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Subject: Holocaust Almanac: The Europa Plan

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Last-Modified: 1994/08/17

                        The Europa Plan

   "Another project for the more rational exploitation of the Jews, one
   that engaged the attentions of a number of highly placed SS men and
   strongly tempted the Reichsfu"hrer himself, contemplated a gigantic
   ransoming of all the Jews still alive in German hands. This
   project, unlike the preceeding one, was actually begun. [Poliakov
   here refers to an abortive plan to sterilize the Jews through the
   use of Caladium senguinum, a tropical plant. See Poliakov, 253.
   knm]

   As we have said, Himmler very early in the war permitted SS bureaus
   to make individual arrangements to allow very rich Jews to emigrate
   in exchange for payment in hard currency, dollars or Swiss francs,
   which in principle were earmarked for the equipping of the
   Waffen-SS. This was done especially in the Netherlands, and the
   ransom was considerable: $5,000-$10,000 per person. However, only
   about fifty Dutch Jews were able to ransom themselves in this way.
   <18> At the end of 1942, Himmler's staff thought of extending the
   ransoming to other countries, especially Slovakia, where the
   deportations had just been suspended.<19> The ground was thus
   gradually prepared for a more comprehensive transaction.

   It turned out that the permanent IVb representative in Slovakia,
   Dieter Wisliceny, although one of Adolf Eichmann's oldest friends,
   deviated somewhat from the classic type of the Nazi executioner.
   This former journalist had a certain cultivation, even some
   refinement. He tended to carry out his functions like a dilettante,
   and showed an exemplary correctness toward his victims; he pursued
   his own interests rather than trying scrupulously to carry out his
   task, for which, all told, he seems to have had only a limited
   enthusiasm. Such a person was just the kind of intermediary needed
   for extending the scope of the ransoming from individual rich Jews
   to the entire Jewish collectivity, so that many, not merely a few,
   might be saved. But the idea first occurred to a Bratislava Jewess,
   Gisi Fleischmann, a woman with a great heart and devouring energy.

   Since individual Jews could escape the fate lying in wait for them
   by paying a ransom, why not try to ransom all the Jews at a single
   stroke, even if the sum ran into the millions. Gisi Fleischmann
   made contact with Wisliceny, and at the same time sent couriers to
   alert the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC), the
   powerful Jewish philantropic organization. Collected on the spot, a
   first payment of $25,000 was handed to Wisliceny; the latter tried
   hard to obtain the Reichsfu"hrer's approval of what the
   negotiators called by the code name "Europa Plan." These
   conversations and negotiations were of course carried on in
   complete secrecy, since the slightest indiscretion entailed serious
   consequences. No trace of it has remained in the SS archives, but
   the flaming appeals that Gisi Fleischmann sent abroad have been
   preserved. Here are a few extracts that recall the hopes that
   filled the hearts of this little group:

      (March 24, 1943) Our chances are unfortunately limited. But a
      tenacious and inflexible determination to attain our ends gives
      us the strength and courage to continue along this way. We must
      strive with all our strength to reach our sacred goal.
   
      (June 18, 1943) I am finishing this report at perhaps a historic
      moment, for your acceptance of the project opens possibilities
      for stopping the terrible work of extermination. If this great
      labor of human love succeeds, we can say that we shall not have
      lived in vain.<20>

   Characteristically, Himmler hesitated a long time before giving
   Wisliceny exact instructions. His first reaction apprently was
   favorable; it would seem that a mass emigration of children figured
   among the first measures under consideration. But Eichmann, solidly
   entrenched in a key position, tried his best to wreck the
   agreement. He found an unexpected and influential ally in the Grant
   Mufti of Jerusalem, a refugee in Germany since the summer of 1941,
   who jealously watched to see that no Jew left the European
   continent alive.<21> Other high-ranking SS men, especially Walter
   Schellenberg, chief of the SS information service, tried to
   influence Himmler in the opposite direction; a definite answer was
   forthcoming only after many months.

   Deportations meanwhile continued, and the gas chambers continued
   their work. The Bratislava plan, however, did not go through in its
   original form, and in 1944 Eichmann took his revenge by maneuvering
   successfully to have Gisi Fleischmann deported and executed. The
   project was taken up again in Budapest when the complete IVb team
   appeared there in March 1944 following in the wake of the German
   armies. With catastrophe imminent, the journalist Rudolf Ka"stner,
   who had been kept informed of the Slovakian negotiations, tried to
   have them resumed again. The presence of Wisliceny among the people
   Eichmann had brought to Budapest made Ka"stner's task easier.

   The fortunes of war had meanwhile changed sufficiently for Himmler
   to take a serious interest in these overtures. He selected a
   special agent to continue these negotiations - Kurt Becher, a
   Waffen SS administrative officer who had already come to his
   attention by negotiating the release of the Jewish owners of the
   Manfred Weiss Hungarian industrial trust, in exchange for
   substantial economic advantages. Parleys were finally begun during
   the spring of 1944. Having succeeded in making contact with Jewish
   organizations abroad, Rudolf Ka"stner tried by every means to put
   Hitler's emissary in direct contact with their representatives. An
   interview in Lisbon was contemplated, with the SS proposing an
   exchange of Jewish lives for trucks and medicines. The affair was
   to be handled on a strictly economic basis, without any
   humanitarian considerations, since the latter might very well ruin
   the whole thing. A daring chance, but Ka"stner and his friends
   showed themselves good psychologists, and the arguments they
   advanced were admirably conceived to impress the Nazis. Here they
   are, as summed up in a memorandum submitted to Himmler in July
   1944:

      We believe that the cessation of the deportations in Hungary
      represents an indispensable premise for the Lisbon
      conversations; once agreement is reached, this would be followed
      by a regular emigration of the remaining Hungarian Jews.

