 able bodied men and deliver them to the town square.”
This order was issued to the Judenrat of Stoczek by the Nazis in June of 1942.
Those who worked for the Judenrat — the Jewish Council and the Jewish Police — believed that by doing the Nazi’s bidding, they were saving themselves and their families. So, they obeyed, capturing 135 men who were forced onto trucks and driven to Treblinka to build the camp. Sam Goldberg was caught in this round up, resulting in a 13-month sentence at a place where 870,000 were murdered.
Sam never held a grudge against the Judenrat.
“I don’t blame them,” he said, “they were forced to do it.”
The Judenrat became a fixture in Jewish towns and ghettos. Under the thumb of the Nazis they were forced to organize the Jewish community and deliver specified numbers of Jews for the Nazi “resettlement” program. How and where did the Judenrat get started? I believe I have stumbled upon an answer in David Cesarani’s new book: Final Solution: The Fate of the Jews 1933-1949.
Cesarani describes Hitler’s take-over of Austria in 1938. Immediately upon taking control, members of the Austrian Nazi party began to attack Jews and loot their shops:
“A reign of terror descended on the city’s Jewish inhabitants that exceeded anything experienced by Jews in Germany. In the words of the playwright Carl Zuckermayer, ‘That night all hell broke loose. The netherworld had opened its portals and spewed out its basest, most horrid, and filthiest spirits. The city changed into a nightmare painting reminiscent of Hieronymous Bosch. . . .’” (Cesarani at 148)
This violence was not wrought by the Germans, but rather by Austrians: “What was being unleashed here was the revolt of envy; malevolence; bitterness; blind, vicious vengefulness – all other voices were condemned to silence.” (Id. at 148)
Cesarani continues: “Hitler’s triumphal entry into Vienna on the afternoon of 14 March and his speech on the Heldenplatz the following morning drew vast crowds onto the streets. Ruth Maier, a Jewish schoolgirl who had just turned eighteen, recalled the scenes in her diary. ‘All the Austrians were celebrating and jumping about in excitement. Flags were hoisted, people hugged and kissed each other in sheer joy.’” (Id. at 149)
This chaos led to the inability to fulfill one of the stated goals of the Nazi party in 1938: the emigration of all Jews from lands controlled by the Reich. The Austrian Jewish communal organizations that could facilitate such emigration were torn asunder by the violence. The leaders were killed or thrown in jail.
Enter Adolf Eichmann.
Amidst the pandemonium, he saw opportunity. He pulled the leaders of the Jewish community out of prison and determined which one was best suited to do his bidding. He chose Joseph Lowenherz, who had an energetic, forceful personality. Eichmann tasked Lowenherz to put together a list of Jewish communal organizations needed to create opportunities for Jews to emigrate.
With the approval of his boss, Reinhard Heydrich, Eichmann reestablished essential offices and personnel under the umbrella of the Jewish community to facilitate the rapid emigration of the Jews of Austria. “Crucially,” Cesarani explains, “the Jewish organizations would operate under the supervision of the SD.” (153) The SD was the intelligence agency of the SS and a sister agency of the Gestapo.
Eichmann thus created the first Judenrat – a group of Jews who organize other Jews to achieve Nazi aims.
“Eichmann,” Cesarani concludes, “thereby achieved a dramatic accretion to the power of the Sipo-SD. He had been sent to Vienna with modest executive powers that extended little further than organizing the arrest of some Jews. But through the guise of furthering Jewish emigration he ended up controlling the destiny of the entire Jewish population. Probably without even realizing it he showed how Heydrich and the security apparatus could create a domain over which they ruled unchallenged simply by gaining the right to implement SD policy. The Jews may even have contributed to this forward leap by embracing cooperaWihtion with the SD, if only on the grounds that Eichmann seemed genuinely interested in establishing order and helping them to escape the madhouse that the Austrian Nazis had created.” (Id. at 153).
Eichmann was just following orders.