The State Legislature marked International Holocaust Remembrance Day Monday, honoring the late Rabbi Michoel Ber Weissmandl for his efforts saving European Jews during World War II.
At the risk of his own life, Weissmandl played a lead role in saving thousands of lives in Hungary. Among his many efforts, Weissmandl informed world leaders, including President Franklin Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, of the atrocities being carried out in Eastern Europe during the war. He established a network that smuggled letters and telegrams out of Eastern Europe and formed an underground organization, the “Working Group,” that raised money to bribe the Nazis to delay mass deportations to the death camps.
He also worked to promote the “Auschwitz Protocols,” a 30-page report describing the atrocities in the Nazi death camp. The report included a detailed map of the largest Nazi death camp, Auschwitz-Birkenau, drawn by Weissmandl, accompanied with a plea to bomb the death factory and the rail tracks leading to it. Translated into several languages and widely distributed, the report led the Allies to pressure Hungary, which halted its death camp deportations in July 1944, sparing the lives of tens of thousands of Hungarian Jews.
Many of these survivors later came to live in New York. In Brooklyn, it is estimated that Rabbi Weissmandl was responsible for over two-thirds of Holocaust survivors, including a majority of the survivors and their descendants in Williamsburg’s 70,000 member Jewish community.
“Rabbi Weissmandl was a defender of freedom and of liberty,” said Assemblyman Joe Lentol, who sponsored the Resolution in the Assembly. “He is a hero for all generations of Jews – but also for everyone who needs a brave man’s example to look to when help is needed for those who are persecuted and threatened with annihilation in today’s world.”
The Resolution was sponsored in the Senate by State Senator Simcha Felder. “Even 55 years after his death, the memory of his heroic acts still burns brightly for so many people in the Jewish community,” Felder remarked. “His selfless behavior is a lesson for the ages.”
Rabbi David Niederman, Executive Director of the United Jewish Organizations of Williamsburg, which represents many of the community’s survivors and their families led the invocation at the Legislature Monday. “I can’t think of a more fitting way to mark International Holocaust Remembrance Day than commemorating this unsung hero,” said Niederman, who lost three of his own siblings to the Nazis. “Even though we mark International Holocaust Memorial Day only once a year, for us and for all the remaining Holocaust survivors we have with us today, not a day goes by that we don’t remember the relatives we lost.”
International Holocaust Remembrance Day was established in 2005 by the UN General Assembly to commemorate the January 27, 1945 liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau by Soviet troops.
“On this very important day we pause to remember those who died in the Holocaust,” said Lentol. “We remember their families, and we remember those brave individuals who did everything in their humanly power to save the lives of other people without regard to their own peril. We never forget them and we use their memory and their goodness and holiness to fight against all holocausts against humankind for ever more.”