Section: Resistance, responses and collaboration

Individual Responses

Alfred Wiener, a German Jew from Berlin, responded to the Nazis’ persecution of Jews by creating the Jewish Central Information Office (JCIO), which later became The Wiener Holocaust Library. . The JCIO collected and shared information about the Third Reich and the Nazis’ persecution of Jews.

Alfred Wiener, a German Jew from Berlin, responded to the Nazis’ persecution of Jews by creating the Jewish Central Information Office (JCIO), which later became The Wiener Holocaust Library. . The JCIO collected and shared information about the Third Reich and the Nazis’ persecution of Jews.

Courtesy of The Wiener Holocaust Library Collections.

Each individual responded to the Nazi persecution of Jews in a different way. Some, like Rachel Auerbach and Alfred Wiener, helped to chronicle the Nazi persecution. Others, like Wilfrid Israel and Oskar Schindler, helped people to escape.

This section explores case studies of different responses.

Wilfrid Israel

A portrait of Wilfrid Israel (1899-1943), an Anglo-German Jewish businessman and philanthropist, who was responsible for helping to save thousands of lives from Nazi persecution.

A portrait of Wilfrid Israel (1899-1943), an Anglo-German Jewish businessman and philanthropist, who was responsible for helping to save thousands of lives from Nazi persecution.

Courtesy of The Wiener Holocaust Library Collections.

Wilfrid Israel (1899-1943) was an Anglo-German Jewish businessman and philanthropist, responsible for helping to save thousands of lives from Nazi persecution. The Israel family were Jewish and lived in Berlin, where Wilfrid’s father, Berthold Israel, owned and directed the well-known department store N. Israel. Wilfrid Israel began working for the family business in the 1920s as personnel manager of the 2000 staff. The business provided Israel with a base from which to conduct relief work and a circle of prominent contacts.

Following the Nazis’ rise to power in 1933, Israel repeatedly came to the aid of his employees and friends who found themselves victims of Nazi terror, and by June 1933 he had been arrested three times for these interventions.

On 9 November 1938, the Nazis instigated Kristallnacht. On 10 November, the N. Israel store, after initially avoiding damage the evening before, was completely ransacked. SS guards rounded up the Jewish employees whilst others shattered display cases, slashed paintings and threw typewriters out of the windows.

Word soon reached Israel, who immediately focused on gathering a list of the staff taken to Sachsenhausen . Israel then used his contacts to get in touch with the Nazi camp commander, Hermann Baranowski, and negotiate their release by promising unlimited credit at the N. Israel store. Following their release, Israel again used his position, contacts, and wealth to help the remaining two hundred Jews in the firm emigrate. As well as giving them two years salary in cash in advance, Israel secured many of them jobs abroad. This action undoubtedly saved their lives.

Despite being constantly followed by the Gestapo and his business being ‘ Aryanised ’, Israel himself did not emigrate until shortly before the outbreak of the Second World War as he continued to work relentlessly to save those being persecuted by the Nazis. On 15 May 1939, Wilfrid finally left Berlin for London. Prior to his departure he played a central role in organising the Kindertransport and other rescue schemes for those incarcerated in concentration camps. In Britain, he continued his relief efforts, working first for Bloomsbury House, an organisation dealing with German Jewish refugees, and then the Foreign Office.

On 1 June 1943, Israel died when his flight was shot down by a Luftwaffe  fighter jet whilst returning from Lisbon, where he had been on a mission for The Jewish Agency for Palestine, arranging entry certificates for refugees.

Laura Margolis

Laura Margolis (1903-1997) was a relief worker who worked for the American Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) where she was instrumental in aiding the survival of several thousand refugees in the 1930s and 1940s.

Margolis was born in Turkey to Jewish parents and emigrated to the United States in 1908. Margolis pursued a career in social work. She graduated from Western Reserve University in the 1920s. After spending several years undertaking Jewish social work in the United States, Margolis accepted a job with the JDC helping emigration in Cuba in 1938.

In 1941, Margolis was re-assigned to help the relief operation in Shanghai, which had received approximately 17,000 Jewish refugees. By accepting this assignment, Margolis became the first female overseas representative of the JDC. Following her arrival in Shanghai, Margolis initially focused on improving emigration processes at the American consulate in order to help more refugees emigrate to the United States. In September 1941, once these processes were up and running, she turned her mind to the relief operation which was providing aid to the destitute refugees whilst they waited for a chance to emigrate. The relief operation was funded by the JDC, but primarily run by the local Jewish community.