      We again insist most urgently that the Jews already deported
      from Hungary be spared from total or partial destruction; people
      able to work by this very fact constitute an actual value for
      the German economy, while those unable to work, who will be the
      first ones to be exchanged, constitute a potential and quickly
      realizable value.

      In this regard, we recall that it was agreed at our last
      meetings that the meaning of our agreements is not solely
      financial. The security to be put up by us, especially the
      trucks, means in fact a saving of German blood. In this way, as
      a counterpart to the Jewish lives, you will indirectly be saving
      German lives. Any deterioration of the Jewish substance in your
      hands would, it seems to us, be unwise under these conditions
      and a blow to your own national substance.<22>

   It is certain that Himmler for his part was now completely for the
   "Europa Plan." But he took care not to tell the Fu"hrer, and
   maneuvered with extreme caution. One of Ka"stner's aides, Joel
   Brandt, was able to go to Constantinople, then to Cairo, to
   expedite the negotiations. The deportation of the Jews of Budapest
   was postponed, and, in fact, never took place. Small groups of
   Hungarian Jews, 3,000 in November 1944, 1,200 in February 1945,
   were convoyed to the Swiss border and set free as a "gesture of
   good will."

   In fact, it was on the Allied side that obstacles were raised. Joel
   Brandt was interned by the British authorities without having had a
   chance to accomplish his mission, and the United States Department
   of State forbade Joseph Schwartz, director of the JDC, to negotiate
   with enemy subjects. Only after great difficulty, thanks to the
   intervention of various Swiss and Swedish intermediaries, did these
   excessively complicated negotiations manage to continue; but this
   was enough for the SS Reichsfu"hrer, especially as the German
   military situation was rapidly deteriorating, to grant new
   concessions. The success of the Allied landing in Europe seems to
   have caused Himmler really to change his course. From then on, he
   not only acted without Hitler's knowledge, he no longer paid any
   attention to Hitler's express wishes. In October 1944, still
   unbeknownst to Hitler, he stopped the exterminations, and at the
   end of 1944 he agreed to continue negotiations not only on an
   economic but also on a "humanitarian" basis. The transfigured
   Himmler of 1945 now emerged, a man so unselfconscious that when
   preparing to surrender he wondered whether he should or should not
   shake General Eisenhower's hand,<23> and in March asked for a
   meeting with a representative of the World Jewish Congress,
   mentioning in this connection his pre-war "benevolent efforts" in
   favor of Jewish emmigration, efforts which "war and human folly"
   had terminated.<24> A few days before this, he ordered General
   Pohl, supreme head of all the concentration camps, to drop
   everything and go to the principle camps and see to it that
   preferential treatment was given to the Jews still alive.<25> On
   April 5 he named Kurt Becher special Reich commissioner for
   concentration camps; Becher was authorized to stop the evacuation
   of the camps, or, as the case might be, turn them over to the
   Allied authorities.<26> These missions by Pohl and Becher, although
   impeded by the anarchy into which the Third Reich was already
   collapsing, stopped many a last-minute massacre, and the tireless
   Ka"stner was even able to save several hundred lives by donning an
   SS uniform and making a mad race through the chaos of Nazi
   Germany's last hour.

   Such were the results of the desperate efforts of a handful of Jews
   and neutral missionaries to come to terms with Himmler and slow
   down the exterminations. It should be pointed out that the above
   lines concentrate on the main theme of the "Europa Plan," an
   excessively complex negotiation shot through with a thousand
   intrigues and participated in by so many other important actors, of
   whom we need mention only Count Bernadotte and Carl Burckhardt,
   president of the International Red Cross. But a direct line leads
   from the initiative taken by Gisi Fleischmann in 1943 to the events
   of April-May, 1945. In the last analysis, the "great work of human
   love" begun by the unknown Jewess of Bratislava saved the lives of
   countless thousands of deportees of all categories and
   nationalities and prevented the worst from happening during the
   collapse of the German concentration camps." (Poliakov, 254-58)

<18> Report of the chief of the SD and the security police to the SS
     Reichsfu"hrer. Berlin, November 24, 1942. (NO 2408)
<19> Idem.
<20> Copies of the messages sent by Mrs. Gisi Fleischmann in
     Switzerland. (LXX, 83; LXX, 84)
<21> On the role of the Grand Mufti, see S. Wiesenthal,
     "Grossmufti-Grossagent der Axe," Vienna, Ried-Verlag, 1947, and
     Pearlman, "Mufti of Jerusalem, the Story of Haj-Amin el Hussein,"
     London, Gollancz, 1947, as well as the depositions of Dieter
     Wisliceny, Bratislava, November 18, 1946.
<22> Note dated July 22, 1944, signed Biss. (LXX, 13)
<23> Cf. Count F. Bernadotte, "La Fin," Lausanne, Margeurat, 1945.
<24> Letter from the SS Reichsfu"hrer to Dr. Kersten, Berlin, March
     21, 1945. Cf. the photostat of the letter in "Klerk en Beul, op.
     cit."
<25> Deposition of Oswold Pohl during his trial at Nuremberg, session
     of May 19, 1947.
<26> Report of the Budapest Jewish Rescue Committee, prepared by
     Ka"stner, p. 172. See also the note drawn up by K. Becher after
     his capture, and the notes of Dieter Wisliceny.

                           Work Cited

   Poliakov, Leon.  Harvest of Hate: The Nazi Program for the
      Destruction of the Jews of Europe.  Syracuse University Press.,
      1956.

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