|Intro||German rescue worker|
|Birth||25 April 1906, Năsăud, Bistrița-Năsăud County, Romania|
|Death||13 July 1964, Bad Kissingen, Bad Kissingen, Lower Franconia, Germany (aged 58 years)|
|Politics||Communist Party of Germany|
Joel Brand (25 April 1906 – 13 July 1964) was a rescue worker, born in Transylvania and raised in Germany, who became known during the Holocaust for his efforts to save Hungary's Jews from deportation to Auschwitz, after the German invasion of that country in March 1944.
A leading member of Budapest's Aid and Rescue Committee, which smuggled Jews out of occupied Europe, Brand was approached in April 1944 by Adolf Eichmann, the German Schutzstaffel (SS) officer in charge of the deportations. Eichmann proposed that Brand broker a deal between the SS and the United States or Britain, in which the Nazis would exchange one million Jews for 10,000 trucks for the Eastern front and large quantities of tea and other goods. It was the most ambitious of a series of such deals between Nazi and Jewish leaders; Eichmann called it "Blut gegen Waren" ("blood for goods").
Nothing came of the proposal, which The Times called one of the most loathsome stories of the war. Historians believe that the SS, including its commander, Heinrich Himmler, intended the negotiations as cover for peace talks with the Western Allies that would exclude the Soviet Union and perhaps even Adolf Hitler. Whatever its purpose, the proposal was thwarted by the British government. They arrested Brand in Aleppo (then under British control), where he had gone to propose Eichmann's offer to the Jewish Agency, and put an end to it by leaking details to the media.
The failure of the proposal, and the wider issue of why the Allies were unable to save the 435,000 Hungarian Jews deported to Auschwitz between May and July 1944, became the subject of bitter debate for many years. In 1961 Life magazine called Brand "a man who lives in the shadows with a broken heart." He told an interviewer shortly before his death in 1964: "An accident of life placed the fate of one million human beings on my shoulders. I eat and sleep and think only of them."
One of seven children, Brand was born to a Jewish family in Naszód, Siebenbürgen (Transylvania), then part of Austria-Hungary, now Năsăud, Romania. His mother was from Naszód, the daughter of a banker, and his father was the founder of the Budapest telephone company. Brand's paternal grandfather, also Joel Brand, had owned the post office in Mukacheve.
The family moved to Erfurt in Germany when Brand was four. Brand attended school until 1923 and said he had completed his Abitur. When he was 19 he went to stay with an uncle in New York, then worked his way across the United States, washing dishes and working on roads and in mines. He joined the Communist Party, worked for the Comintern as a sailor, and sailed to Hawaii, the Philippines, South America, China and Japan. In or around 1930 he returned to Erfurt, where his father had founded another telephone company. Brand took a job with the company and became a functionary with the Thuringian KPD (Communist Party of Germany).
He was living in Germany on 30 January 1933 when Adolf Hitler was sworn in as Chancellor, and as a communist was arrested just before the Reichstag fire on 27 February that year. Released in 1934, he settled in Budapest where he worked again for his father's company. He joined the Poale Zion, a Marxist-Zionist party, became a vice-president of the Budapest Palestine Office, which organized Jewish emigration to Palestine, and sat on the governing body of the Jewish National Fund.
Aid and Rescue Committee
In 1935 Brand married Haynalka "Hansi" Hartmann and together they opened a knitwear and glove factory on Rozsa Street, Budapest, which after a few years had a staff of over 100. The couple had met as members of a hachscharah, a group of Jews preparing to move to Palestine to work on a kibbutz, but Brand's plans changed when his mother and three sisters fled to Budapest from Germany and he had to support them.
Brand's involvement in smuggling Jews into Hungary began in July 1941, when Hansi Brand's sister and brother-in-law were caught up in the Kamianets-Podilskyi deportations. The Hungarian government sent 18,000 Jews to German-occupied Ukraine because they were unable to prove they were Hungarian citizens; 14,000–16,000 of them were shot by the SS. Brand paid a Hungarian counter-espionage officer to bring his wife's relatives back safely.
