An Essay by Dr. Wolf Murmelstein




From the very beginning of its history, the Zionist movement had to face opposition to its aim of a Jewish National Homeland in Palestine, recognized according to international law as "proposals" of different settlement areas: the first had been the Uganda Project.

After the first World War, in the new states that arose in Central and Eastern Europe, Poland, etc., the Jewish Communities had to face the increasing Anti-Semitism of the nationalist groups, governing or in opposition. In Poland, a leading political figure expressed the opinion that a three-million Jewish Community, or about ten percent of total population, was too strong for the country and that about a million Jews should emigrate.

In Rumania, many Jews did not even hold citizenship in the country where their families had lived for centuries. In Hungary, reduced to a third of its pre-war territory, conditions were becoming worse and worse for its great Jewish Community. Furthermore, in those countries, the masses of pious Jews were living in very poor economic and social conditions but, nevertheless, they were reluctant to emigrate.

The economic structure of the new states in Central and Eastern Europe was unbalanced for many reasons; those of interest in the present analysis are:

1. Borders with customs divided producers from their former, pre-war markets; producers earned less while customers paid more, especially where agricultural/food products were concerned.

2. The main part of the population worked in the agricultural sector which, because of its backwardness, could not maintain production sufficient to supply the industrial areas, mainly Germany.

3. From the early twenties, Germany had considered Eastern Europe as its courtyard and natural source for agricultural and food supplies and, therefore, was interested in overcoming, no matter how, the need for overseas imports.

4. The Austrian proposal in 1927 for Economic Cooperation, among the states that were formerly part of the Hapsburg Monarchy, was met with strong Czechoslovakian opposition. After coming to power in 1933, the Nazi government considered seriously the option to solve many economic problems, such as the supply of agricultural and food products, by getting rid of, no matter how, minority groups like Jews, Gypsies, etc. - considered to be unworthy to be part of the nation. So this explains why Goering, in his capacity as supervisor of the "Four Year Plan," was involved with the "Solution of the Jewish Question."

The Nazi government had a "good" relationship with Poland where no one paid attention to the German professors traveling across the country studying its economic and social problems and collecting data the Nazis found to be very useful in 1939 when setting up their rule.

In the thirties, the Polish Nationalists asked the French right-wing parties to back the idea of a mass emigration of the Polish Jews for a settlement on the island of Madagascar. At the same time, in the Soviet Union, Stalin launched the project of the Jewish Republic of Biro Bidjan, located of course in Siberia.

The Uganda, Madagascar island and Biro-Bidjan "proposals" considered areas far away, as far from Palestine as from Europe, and having hard environmental conditions. The idea of putting the Jews in an area - with no concern about the environmental conditions - far away from Palestine, had been taken up by the Nazis, at least in the crucial year 1936 during which there were some important occurrences:

1 .The dynastic struggle in the United Kingdom, solved by the forced abdication of Edward VIII, who was under the pro-Nazi influence of Wallis Simpson. Hitler realized that a conflict with the United Kingdom had to be considered as possible.

2. The Arab Group in Palestine started a campaign of armed attacks against the Jewish settlements there. From 1933 on, the Fascist government of Italy - being hostile to the socialist-wing majority in the Jewish Agency - had granted the necessary arms supplies. The Mufti, El Husseyni, obviously considered that, while Mussolini could grant material help, Hitler had the possibility to address Jewish emigration, from Germany and Eastern Europe, to destinations far away from Palestine.

Indeed the Nazi Foreign Organization called attention to a possible alliance with Arab Nationalist Parties - which were ideologically alike - so in Palestine as in other countries. As the official Foreign Office could not be directly involved, contacts had to be taken care of by the SD, the SS security service, led by the terrible Reinhard von Heydrich, who sent, in November 1937, Adolf Eichmann, already a "specialist for Zionist affairs," to Palestine and Egypt for talks, whose results can only be conjectured.

The very moment to show the Arab friends how Nazi Germany could address Jewish emigration to a destination far away from Palestine came in October 1939 after Poland had been overrun. On October 6th, Hitler, in his speech before the Reichstag, offering in this manner peace talks to the Western Allies, spoke about the new assessment of Poland and mentioned vaguely the idea of a Jewish Settlement Area there.

