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British Refusal to Act on Weizmann’s Plea Revealed at Eichmann Trial

May 31, 1961
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

The British Government rejected a frantic appeal in 1944 from Dr. Chaim Weizmann for the bombing of the Auschwitz murder factory and railways leading to it and also vetoed a Jewish Agency proposal to drop Palestinian Jewish parachutists into Hungary, according to documents introduced today in the trial of Adolf Eichmann.

The role of the Jewish leadership in seeking to mobilize Allied action to save the Jews of Hungary and the negative British response was outlined in 15 documents from the archives of Dr. Weizmann, who later became the first President of Israel. The documents were submitted to demonstrate the reaction of Jewish leadership when it received reports on the extermination of Hungarian Jews and on Eichmann’s “blood for trucks” exchange proposal.

One of the documents was a British Foreign Office letter to Dr. Weizmann, dated September 1, 1944, referring to the plea to bomb Auschwitz and its railroad network. The document contained the following statement: “Sorry to tell you that in view of the great technical difficulties involved, we have no option but to refrain from pursuing the proposal in the present circumstances.”

Other documents indicated that the plan to drop Jewish parachutists into Hungary to organize resistance among the doomed Hungarian Jews was approved by military authorities and then vetoed by the British Colonial Office. There were also hints that the Soviet Union might have been involved in the decision against bombing the Auschwitz murder factory.


The memorandum on the parachuting plan included the following details: “Beginning in 1944 when 700,000 Jews were still alive in Hungary, the Jewish Agency presented a plan to the British authorities to drop hundreds of Palestinian Jews by parachutes into Hungary, a plan which in the considered view of high British military authorities would be advantageous to the Allies militarily and would be helpful in preventing the massacre of many of the Hungarians still alive. When this scheme was approved by all military authorities concerned and arrangements were initiated to carry it out, the Colonial Office intervened and for political reasons instructed the military authorities to drop the plan.” This memo, dated November 1945, contained no indication as to who wrote to whom nor did it have a signature.

The documents, the prosecution said, were taken from the draft of testimony which Dr. Weizmann had intended to bring before the Nuremberg tribunals, a disclosure made for the first time today. Attorney General Gideon Hausner, in submitting the documentation, said it was not known who proposed the appearance of Dr. Weizmann at the Nuremberg tribunals. The tribunals were ended before Dr. Weizmann could be called.

The 15 documents were only part of the file of exchanges between Jewish Agency officials and the Allies. The documents made it clear that the Jewish leaders offered several proposals to the Allies in efforts to gain time and delay the extermination of the remnant of European Jewry and that the British authorities at various levels–from local security officials in Turkey to the British war cabinet–responded negatively.

The documents showed that the British repeatedly said they had to obtain Soviet agreement to any such actions but it was not clear whether this claim was genuine or simply a delaying tactic. There also was no indication in the documents whether Soviet replies ever were made to the presumed queries from the British.


Another proposal made by Jewish leaders and rejected by the British was to declare all surviving Jews in Nazi-occupied Europe as British-protected or Anglo-American-protected persons. It appeared that the Spanish Government agreed to declare all Sephardic Jews Spanish-protected persons. Another aborted proposal was that the Allies should issue a warning to all Hungarians, particularly railroad workers, that anyone assisting in the deportations would be considered a war criminal.

The documentation tied into the testimony of Joel Brand, the one-time Hungarian Jewish emissary in the “blood for trucks” negotiations. A 17-page report by Moshe Sharett, who later became Foreign Minister and Prime Minister of Israel, gave strong praise to Brand–as did all related document–as a most courageous person. The Sharett report described how Brand proceeded from Turkey to British-occupied Alleppo after receiving permission to return to neutral Turkey but instead he was arrested and taken to Cairo. The document showed that the British admitted the arrest was a breach of faith and added: “This is a war, isn’t it?”

As a result, the major efforts of Jewish Agency leaders had to be switched from concentrating on efforts to rescue some of the doomed Jews in Hungary to appeals to the British to release Brand so he could return to Budapest to continue his negotiations with Eichmann. The Sharett statement indicated that after Brand was arrested, Sharett proposed that a Swiss official of the Intergovernmental Refugee Agency should go to Budapest to try to stall Nazi deportations but the British objected even to this.

