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Diary of Abraham Frieder

Frieder, Abraham Diary 1942
US Holocaust Memorial Museum; Gift of Gideon Frieder
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tags: bureaucracy community deportations resistance

type: Diary

Slovakia emerged from Hitler’s dismemberment of Czechoslovakia as a nominally independent state in 1939. In reality, however, its independence never transgressed the geopolitical interest of its German enabler and master. Throughout the war, Slovakia was thus a satellite state of Nazi Germany. In 1940, the Slovak government ordered the creation of the Jewish Center (Ústredňa Židov), as the one Jewish office that would handle all affairs pertaining to the Jews; it was the Slovak version of a national Judenrat. In the spring of 1942, the Slovak leadership agreed with the Germans to deport some 90,000 Jews out of the country. The agreement was part of the Nazi attempt to broaden the scope of anti-Jewish policies designed to bring about a "final solution of the Jewish question" in Europe. By October 1942, close to 60,000 Jews had been deported via camps in Slovakia to the Reich or Generalgouvernement, where virtually all of them were murdered.

Abraham Frieder (1911–1945) was an Orthodox rabbi in Nové Mesto nad Váhom, which became part of the new Slovak state after 1939. As one of the prominent young leaders of Slovak Jewry, Frieder worked relentlessly to improve the lot of the country's Jews. The document excerpted here is usually referred to as a diary, but in reality seems to be a memoir composed very soon after the events it recounts. Rather than a handwritten account of events written as they occur, the pages are neatly composed, many typewritten, and the narrative progresses fluently in the past tense. It is not clear when Abraham Frieder composed these pages. It is likely, however, given his attention to detail, that he was working from notes he had taken and documents he had access to as the events were happening.

The history of the Holocaust in Slovakia is significant because it featured one of the boldest attempts by local Jewish leaders to negotiate with and bribe the Nazis in order to postpone or stop the deportations. The "Working Group," an informal gathering of Slovak Jewish leaders, of which Abraham Frieder was a member, attempted to influence Slovak politicians and SS leaders in order to stop the deportations. Frieder's diary is thus an invaluable historical source, as it provides insight into the early response of Jewish leaders in Slovakia to the first news of the upcoming deportations; it recounts the period in which the "Working Group" originated. Many of the persons Frieder mentions in the diary later became prominent members of the group.1

Frieder survived the war, but died immediately after liberation. By the end of 1942, despite the efforts of the "Working Group," most Slovak Jews had already been deported to their deaths in Poland or otherwise expelled or murdered. Only about 20,000 Jews—many of them converts to Catholicism—remained in Slovakia at the time deportations were stopped in the late fall.2

The “Working Group” was led by Gisela Fleischman and Rabbi Michael Dov Ber Weissmandl. See Yad Vashem’s page on The Working Group for more.

For Frieder's biography and a detailed account of his actions, including biographical information for persons mentioned in the excerpt below, see Emmanuel Frieder, To Deliver Their Souls: The Struggle of a Young Rabbi During the Holocaust, trans. Rachel Rowen (New York: Holocaust Library, 1990). For the broader context, see Raul Hilberg, The Destruction of the European Jews (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2003), 766-92.

City in western Slovakia.

Ústredňa Židov, the central Jewish Council in Slovakia.

Liberal Yeshurun group, a movement of Judaism that originated in the Austro-Hungarian Empire in the 19th century.

Hebrew: "deportation decree."

Erev Shabbat is Friday evening, Parshat Zachor is the Shabbat before the holiday of Purim.

Rav, Hebrew for Sir or, in this case, Rabbi.

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[...] Meanwhile, several anxious days elapsed. Then, on the night of February 25, 1942, that is, around 2 a.m. Wednesday morning, there was loud knocking at the front door of our apartment building. We heard nothing, but my housekeeper, Mrs. Elze Herzog, went to open the door. Ludewit Tauber and Heinz Tauber had come to call on me; the latter was sent with instructions to see me and inform me that I should come to Bratislava immediately, as there was very serious talk of a plan to deport the Jews to Poland. So: an expulsion of the Jews in the twentieth century, analogous to the expulsions of Jews in the Middle Ages and the Modern Era. Heinz Tauber had nothing more to add, as he was only delivering the message and traveling on to Trenčin1 on the same mission. I took the first train to Bratislava. In the meantime there was also a telephone call for me, but I was already on my way. I went to the UŽ,2 where a room was made available for a meeting. When I arrived, I found the following already assembled there: from the Orthodox Jews, that is, representing the Orthodox Bureau, Rafael Levi from Bardejov, Arnold Kämpfer from Bratislava, Salomon Gross and Geley from Topolčany, and Weiss from Nitra; representing the Neolog congregations,3 Dr. V. Winterstein, Dr. Kondor, and Dr. O. Neumann; and non-affiliated persons such as Dr. Fleischhacker, Dr. Tibor Kováč, and the architect Ondrej Steiner.