In the same days of October, a transport of Jewish men of working age from Vienna and Bohemia-Moravia had to be set up, and some leading Community Officials - Murmelstein from Vienna and Edelstein from Prague - with other staff members - had to join. On October 19, 1939, this first transport reached the station of Nisko, a little town in the Lublin area, near the border between the German and the Soviet zones of Poland. After a long march, the group reached a meadow, their destination. The following day, Eichmann gave a speech about building shanties, setting up a health service, an organization to start, etc. as "otherwise it should mean to die."

In a personal talk, Murmelstein asked about the means available, realizing that there was nothing, as Eichmann advised only: "kick the Polish peasant out and settle in his house." This seemed to be madness, but a Jewish official, within this mess and ignoring, of course, the political background, could not appreciate the method there was in it.

In those days, other transports arrived; people had been led by armed SS men for some miles and then ordered to disperse: colonization by dispersion of people. A group had been directed right into the marsh; wounded persons lying around had been picked up by the peasants; some brave man had been able to cross the border line towards the Soviet zone.

Murmelstein, after some days, obtained an authorization to leave the camp to look for accommodation opportunities; clearly the very intent was to reach Lublin, asking the Community there for help. In order to have official evidence of efforts performed to find out accommodation opportunities, Murmelstein asked the area prefect for a hearing in order to ask for assent to use some abandoned building as accommodation. As the prefect stated he had no information about things going on, it appeared possible to let local authorities stop the Eichmann action. Murmelstein therefore referred to the October 6th Hitler speech and then to the advice to "kick the Polish peasant out and settle." The Eichmann march order did not allow putting Murmelstein and his group under arrest, so the prefect ordered them to go to Lublin without any further delay and wait there for instructions.

The Lublin Community leaders were surprised, learning about things going on nearby. Important is that Area Commander SS Colonel Strauch, did not know anything about the Eichmann action. After ten days, Strauch ordered Murmelstein and his colleagues: Return to Nisko for instructions.

Eichmann, at Nisko, sent the leading Jewish officials home in order to catch every possible further emigration opportunity. From Vienna, Prague and Berlin, some thousand persons, until March 1941, could still emigrate during increasing difficulties. No further transports were scheduled to arrive in Nisko any more. The 450 workers returned home after six months. The camp had been set up for the transit of Germans returning from Eastern European countries to the Reich.

General Governor Hans Frank claimed, in a speech, to be the only authority and representative of the Reich in Poland. Hans Frank was not willing to have there an area controlled directly by the SS which would mean also control over him and he preferred to set up overcrowded Ghettoes in town districts. This was another way to show the Arab friends that Jewish emigration had been addressed far away from Palestine; from Poland, no emigration was allowed any more.

In the same months, in Italy, someone had launched the idea to settle the Italian Jews in an Ethiopian Highland where, according to a strange knowledge of Geography, climatic conditions were supposed to be similar to that of Northern Italy. Heydrich, in 1939, visited Italy, having talks about cooperation between the security services, and it is unthinkable that in those talks, Jews were not mentioned:

1. The leaders of the Italian Jewish Community had been informed in 1940 by the Interior Ministry that Jews were supposed to leave Italy.

2. In 1940 and 1941, in Libya, many Jews had been deported from the towns toward camps in the desert. In 1941 and 1942, Rumania sent a great part of its Jewish Community to Transnistria, an area in Ukraine then held by Rumanian troops, where between 280,000 and 380,000 victims perished.

Referring to the Nazi-Fascist ideas of "Jewish Settlement Areas," it should be pointed out that the aim was the death by starvation, diseases, various accidents, etc. following the model of what was done in the German colonies in Africa by deporting tribes from their homelands to areas where climatic conditions were very different.

In 1943, the Theresienstadt Ghetto had to modify its denomination: documents considered only the Jewish Settlement Area of Theresienstadt; that was the only change.

In the Autumn of 1940, Murmelstein had been ordered by Eichmann to submit an historical survey on the idea of Jewish Settlement. Murmelstein stated that a Jewish Settlement could only be in Palestine and favoured by the Power that after the war would be leading in the East Mediterranean Area. Eichmann remarked with dismay: Murmelstein does not realize that after the war only Germany will be the leading Power.

Ten Basic Facts About Theresienstadt

Theresienstadt, a Special Case in Shoah History

The Judenrat Question, Tragic Figures or Guilty Forever

The Jewish Community of Salonica during the Shoah