Menu JTA Search

Trial of Israel Opera Conductor Starts; Charged with Aiding Nazis

Hirsh Birenblat, former conductor of the Israel Opera, went on trial here today on charges of having helped to round up Jews for extermination by the Nazis as a Jewish policeman in Nazi-held Poland during World War II.

In presenting the case, prosecutor David Libai said the case was the first in which an Israeli court had been called on to determine whether service by a Jew as a policeman under the Nazis made him a member of a “hostile organization” under the Israeli law for the punishment of Nazis and their collaborators. This is the law under which Adolf Eichmann was tried, convicted and hanged.

Birenblat was a member of the Jewish police in Bendin, a force established by the Nazi-appointed Judenrat for that ghetto. The charge sheet against him listed accusations that he handed over Jews to the Nazis, attacked Jews in enclosed camps, assembled Jews for “selection” for extermination, helped the Nazis herd 5,000 Jews of Bendin into death trains and rounding up Jewish children from a local orphanage and bringing them to trains which transported them to death camps.

He was also accused of divulging the hiding places of 100 Jews who fled to Bendin from other areas and with handing them over to the Nazis and with taking hostages from families whose members did not report to the Nazis for forced labor.

PROSECUTOR SAYS HE ALSO HELPED TO SAVE JEWISH LIVES

After the charges were listed, the prosecutor said that despite the charges, it was Birenblatt who removed one or two Jews from every transport and thus saved their lives. He added: “It is for this court to decide whether, in order to save his own life and the lives of a few others, the accused had the right to perform his other deeds despite compelling conditions.” The prosecutor added that the underground made an effort to save Birenblat.

After the defendant pleaded not guilty, the first witness, Isaac Neuman, now an Israeli, was called. Neuman was a member of the Jewish underground in Czenstochowa who was sent to Bendin. He testified that he had been sent to Bendin to organize an underground there but was captured and brought before Birenblat.

Neuman testified that despite appeals to Birenblat, he was kept for several days in a cell in Birenblat’s office. When he and a group of other Jews were taken to German trucks by Jewish police under Gestapo supervision, he testified further, his name was suddenly called out by Birenblat who set him free while Gestapo officials looked on. The hearing was then adjourned until next month.

NEXT STORY