Dr. Winterstein was the actual chairman; that is, it was he who held all the threads together. He reported that there was a plan in existence requiring all Jews to leave the territory of Slovakia. The 14th Department had been established in the Ministry of the Interior for that purpose. It is to collect statistics on all Jews and then proceed according to a certain schedule. First the young people, that is, our children, are to go, and then the adults, that is, the families, until all the Jews have been deported. No exceptions will be made; everyone must go. We were speechless, and dread and bewilderment were evident on every face. GERUSH GZERA,4 those were the words, the specters. We were aware of what it must mean to be sent to this enemy country. We could not determine, however, what dimensions it would assume. We expected various technical and organizational difficulties. After all, expelling 90,000 human beings and dealing with all the complexities of this undertaking is no small thing. We did not believe that it would be possible; nevertheless, we agreed that it was necessary to take action and to intercede [with various bodies] in order to do our job well and avert the great catastrophe. A very small committee was chosen—actually, not even chosen, as a group of six simply emerged, consisting of three men from the Orthodox Bureau and three from the Neolog [Yeshurun] Federation. The former were Raphael Levi, Salomon Gross, and Arnold Kämpfner; the latter were Dr. Winterstein, Dr. Kondor, and I. Of course, around this šestka, or group of six, as it was called, were arrayed a great many people who had connections and contacts, and who were then supposed to lobby on our behalf according to uniform guidelines. The following guidelines were set:

1) To begin with, the community associations and the union of rabbis would submit a memorandum to the President of the Republic.

2) An appeal would be made to all economic institutions, pointing out what this would mean for the Slovak economy and what damage the abrupt depletion [of manpower] would inflict.

3) An appeal would be made to the clerical leadership and regular clergy and to the Christian side, stressing what the disintegration of families and mass destruction in general would mean from a religious standpoint.

[…]

The danger mounts with each passing day. On February 27, an Erev Shabbat before Parshat Zachor,5 I was received privately by Education Minister Jozef Sivák. In a meeting that lasted two hours, I talked over the entire situation and discussed all the details, and I saw that the situation is more serious than I ever believed. In particular, I was unwilling to believe that God wants to destroy us, and that it is precisely the Slovak people, which after all has a Christian tradition, that is to be the Scourge of God, plunging us into the greatest misery. But now I learned that the matter has already been decided. Prime Minister Dr. Vojtech Tuka has decided the entire matter with the German Embassy and with the Advisor to the Slovak Government on Jewish Affairs, SS Hauptsturmführer Dieter Wisliceny, and the deportation must take place. There was no way for us to monitor the situation on the German side, as only one Jew has had access here: the engineer Karl Hochberg, whom we have regarded as a grumbler and to whom we have had no access. He was with the Advisor daily and formed a separate department at the UŽ, the so-called Department for Special Missions, ZU (zvláštne ukony). He also carried out special missions conscientiously, by making statistically accurate material available like clockwork, in an unbelievably short time. Now the Minister’s well-meaning words more than answered my questions, and I was forced to realize that the Jews of Slovakia were utterly lost. I burst into tears during this meeting. The Minister himself was very moved and wished he could help, but unfortunately the matter was under the jurisdiction of the Minister of the Interior, who completely shared the opinion of Prime Minister Tuka: Slovakia must be cleansed of Jews. We did not succeed in finding a direct contact to these two leading proponents of deportation, and all indirect contacts, too, broke down completely. So I saw both the imminent peril and the lack of any recourse.

[…]

After two hours, I left the Minister and went to my group, where the six men plus Oscar Horvát from Nové Mesto were waiting for me.

I reported everything truthfully and in forthright terms, and we all burst into tears. For the first time I saw Dr. Winterstein, a strong man, crying as well. I could not help sobbing as I made my report; I finished it, and I will never forget Winterstein’s words to me after the report was at an end: “I had been fearful before the Rav’s report,6 because I believed that he would give his report an undertone of his characteristic optimism, but now he has done the opposite. Therefore the situation is very grave, and we must try everything possible from now on!” […]

Archival Information for This Item

Source (Credit)
US Holocaust Memorial Museum
Gift of Gideon Frieder
Accession Number 2008.286.1
Date Created
1942
Page(s) 4
Author / Creator
Frieder, Abraham
Language(s)
German
Location
Nové Mesto nad Váhom, Slovakia
Document Type Diary
How to Cite Museum Materials