Saly Mayer, Swiss Jewish leader whose skilled negotiations during World War II saved the lives of 200,000 Hungarian Jews about to be deported by the Nazis to extermination camps in occupied Poland, died today at St. Moritz of a heart attack. He was 67 years old.
In addition to being one of the most prominent Jewish leaders in Switzerland, Mr. Mayer was also director of Joint Distribution Committee operations in Switzerland for a period of 10 years, which included the war years. His activities in rescuing Jews from Nazi Germany were praised in a report issued by the U.S. War Refugee Board in 1945.
(Edward M.M. Warburg, chairman of the J.D.C., in learning of Mr. Mayer’s death, said today in New York: “Jews everywhere have lost arare and inspiring figure with the death of Saly Mayer. He gave his fullest devotion to the cause and welfare of his fellow Jews, and was responsible for helping to save literally hundreds of thousands. He believed implicitly in the tenet that it was the duty of all to be their ‘brother’s keeper,’ and he fulfilled that belief in a manner equalled by few men in his time.”)
The War Refugee Board report told how the Nazis in the spring and summer of 1944, striving to shave off defeat, sought to negotiate a vast ransom of 10,000 trucks and supplies in return for spering the lives of the 200,000 remaining Jews of Hungary. Mr. Mayer, as J.D.C. representative, was approached in the matter by a Gestapo representative for Hungary. There followed a protracted series of meetings between Saly Mayer and the German representatives, with the full knowledge of the U.S. Government. Through the ingenuity and perseverance of Mr. Mayer, every imaginable dilatory tactic was employed and the talks continued for month after month.
When the war ended, the 200,000 Jews of Hungary were still alive, thanks to Mr. Mayer’s efforts and to the efforts of Raoul Wallenberg, a Swedish non-Jew who, working inside Budapest, fed the Jews, using funds provided by the J.D.C. through the War Refugee Board.
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.