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Widowhood Release of Golda Leitman Weiss

Weiss, Golda Leitman, rabbinic certificate of widowhood 1946
US Holocaust Memorial Museum; Courtesy of Eva and Nisen Ganz

After the devastation of the Holocaust, it became important for many Jewish Displaced Persons (DPs) to rebuild family life.1 Many survivors failed to locate loved ones and could not confirm how or where family members had died. For those still living, a profound sense of the unknown defined postwar experience.

This lack of closure had practical as well as psychological implications. For religious Jews—particularly for observant Jewish women—proving the death of a husband was necessary in traditional Jewish law, or Halacha. According to these traditions, a woman who could not prove her spouse's death became an agunah—"chained" to her marriage and unable to wed another. Normally, rabbinic authorities would require a death certificate or a witness to the death in order to declare a Jewish woman a widow. But the Holocaust imposed special circumstances where deaths often had no official certification and living witnesses could not be identified.2

Concerns over these issues affected Jewish communities even as the war still raged. Rabbi Shlomo Kahane, who left Warsaw in May 1940, organized special bureaus to resolve these problems almost immediately after the German invasion of Poland in 1939.3 After the war, when a more complete understanding of the genocide began to emerge, these questions became more urgent. Women needed new procedures in order to be released from ties to their deceased husbands and remarry. In August 1946, a general committee of rabbis formed in the DP camps in the US zone of occupied Germany to address the issue of agunot. They created new standards for proving a person's death that accounted for the difficulty of tracing the victims of mass murder.4

The featured document from the Hungarian Orthodox rabbinate in Budapest highlights questions and concerns that were important to religious Jews throughout the region. The document released Golda Leitman Weiss from her marriage to Moshe Tovia Weiss, who was presumed dead. He had been deported to Auschwitz in 1944 as part of the mass deportations from Hungary that resulted in the murder of nearly 450,000 Jews.5 This standard printed form reveals that this was not an uncommon event. It also might suggest her intention to remarry. After the Holocaust and World War II, Jewish communities experienced a postwar rise in rates of marriage and childbirth.6 In addition to allowing its recipient to remarry within the Jewish faith, the form served another purpose as well—in the eyes of Jewish law, this document is also a de facto death certificate.

Golda was the Hebrew name of Olga Leitman Weiss. In 1944, her husband was taken to a forced labor camp. Golda survived in a safe house organized by Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg, and her daughter Eva also survived in hiding in Budapest. In 1946, she married Albert Freedman, who had lost his entire family. It is likely that the prospect of this marriage inspired the application for this release from her marriage to Moshe. Golda gave birth to a son in 1947, and the family immigrated to Canada in January 1951.

For more on the impacts of the Holocaust on family life, see the Experiencing History collection Family Life During the Holocaust. See another related collection in Experiencing History for more on Jewish DPs during the Holocaust.

This remains a concern in rabbinic responses for other modern-day events. For one contemporary example, see Leora Nathan, "Preventing an Agunah Crisis in the Wake of the World Trade Center Disaster by Establishing Death Through Various Forms of Evidence," Alberta Law Review 40 (April 2003): 895–916.

For more information about rabbinic responses to the Holocaust more generally, see the Experiencing History collection, Jewish Religious Life and the Holocaust. See also Stephen T. Katz, Shlomo Biderman, and Gershon Greenberg, eds., Wrestling with God: Jewish Theological Responses During and After the Holocaust (New York: Oxford University Press, 2007).

For more information about these types of agunah cases, see Esther Farbstein, Hidden in Thunder: Perspectives on Faith, Halachah, and Leadership During the Holocaust, Volume I (Jerusalem: Mossad Harav Kook, 2007), 371.

For more information about the Holocaust in Hungary, see László Csősz, Gábor Kádár, and Zoltán Vági, The Holocaust in Hungary: Evolution of a Genocide (Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield Publishers, 2013).

For more on the postwar baby boom among Jewish DPs, see Atina Grossmann, Jews, Germans, and Allies: close encounters in Occupied Germany (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2007).

A codification of Jewish law edited by Yosef Karo in the 16th century. 

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Special Court to Adjudicate Abandoned Wives

Permit , # [typed] 1424/250

Conducted in the main office of the orthodox congregations in Hungary (God willing).

Appearing before the special court to adjudicate abandoned wives was the undersigned, who gave evidence regarding the death of [typed] Moshe Toby, son of Yehoshua Weiss, who was the husband of Golda daughter of Abraham Jacob residing in [typed] Budapest, and according to this testimony and in line with the laws in "Shulchan Aruch"1 and fundamental religious judgments provided by Hungarian rabbis we decided to release the woman [typed] Golda daughter of Abraham Jacob Leitman from the shackles of abandonment.  

Thus it became clear to us that she [typed] was neither divorced [typed] nor dependent, and is allowed to marry any man, and even a Cohen. Thus, we give permission to any rabbi to preside over her marriage, if the latter does not conflict with the state laws.

In witness is [signed] Rabbi Jacob David Klein.

The [typed] 13th of Iyar, 1946,60 central offices of the orthodox congregations, Hungary.

Archival Information for This Item

Source (Credit)
US Holocaust Memorial Museum
Courtesy of Eva and Nisen Ganz
Source Number 12609
Date Created
May 14, 1946
Author / Creator
Orthodox Rabbinic Court, Budapest
Budapest, Hungary
Document Type Petition
How to Cite Museum Materials

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