Through the Poale Zion party, the Brands joined other Zionists engaged in rescue work, including Rezső Kasztner, a lawyer and journalist from Kolozsvár (Cluj), and Ottó Komoly, an engineer, and in January 1943 the group set up the Aid and Rescue Committee with Komoly as chairperson. The committee raised money, forged documents, maintained contacts with intelligence agencies and ran safe houses. Brand testified during Adolf Eichmann's trial that, between 1941 and the invasion in March 1944, they had helped 22,000–25,000 Jews reach Hungary.
Oskar Schindler became one of the committee's contacts, smuggling letters and money into the Kraków ghetto on their behalf. During a visit by Schindler to Budapest in November 1943, they learned that he had been bribing Nazi officers to let him bring Jewish refugees into his factory in Poland, which he ran as a safe haven. This further encouraged the committee, after the invasion of Hungary, to try negotiating with the SS.
March – May 1944
Invasion of Hungary
The Germans invaded Hungary on Sunday, 19 March 1944, meeting no resistance. Following Hungary's annexation in 1941 of parts of Romania, Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia, there were 725,000 Jews in the country, as well as over 60,000 Jewish converts to Christianity and others the Nazis counted as Jews, according to Yehuda Bauer. Most were liberal Jews and fully assimilated, nearly 30 percent were Orthodox, and a small minority were Zionists.
Restrictions on Jews were already in place before the invasion, including a prohibition on marrying Christians. After the invasion, Randolph Braham writes, the Hungarian government immediately began the process of isolating Jews from the rest of the community. From 5 April Jews over the age of six had to wear a 3.8 x 3.8 inch (10 x 10 cm) yellow badge. They were forbidden from using telephones, owning cars or radios, travelling or moving home, and had to declare the value of their property. Jewish civil servants, journalists and lawyers were sacked, non-Jews could not work in Jewish households. Books by Jews were removed from libraries and Jewish authors could no longer be published.
Brand was hidden in a safe house by Josef Winniger, a courier for German military intelligence, who had been selling Brand information about Jewish refugees; Kasztner and Komoly also went into hiding. The committee wanted to establish contact with the Germans and offered a go-between $20,000 to arrange a meeting with SS Hauptsturmführer Dieter Wisliceny, one of Eichmann's assistants.
David Crowe writes that the SS had become an economic force in its own right by 1944, thanks to its plundering of Jewish businesses and ownership of factories that used slave labour from concentration camps. Jewish rescue workers made several attempts to exploit SS corruption. Gisi Fleischmann and Rabbi Michael Dov Weissmandl paid Dieter Wisliceny $20,000 in 1942 to suspend the deportation of Jews from Slovakia, though whether the bribe was the reason for the suspension is debatable.
Fleischmann and Weissmandl's rescue group, the Working Group, devised a more ambitious proposal in November that year. Known as the Europa plan or Grossplan, the aim was to bribe the SS with money from Jews overseas, primarily the United States, to stop the deportation of all Jews to Poland. Various sums have been mentioned in connection with this, including $2–3 million. Nothing came of it, reportedly because Heinrich Himmler intervened in August 1943.
The Aid and Rescue Committee decided to ask Wisliceny whether the SS were, as Kasztner wrote in a later report, "prepared to negotiate with the illegal Jewish rescue committee on an economic basis about the moderation of the anti-Jewish measures." Brand and Kasztner met Wisliceny on 5 April. They told him they were in a position to continue Fleischmann's negotiations and could offer $2 million with a down payment of $200,000. They asked that there be no deportations, mass executions or pogroms in Hungary, no ghettos or camps, and that Jews who held immigration certificates for Palestine (issued by the British mandatory government) be allowed to leave. Wisliceny accepted the $200,000, but indicated that $2 million might not be enough. He said there would be no deportations and no harm to the Jewish community while negotiations continued, and arranged for Aid and Rescue Committee exemptions from anti-Jewish laws to allow its members to travel and use cars and telephones.
First meeting with Eichmann
Following the contact with Wisliceny, Brand received a message on 25 April that SS Obersturmbannführer Adolf Eichmann wanted to see him. Eichmann had arrived in Budapest as head of the Sondereinsatzkommando overseeing the deportation of the Jews. Brand was told to wait in the Opera Cafḗ and from there was driven by the SS to Eichmann's headquarters at the Hotel Majestic.
