Claude Lanzmann Shoah Collection
Atlanta, GA, United States
US Holocaust Memorial Museum & Yad Vashem & State of Israel
Andre Steiner, an architect, discusses the Judenrat and resistance activities in Slovakia with Lanzmann. He recounts relations with Rabbi Weissmandel and Gisi Fleischmann in their attempt to rescue Slovak Jews from deportation.
FILM ID 3414 -- Camera Rolls #1-3 -- 00:00:22 to 00:33:51
CR1 Andre Steiner was born into an assimilated Czechoslovakian Jewish family. He was an architect in Brno and in 1939 he was imprisoned briefly because his father-in-law was a leader of the Jewish Agency in Czechoslovakia. He and his family left Brno for Bratislava as soon as he was released from prison. In Bratislava he eventually became a part of the Judenrat. He was sent out to determine what types of buildings would be needed at the sites where the Germans intended to build concentration camps for the Jews. Steiner, along with Gisi Fleischmann and Dr. Neumann, were convinced that it would be much better for the Jews if they were able to stay in Slovakia, even in camps, rather than be deported to Poland or anywhere else.
00:11:28 CR2 The Slovak government demanded that the work camps be self-supporting within three months. Because of his connections and his position as an architect, Steiner managed to get work with the Slovak government for himself and for other Jewish architects. Steiner says that a few members of the Judenrat, including himself, Gisi Fleischmann, and Dr. Neumann, met separately and made other plans. They did not like the "yes-man" attitude that prevailed among some of the Judenrat members, including the head, Schepersczy?, and Hochberg, who dealt with Dieter Wisliceny, Eichmann's deputy. Lanzmann asks Steiner to elaborate on this "shadow government" formed by the dissident members of the Judenrat.
00:22:40 CR3 Steiner says that Slovakia still had an independent state and the Slovaks were in charge of the deportations. The first deportation happened in spring 1942 when 999 girls were deported. After the deportations started, Rabbi Weissmandel was able to provide them with some news from Poland, and they learned that most of those deported were not going to work camps in Germany, as had been promised, and that families were separated.
FILM ID 3415 -- Camera Rolls #4-7 -- 00:00:23 to 00:34:05
CR4 Weissmandel asked Steiner to try and arrange a kosher kitchen in the camps for the orthodox Jews, which Steiner succeeded in doing. Steiner says he began to feel a "magic influence" from Weissmandel and saw what a beautiful person he was on the inside. Weissmandel chose Steiner to be the go-between with Wisliceny, once Hochberg was thrown in jail by the Slovaks.
00:11:36 CR5 Steiner says that there were around 80,000 Jews in Slovakia when the deportations began.
00:12:49 CR6 The deportations from Slovakia quickly became large-scale and Weissmandel convinced Steiner he must bribe both the Slovaks and the Germans, including Wisliceny, to stop the deportations. Steiner tells of his first meeting with Wisliceny, in which he stood up to the German as Weissmandel advised. Steiner invoked "world Jewry" in order to get Wisliceny to believe that he had the money and power to provide a bribe. Lanzmann makes reference to the "Protocols of the Elders of Zion" and the powerful influence that the myth of the Jewish world conspiracy had on the Germans.
00:22:47 CR7 Steiner discusses the source of the bribe money, which provided means of communication between camps and the ability to send medical aid. Steiner confirms that the bribe was successful since no deportations occurred between July and September. In October, three more transports occurred, purportedly due to a false report of the number of Jews in the country, though Weissmandel believed it was because the Jews had not offered more bribe money. After this anomaly, however, deportations ceased completely.
FILM ID 3416 -- Camera Rolls #8-14 -- 03:00:08 to 03:33:44
CR8 Weissmandel created a fictitious person named Joseph Rot, based in Switzerland, who represented "world Jewry."
03:00:55 CR9 Steiner and Gisi Fleischmann forged letters from Rot. Steiner says that Weissmandel thought that money would come pouring in to help save the Jews, once it became known what the deportations really meant. In November 1942 Weissmandel burst into Gisi Fleischmann's office, terribly upset, with the first definite news from Poland that deportation meant annihilation. Weissmandel resolved to impart what he had learned of the killings to the world, and wrote to various countries and authorities worldwide. His thinking was that, once the news was known, foreign Jewish money would flow into Eastern Europe to combat the atrocities.
03:11:20 CR10 By bribing Wisliceny they had essentially stopped the deportations from Slovakia (although only 20,000 Jews remained), which encouraged Weissmandel to develop the so-called Europaplan, by which he meant to save the rest of Europe's Jews. Steiner went to Wisliceny and offered two million dollars that they did not have to stop all European deportations. Wisliceny said he had to take the proposition to Himmler, who purportedly said yes to the agreement. Steiner describes Gisi Fleischmann as the person who held the group together. She was a Zionist and very idealistic.
03:22:32 CR11 Steiner speaks of the Europaplan, which was designed to save Jews in France, the Scandinavian countries, and Hungary. Cut early due to telephone ringing.
03:23:34 CR12 Re-take with Steiner discussing the details of the Europaplan. They determined through Weissmandel's "divine arithmetic" that there were around one million Jews left in Europe at this time.