The local Jewish community had honourable intents, but they had little experience of social care for the masses. The relief operation was inefficient and unfit for purpose. Margolis used her professional training and experience to implement several basic changes which made the relief operation more efficient and more responsive.

In December 1941, the situation in Shanghai became significantly more difficult following the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor and subsequent tightening of their control in Shanghai. In February 1943, Margolis was interned by the Japanese and imprisoned in a prisoner of war camp. Margolis was held for eight months before being repatriated to the United States in a prisoner exchange scheme. Margolis’ reorganisation of the relief efforts allowed the operation to continue throughout the rest of the war – ensuring the survival of most of the refugees in Shanghai.

After her return to the United States, Margolis learned of the mass extermination of the Jewish people, and demanded she be sent back to Europe to help. She later completed assignments helping Jews in Portugal, Spain, France, Sweden, Belgium and The Netherlands. In 1953, she emigrated to Israel, where she stayed until 1974. She died in 1997.

Rachel Auerbach

Rachel Auerbach (1903-1976) was Holocaust survivor, writer, and historian. She studied philosophy and psychology in Lviv in the 1920s, and then moved to Warsaw where she worked as a journalist. Following the Nazi invasion of Poland in 1939, Auerbach was imprisoned in the Warsaw Ghetto. Here, she ran a soup kitchen and worked for Emanuel Ringelblum’s underground archive Oyneg Shabes. Auerbach managed to escape from the ghetto in 1943 and survived the war in hiding.

After the war, she continued the work of Oneg Shabes at the Central Jewish Historical Commission in Poland by ensuring that parts of the archive were retrieved from its hiding places. In 1947, she published a comprehensive account of the extermination camp at Treblinka entitled In the Fields of Treblinka.

In 1950, Auerbach emigrated to Israel, where she headed the Yad Vashem Eyewitness Accounts Department. She fought tirelessly to secure a place for victims’ survival experiences in the history of the Holocaust. In 1960-61, she also supported the preparations for the trial against Adolf Eichmann and testified in court.

Oskar Schindler

A post-war portrait of Oskar Schindler (1908-1974).

A post-war portrait of Oskar Schindler (1908-1974).

Courtesy of The Wiener Holocaust Library Collections.

Oskar Schindler (1908-1974) was a German businessman who saved the lives of approximately 1200 Jews by employing them in his factories in Poland and the Greater German Reich during the Second World War.

Schindler joined the Nazi Party in 1936 as a military intelligence agent. In 1939, Schindler became the owner of a formerly Jewish-owned enamel factory in Kraków. The factory was renamed the German Enamelware Factory and at its peak employed approximately 1750 workers, of whom approximately 1000 were Jews.

Initially, Schindler employed Jews from the Kraków Ghetto as a form of cheap labour. Over the next five years, Schindler increasingly sympathised with his Jewish workers and the persecution they endured at the hands of the Nazis. During this period, he extensively used his connections as a Nazi Party member to ensure that the Jews employed at his factory were subjected to better conditions and were not selected for deportation.

When Schindler’s workers were relocated to the Kraków-Płaszów forced labour camp following the liquidation of the Kraków Ghetto, Schindler bribed Nazi officials to ensure that the workers continued to be employed in the German Enamelware Factory. He also managed to make the factory a designated sub-camp of Kraków-Płaszów, which meant that the workers were able to sleep in the factory and were no longer subject to the abuses of the camp.

In October 1944, as his workers came into ever greater danger, Schindler applied for and was granted permission to relocate his factory, and in turn his workers, to Brünnlitz, Czechoslovakia where it became classed as a sub-camp of Gross-Rosen. A list of the Jews drawn up to work in the factory became known as Schindler’s list. In Brünnlitz, the factory reopened as an armaments factory, an industry vital for the war effort that was taking place at the time. By entering this new industry, with its vital connection to the war effort, Schindler could present his Jewish workers as indispensable and thereby ensure their safety and save them from deportation to Nazi death camps. The factory was intentionally unproductive, and produced very little ammunition during its existence.

Soviet troops liberated Schindler’s factory on 9 May 1945. Schindler’s actions ensured the survival of over 1000 Jews, who would have otherwise faced almost certain death. In 1993, the story of Oskar Schindler was told in the popular Steven Spielberg film Schindler’s List.

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