SS Untersturmbannführer Kurt Becher, an emissary of Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler, was also at the meeting. In a tone that Brand compared to the "clatter of a machine gun," Eichmann offered to sell him one million Jews, not for money, but for goods from overseas:
I have already made investigations about you and your people and I have verified your ability to make a deal. Now then, I am prepared to sell you one million Jews ... Goods for blood – blood for goods. You can take them from any country you like, wherever you can find them – Hungary, Poland, the Ostmark, from Theresienstadt, from Auschwitz, wherever you like.
Eichmann said he would discuss the proposal with Berlin, and that in the meantime Brand should decide what kinds of goods he was in a position to offer. Brand asked how the committee was supposed to obtain these goods. Eichmann said he should open negotiations with the Allies overseas and that Eichmann would arrange a travel permit. Brand suggested Istanbul, where another committee member had a Jewish Agency contact. He testified years later that on leaving the hotel he felt like a "stark madman."
Eichmann sent for Brand again a few days later. Eichmann was accompanied this time by Gerhard Clages, also known as Otto Klages, chief of Himmler's Sicherheitsdienst (security service) in Budapest. Clages' presence meant that three of Himmler's senior officers – Eichmann, Becher and Clages – had involved themselves with the Brand proposal. Clages handed Brand $50,000 and 270,000 Swiss francs that the Germans had intercepted, sent to the Aid and Rescue Committee by rescue workers in Switzerland via the Swedish Embassy in Budapest.
Eichmann told Brand that he wanted 10,000 new trucks for the Waffen-SS to use on the Eastern front, one truck for every 100 Jews, as well as 200 tons of tea, 200 tons of cocoa, 800 tons of coffee and 2,000,000 cases of soap. If Brand returned from Istanbul with confirmation that the Allies had accepted the proposal, Eichmann said he would release 10 percent of the one million. The deal would proceed with 100,000 Jews released for every 1,000 trucks.
It remains unclear whether Eichmann told Brand to return to Budapest by a particular date. According to Bauer, Brand said at various points that he was advised he could "take [his] time" or given one, two or three weeks. Hansi Brand testified during Eichmann's trial that in the meantime she and her children had to remain in Budapest, effectively as hostages. Brand and Eichmann met several more times, the final time on 15 May, the day the deportations began. Between then and 8 July 1944, 437,402 Jews, almost the entire Jewish population of the Hungarian countryside, are recorded as having been deported to Auschwitz on 147 trains, a rate of around 12,000 a day. Most were gassed.
May – October 1944
Brand leaves for Istanbul
Brand secured a letter of recommendation for the Jewish Agency from the Hungarian Jewish Council. He was told he would be travelling with Bandi Grosz (real name, Andor Gross), a Hungarian who had worked for Hungarian and German military intelligence; Grosz would travel to Istanbul as the director of a Hungarian transport company. The SS drove the men from Budapest to Vienna on 17 May, where they stayed the night in a hotel reserved for the SS.
Grosz later testified that Brand's mission had been a cover for his own. He said he had been told by Clages to arrange a meeting in a neutral country between senior German and American officers, or British if necessary, to broker peace between the German Sicherheitsdienst and the Western Allies.
Meeting with Jewish Agency
In Vienna Brand was given a German passport in the name of Eugen Band. He cabled the Jewish Agency in Istanbul to say he was on his way, and arrived by German diplomatic plane on 19 May. Paul Rose writes that Brand had no idea at this point that the deportations to Auschwitz had already begun.
Brand had been told by the Jewish Agency by return cable that "Chaim" would meet him in Istanbul. Convinced of the importance of his mission, he believed this was Chaim Weizmann, president of the World Zionist Organization, later the first president of Israel. In fact the man who had arranged to meet him was Chaim Barlas, head of the Istanbul group of Zionist emissaries. Not only was Barlas not there, but there was no entry visa waiting for Brand, and he was threatened with arrest and deportation. Brand saw this as the first betrayal by the Jewish Agency. Bauer argues that Brand, then and later, failed to grasp that the Jewish Agency was powerless. That his passport was in the name of Eugen Band would have been enough to cause the confusion.
