[...] 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!” […]