03:24:31 CR13 Re-take with Steiner discussing the Europaplan, fundraising efforts, and negotiations with Wisliceny. Steiner proposed saving 1,000 children who were sent to Theresienstadt from Bialystok, and the failure to raise money to ensure the deal. Solly Meyer, the representative of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee in Switzerland, said he did not believe that the Germans would hold up their end of the bargain. During the Nuremberg trials, Wisliceny stated the reason the children were not saved because the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem objected.
03:30:54 CR14 Lanzmann talks to Steiner about the children's transport to Theresienstadt from Bialystok in winter 1942 and visiting the ghetto with a survivor.
FILM ID 3417 -- Camera Rolls #15-17 -- 00:00:23 to 00:34:00
CR15 Lanzmann continues with the story of the children's transport. They were segregated from the rest of the population and given medical care, but after one month they were sent to Auschwitz, where they were gassed upon arrival. Lanzmann confronted Murmelstein about the transport during an earlier interview for the film. This transport has been a mystery that Lanzmann has been trying to solve and now he knows that the children were killed because the money to pay Wisliceny did not come through. Steiner talks about Fleischmann's visit to Hungary. The Hungarian Jews there welcomed her with much pomp and circumstance, a complete contrast from the way the Jews in Slovakia were living. They offered to fundraise and send money, but only through official channels, which was of no use to the Slovak Jews.
00:11:37 CR16 Lanzmann makes a distinction between the aims of the Europaplan, to save all Jews, and the aims of other rescue missions (he mentions Kazstner and Freudiger in Hungary), to pick and choose whom to save. Lanzmann presses Steiner about how he could believe that the Germans, represented by Wisliceny, would have delivered on their end of the Europaplan, if the Slovak Jews had been able to raise the money. Steiner is convinced to this day that the Germans were sincere, and that it was only due to the lack of funds from the "World Jewry" that the plan fell apart. They could not fulfill their side of the deal.
00:22:45 CR17 Even after Wisliceny had left for Greece to organize the deportations of the Greek Jews to Auschwitz, Steiner and company would continue to meet with him during his occasional visits to discuss the plan. Lanzmann asks Steiner what he thinks about the fact that, in September 1944, Weissmandel jumped from a train bound for Auschwitz, leaving his wife and children behind because they refused to come with him. Weissmandel was so disturbed by this series of events that he subsequently considered himself the murderer of his own family. Steiner, however, agrees with what Weissmandel did, and says that while a family could not have escaped in such a fashion, a single person could. The fact that Weissmandel was so integral to the effort to save the European Jews made his survival doubly important. Even though Steiner became quite close with Weissmandel, they never discussed their families. They were concerned with saving unknown multitudes, not their own relatives.
FILM ID 3418 -- Camera Rolls #18-19 -- 00:00:23 to 00:21:37
CR18 Lanzmann asks about Rudolf Vrba, who escaped from Auschwitz and whom Lanzmann interviewed. Vrba claims he gave Weissmandel and the others a description of Auschwitz, from which they made a map and distributed it with a request that the Allies bomb the crematoria and the railroad lines. Steiner talks about Weissmandel's suggestion that they blow up a railroad tunnel. Steiner says the Warsaw Ghetto uprising did not change their minds about positively affecting Jewish fates through means other than armed conflict.
00:11:30 CR19 They talk about the end, when the deportations started again in September 1944. Gisi Fleischmann was sent to Auschwitz, where she died. Steiner joined the partisan assisting in the smuggling of weapons into the camps. Steiner says that according to what he has heard, Gisi Fleischmann was singled out to be the first person in the transport to go into the gas chamber as "special treatment" for her role in the Judenrat. Steiner says that the greatest personal satisfaction he ever got was during his time in the "Rettungsaktion," even if only a small segment of the Slovak Jewry was saved by his actions. Steiner continued work as an architect and became a city planner in Atlanta, Georgia after 1950.
FILM ID 3419 -- Camera Rolls #20,21,23 -- 06:00:08 to 06:04:03
Silent CUs of Lanzmann. LS, Steiner's home in Atlanta. Steiner exits and walks through his yard. Mute.
A quick telecine of the 16mm black and white workprint/rushes was completed for a private film production in 1999. Full preservation was completed in 2012.
For more on Steiner, refer to the 1999 documentary "Andre's Lives" by Icarus Films - http://www.icarusfilms.com/new99/andreliv.html
Biography / History:
Claude Lanzmann spent more than ten years searching for survivors, perpetrators, and eyewitnesses for his nine and a half hour film "Shoah" released in 1985. Without archival footage or dramatic enactment, "Shoah" weaves together extraordinary testimonies to render the step-by-step machinery of the destruction of European Jewry. Critics have called it "a masterpiece" and a "monument against forgetting."
1996.166 The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum purchased the Shoah outtakes from Claude Lanzmann on October 11, 1996. The Claude Lanzmann Shoah Collection is now jointly owned by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and Yad Vashem - The Holocaust Martyrs' and Heroes' Remembrance Authority.
JUDENRAT (JEWISH COUNCIL)
WEISSMANDEL, MICHAEL DOV
16mm original color camera negative; 1/4 inch magnetic audio track; 16mm image and sound rushes
16mm; 1/4 in audio; HDCam; Uncompressed QT; ProRes422; H264; VHS
Created by Claude Lanzmann during the filming of "Shoah" Used by permission of USHMM and Yad Vashem