The visa situation was sorted out by Bandi Grosz and the men were taken to a hotel, where they met the Jewish Agency delegates. Brand was furious that no one sufficiently senior was available to negotiate a deal. The Jewish Agency agreed to arrange for Moshe Sharett (previously Shertok), head of its political department and later second prime minister of Israel, to travel to Istanbul to meet him. Brand passed them a plan of Auschwitz (probably from the Vrba-Wetzler report) and demanded that the gas chambers, crematoria and railways lines be bombed. The discussions left him discouraged and depressed. He wrote that the delegates lacked any sense of urgency and were focused more on internal politics and Jewish emigration to Palestine, rather than the slaughter in Europe: "[They] were undoubtedly worthy men ... But they lacked any awareness of how critical was the period of history in which they were living. They had not looked death in the face day after day, as we had in Budapest ..." On 25 May 1944 the Jewish Agency leaders debated about rescuing Hungarian Jews.
Ladislaus Löb writes that proposals and counter-proposals flew between Istanbul, London and Washington. The Jewish Agency and Brand wanted the Allies to string the Germans along in the hope of slowing the deportations.
The Agency gave Brand a document, dated 29 May 1944, that offered $400,000 for every 1,000 Jewish emigrants to Palestine, one million Swiss francs per 10,000 Jewish emigrants to neutral countries such as Spain, and 10,000 Swiss francs a month if the deportations were to stop. If the SS would allow the Allies to supply food, clothes and medicine to the Jews in concentration camps, the Nazis would be supplied with the same. Rose writes that the agreement was intended only to give Brand something to take back to Budapest.
Brand cabled his wife on 29 and 31 May to tell her (and thereby Eichmann) about the agreement, but there was no response. Rezső Kasztner and Hansi Brand had been held in Budapest between 27 May and 1 June by the Hungarian Arrow Cross. They received the telegrams when they were released, but Eichmann refused to halt the deportations.
Arrested by British
In Istanbul Brand was told that Moshe Sharett was unable to obtain a visa for Turkey. The Jewish Agency asked Brand to meet him instead in Aleppo on the Syrian-Turkish border. He was reluctant; the area was under British control and he was afraid they would want to question him, but the Agency told him it would be safe and he left by train with two of its delegates.
While on the train, Brand was approached by two representatives of Zeev Jabotinsky's Hatzohar (Revisionist Zionist) party and the World Agudath Israel Orthodox religious party. They told him the British were going to arrest him in Aleppo: "Die Engländer sind in dieser Frage nicht unsere Verbündeten"("the British are not our allies in this matter"). As soon as he arrived at the Aleppo train station on 7 June, he was stopped by a British man in plain clothes and pushed into a Jeep that was waiting with its engine running.
The British drove him to a villa, where for four days they tried to stop Moshe Sharett from meeting him. Sharett "fought a battle of telephones and cables," Bauer writes, and on 11 June he and the Jewish Agency intelligence group were finally introduced to Brand. The discussion lasted several hours. Sharett wrote in a report of 27 June: "I must have looked a little incredulous, for he said: 'Please believe me: they have killed six million Jews; there are only two million left alive.'" At the end of the meeting, Sharett broke the news that the British were insisting Brand not return to Budapest. Brand became hysterical.
Brand was taken to Cairo, where he was questioned by the British for weeks. On 22 June he was interviewed by Ira Hirschmann of the American War Refugee Board; Hirschmann wrote a positive report about Brand, but his influence was limited. Brand went on hunger strike for 17 days in protest at his detention.
The British, Americans and Soviet Union discussed the proposal. British Foreign Secretary (later Prime Minister) Anthony Eden wrote a memo on 26 June outlining the options. The British were convinced they were dealing with a Himmler trick, perhaps an attempt to broker a peace deal without the Soviet Union. If the deal had gone ahead and large numbers of Jews had been released in central Europe, Allied airborne and possibly land-based military operations might have had to stop. Bauer believes the British feared this was Himmler's motive – to turn the Jews into human shields – because it would have allowed the Germans to devote their forces to fighting the Red Army.
The Americans were more open to negotiating. A rift developed between them and the British who, Bauer writes, were worried about large-scale Jewish immigration to Palestine, then under British control. There was also concern about the effect of Jewish immigration to the UK or US.
