Events around date of publication of this item.
The Jewish Executioner
: The Jewish ExecutionerBy
: Michael Freedland Published in
: The ObserverDate of issue
15 March 1998People/entities mentioned in this item:
Timeline event(s) mentioned in this item:
Commentary (by JB) Abstract
Freedland gets the year wrong when he refers to the poisoning of Germans at Nuremberg; he puts in April 1945, but it was in 1946 -- see these contemporary articles: this NY Times article and this TIME article
Joseph Harmatz fought in the Jewish resistance. When the war ended, he planned to avenge the Holocaust with the lives of six million Germans
Quotations from this item:
Joseph Harmatz looks the very epitome of the man he has been for 50 years. As he sits in his favourite armchair it is not difficult to believe that people all round the world have sent him letters of genuine appreciation. The photographs of him with heads of state testify to his standing. If you get him in the right mood, he might be persuaded to show you the medal Pour la Merite awarded by a grateful French government.
The medal is hidden away in a drawer in his study, along with some very different documents. Like the diary in which he details the events in which he personally killed at least 300 and possibly 400 men in 1945, after the Americans had overrun the part of Germany in which he was living. Joseph Harmatz has kept silent about these events for 50 years; now he has spoken for the first time. And he's done so without the slightest suggestion of regret at the mass killing he planned and administered.
'We were the Avengers,' he says of himself and of four others who broke into a bakery outside Nuremberg in April 1945, less than a month before the end of the Second World War, and poisoned 3,000 loaves of bread. 'Unfortunately, we did not do more. Our ultimate intention was to kill six million Germans, one for every Jew slaughtered by the Germans.' Harmatz draws none of the usual distinctions between Germans and Nazis. 'I put them all together,' he says. 'And I don't feel any differently today. When I read of the Queen Mother unveiling the statue to Bomber Harris who was responsible for the bombing of Dresden, I was very pleased. I was very happy to hear about Dresden itself. That was vengeance.
'Would the British and Americans ever have bombed Dresden if the Germans had not bombed Coventry? It was revenge quite simply. Were we not entitled to our revenge, too? People forget there were two big fires at Dresden. The first was in 1938 when all the synagogues were burnt down and Jews were murdered.' An outline of the story of the Avengers was first revealed in a BBC Everyman television programme. It told of the group who called themselves 'DIN', a Hebrew acronym for the initials standing for 'Jewish Blood Will Be Avenged'. (The word 'Din' itself means justice). Harmatz appeared for less than a minute in the TV programme, in shadow, wearing dark glasses and under the pseudonym of 'Menachem'. His memoirs, to be called From The Wings, a title chosen because he saw so much, will be published in May. Last week in Tel Aviv, though, he told me more, much more, than he reveals in his book. It is a story not so much from the wings as from the centre of one of the greatest tragedies of human history, the Holocaust.
Sitting in his apartment in the fashionable suburb of Ramat Aviv, a block away from what had been the home of murdered Israeli Premier Yitzhak Rabin and equally close to the flat of former Prime Minister Shimon Peres, he told for the first time how he and his comrades talked of the killing of six million Germans and also of the intricate planning of an attempt to break into the Nuremberg court room and kill Herman Goering, Rudolph Hess and the other 13 war criminals on trial for their lives. 'It didn't work out,' said Harmatz regretfully. 'The 300 or 400 we poisoned was nothing compared with what we really wanted to do.' To understand what happened and how it all came about, we have to know something about Joseph Harmatz himself.