Earlier portions of the Weizmann documents dealt with the mission of Joel Brand, the pre-war Zionist leader in Budapest, who started his testimony yesterday on Eichmann’s offer to him to release 1,000,000 captive Jews for 10,000 trucks from Western countries. The offer was made by Eichmann to Mr. Brand during the final months to the war and was described in detail by Mr. Brand yesterday at the trial. He said that Eichmann told him that “you are getting away cheaply with 100 Jews in exchange for one truck.”


Among the documents introduced in court today was also a cable from Mr. Sharett to the Jewish Agency in London indicating that after hearing Brand, and meeting with David Ben-Gurion, the Jewish Agency agreed to a procedure of “keeping the door open” for negotiations with Eichmann. One of the documents was a letter to Anthony Eden, a member of the British War Cabinet, asking for a meeting on the Brand mission. In that letter, Dr. Weizmann wrote: “While I am most anxious that anything done by the Jewish Agency should be with the knowledge and approval of the British Government, at the same time it is of course my paramount duty to try to discover a course of action which offers the best hope of saving Jewish lives.”

Contrary to earlier indications that the Brand mission failed because everybody in the Allied camp considered the proposal “fantastic,” the documents showed that the offer was taken very seriously and that immediate action was started on it. However, British interference from the very beginning was documented by a cable from Sharett to the effect that he was kept waiting for four days before being allowed to see Brand who had been given a fortnight by Eichmann to bring back a reply on the trucks for blood offer. Sharett tried unsuccessfully to obtain Brand’s release by an appeal to the then High Commissioner, Sir MacMichael.

Brand, completing his testimony today, said he was accompanied from Budapest on his trip to Constantinople by a Gestapo agent, Bondi Gross, whom Eichmann sent along to keep an eye on Brand. Brand said that as he was on route to Palestine to see Sharett, after crossing the Turkish-Syrian border, he was arrested by the British in Alleppo but managed to see Sharett in Alleppo and explained his mission. Brand testified that later he was taken to a Cairo jail where he was kept for four months and not allowed to return to Hungary.


After presentation of the Weizmann archives and completion by Brand of his testimony, he was subjected to a gruelling cross-examination by Dr. Robert Servatius, Eichmann’s chief defense counsel. Dr. Servatius sought to obtain from Brand an admission that Eichmann’s plan to exchange Jews for goods and his willingness to accept ten percent of the promised goods while liberating ten percent of the Jews proved his magnanimity.

Brand rejected both arguments. He replied that during the negotiations, Eichmann not only did not halt the deportations but in fact accelerated them. The witness said Eichmann gave him an ultimatum that unless the goods were forthcoming within a fortnight, he would order that the 100,000 Jews he said were being temporarily held in Austria and Czechoslovakia would be sent to the death camps. Brand quoted Eichmann as saying that “I cannot keep them on ice.”

Rejecting the defense attorney’s contention that the temporary confinement was evidence of Eichmann’s sincerity in wishing to complete the exchange transaction, Brand said angrily, “That’s a lie.” He added that Eichmann did not send the 100,000 Jews to Austria or Czechoslovakia but to Auschwitz.

Dr. Servatius was given an opportunity this morning to cross-examine also Professor Gustave Gilbert, an American psychologist who had interviewed the major defendants at the Nuremberg war crimes trials and who testified here today at the trial that Eichmann was the “kingpin” without which “the extermination machine could not have worked.”

Professor Gustave Gilbert, chairman of the psychology department at Long Island University in New York, said that Eichmann’s name cropped up again and again in his talks with Nuremberg war criminals and witnesses. “It gradually dawned on me,” Dr. Gilbert declared, “that Eichmann must be the key figure of the whole extermination program.” The witness, who was a United States Army psychologist at the time of the Nuremberg trials, quoted Hermann Goering as saying that the extermination of the Jews “was not my province. That was the work of Himmler and his boys–Heydrich, Eichmann, etc.”

Dr. Gilbert related that Auschwitz commander Rudolf Hoess in an autobiography written for his interview, seemed unable to discuss the program of extermination of Jews without mentioning Eichmann. The witness reproduced the verbatim reply of Hoess to Goering’s question concerning the technical possibility of exterminating two and a half million within three-and-a-half years. Hoess said: “Special trains timed and coordinated by Eichmann were shunted directly to the extermination camp.”

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