Eden did suggest a counter-proposal on 1 July, but it was reduced, Bauer writes, to a ridiculous minimum. He told the American government that the British would allow Brand to return to Budapest with a message for Eichmann suggesting that 1,500 Jewish children be given safe passage to Switzerland, 5,000 from Bulgaria and Romania be allowed to leave for Palestine, and that Germany guarantee safe conduct for ships carrying Jewish refugees. He did not say what he would offer in return. On 11 July Prime Minister Winston Churchill put an end to the idea when he told Eden that the murder of the Jews was "probably the greatest and most horrible crime ever committed," and that there should be "no negotiations of any kind on this subject." Of Brand's mission he wrote: "The project which has been put forward through a very doubtful channel seems itself also to be of the most nondescript character. I would not take it seriously."
Leak to media
The British leaked details of Eichmann's proposal to the media. On 19 July 1944 – the day before the 20 July plot, the attempted assassination of Adolf Hitler – the New York Herald Tribune (dateline London, 18 July) reported that two Hungarian government emissaries in Turkey had proposed that Hungarian Jews be given safe passage in exchange for British and American pharmaceuticals and transport for the Germans. The Times called it "one of the most loathsome" stories of the war, an attempt to "blackmail, deceive and split" the Allies, and a "new level of fantasy and self-deception."
The mass deportation of Hungarian Jews had already stopped by the time of the leak. Following publication in mid-June of parts of the Vrba-Wetzler report, describing the use of gas chambers inside Auschwitz, the Jewish Agency in Geneva had cabled London asking that Hungarian ministers be held personally responsible for the killings. The cable was intercepted and passed to Hungarian regent Miklós Horthy, who ordered an end to the deportations on 7 July.
The British released Brand on 5 October 1944. Brand said they would not allow him to return to Hungary and forced him to travel to Palestine. Bauer disputes this, writing that Brand was simply afraid of returning to Budapest, convinced the Germans would murder him.
Germany's Foreign Minister, Joachim von Ribbentrop, had apparently known nothing about the proposal. He cabled Brigadeführer Edmund Veesenmayer of the SS on 20 July 1944 to ask about it, and was told on 22 July that Brand and Grosz had been sent to Turkey on the orders of Heinrich Himmler, head of the SS. Eichmann himself said during interrogation after the war that the order had come from Himmler, as did SS officer Kurt Becher: "Himmler said to me: 'Take whatever you can from the Jews. Promise them whatever you want. What we will keep is another matter.'"
Bauer writes that the "clumsiness of the approach has been a wonderment to all observers." He argues that Eichmann wanted to murder Jews, not sell them, but was forced instead to act as Himmler's reluctant messenger. On the day Brand left Germany for Istanbul in May 1944, Eichmann was in Auschwitz checking that it was ready for the trainloads of Jews about to arrive from Hungary. The camp's commander, Obersturmbannführer Rudolf Höss, said it would be difficult to process such large numbers, whereupon Eichmann ordered that new arrivals be gassed immediately rather than going through "selection." This does not suggest that he was going to halt the killing until Brand returned from Istanbul.
In Bauer's view, the presence at one of the meetings of Gerhard Clages of the SS signals that Himmler was focusing on secret peace talks. Brand and Grosz arrived in Istanbul just two months before the attempted assassination of Adolf Hitler on 20 July 1944. Himmler knew that attempts might be made on Hitler's life, though not where and when. It is possible that he wanted to broker for peace in case Hitler did not survive, using low-level agents for plausible deniability, and if Hitler did survive, Bauer argues, Himmler could offer him a peace deal with the West that excluded the Soviet Union.
Brand himself came to believe that the proposal had been designed to drive a wedge between the Allies. Two months before his death in 1964, at the trial in Germany of Eichmann's deputies Hermann Krumey and Otto Hunsche, he said he had "made a terrible mistake in passing this on to the British. It is now clear to me that Himmler sought to sow suspicion among the Allies as a preparation for his much desired Nazi-Western coalition against Moscow."
Brand's failure to return to Budapest was a disaster for the Aid and Rescue Committee. On 27 May Hansi Brand, who at some point during this period had become Kasztner's lover, was arrested and beaten by the Hungarian Arrow Cross. Kasztner wrote that on 9 June that Eichmann told him: "If I do not receive a positive reply within three days, I shall operate the mill at Auschwitz" ("die Muehle laufen lasse"). Hansi Brand told Claude Lanzman:
We ... [lived] between fear and despair and hope. And that formed itself into such a heap of stuff, that I can't really describe it – how it was and what it was. Every evening, we went to pieces and during the night, we tried to build ourselves up again, so we could go into the street ... and look like human beings again ... And [it] was like being in a windmill; it turned and moved.
Bauer argues that the Aid and Rescue committee made the mistake of almost adopting the anti-Semitic belief in unlimited Jewish power, that Jewish leaders could move around freely and persuade the Allies to act, and that American Jews had easy access to money and goods. The committee had similar trust in the Allies, but the latter were preparing for the invasion of Normandy, which began on 6 June 1944. "At that crucial moment," writes Bauer, "to antagonize the Soviets because of some hare-brained Gestapo plan to ransom Jews was totally out of the question."
Despite the setbacks, Kasztner, Hansi Brand and the rest of the committee secured the release of around 1,684 Jews, including 273 children, who were allowed to leave Budapest for Switzerland by train on 30 June 1944. The committee paid SS officer Kurt Becher $1000 per person in foreign currency, shares, jewellery and gold, raised from the wealthier passengers to cover the cost of the rest. After an unexplained detour to the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, the passengers arrived in Switzerland in two batches in August and December that year. Joel Brand's mother, sister and niece were on the train, as were 10 members of Kasztner's family and 388 people from the Kolozsvár ghetto in his home town. Kastner's relationship with these passengers led to the criticism that his negotiations with Becher had focused on saving people he knew, an allegation that led to his assassination in 1957.
Move to Israel
Bauer concludes that Brand was a courageous man who had passionately wanted to help the Jewish people, but his life was plagued after the mission by suspicion, including from other members of the Aid and Rescue Committee, because of his failure to return to Budapest. After the British released him, he joined the Stern Gang, who were fighting to remove the British from Palestine. He and Hansi Brand lived for the rest of their lives in Israel, at first moving to the Givat Brenner kibbutz, then Tel Aviv, with their two sons.
Ronald Florence writes that Brand seemed to live only to set the record straight. He offered testimony about the blood-for-goods proposal during several trials, including that of Eichmann in Jerusalem in 1961 and Eichmann's assistant Hermann Krumey in Frankfurt in 1964.
Brand testified in 1954 at the controversial libel trial in Jerusalem of Malchiel Gruenwald, who was sued by the Israeli government on behalf of Rezső Kasztner. Gruenwald was a Hungarian Holocaust survivor who had moved to Israel after the war. In a self-published pamphlet in 1952 he accused Kasztner, by then an Israeli civil servant, of having collaborated with the Nazis by dealing with Eichmann. Brand testified for Kasztner, but instead of defending him took the opportunity to accuse the Jewish Agency, whose officials became the first Israeli government, of having helped the British scupper the blood-for-goods proposal.
After a trial that lasted 18 months, the judge concluded that, by negotiating with Eichmann, failing to warn the many to save the few on the Kasztner train, and writing an affidavit after the war for Kurt Becher, Kasztner had "sold his soul to the devil." It was because of Kasztner's support for Becher that the Americans decided not to prosecute Becher at Nuremberg. Kasztner also wrote affidavits for Hans Jüttner, Dieter Wisliceny and Hermann Krumey.
The judge said that Kasztner's failure to do more to warn the community that they were being sent to the gas chambers, and not resettled, had helped Eichmann maintain order, and that the Kasztner train had been a payoff. Tom Segev called the ruling "one of the most heartless in the history of Israel, perhaps the most heartless ever." The Supreme Court of Israel overturned most of the verdict in January 1958, ruling that the lower court had "erred seriously," but Kasztner was assassinated in 1957 as a result of the earlier judgment.
Brand was never able to put behind him the idea that he might have saved a million lives. In 1961 Life magazine called him "a man who lives in the shadows with a broken heart." He died of a heart attack, aged 58, during a visit to Germany in July 1964, telling an interviewer shortly before his death: "An accident of life placed the fate of one million human beings on my shoulders. I eat and sleep and think only of them."
Over 800 mourners attended his funeral in Tel Aviv, including Colonel Arieh Baz on behalf of Israel's President Zalman Shazar and Teddy Kollek, director-general of the prime minister's office, on behalf of Prime Minister Levi Eshkol. The eulogy was delivered by Gideon Hausner, the attorney general who prosecuted Adolf Eichmann.