The remarkable untold story of Israel Michelson

A daring mission by Latvian partisans saved the first and only Jew to escape Nazi-occupied Latvia.

October 17, 2013 16:35
Israel and Miriam Michelson at a rally in support of Soviet Jewry, Stockholm, 1972

Israel and Miriam Michelson at a rally 521. (photo credit: FROM FAMILY ALBUM)


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STOCKHOLM, SWEDEN, 1944 – American Iver C. Olsen, representative of the War Refugee Board based at the US Embassy and a senior operative of the Overseas Special Service (which in 1947 became the CIA), was prepared to fund one more attempt at rescuing a Jew from Nazi-occupied Latvia, to hear for himself if there was even the slightest chance of saving the remnants of the country’s once-flourishing Jewish community. All previous efforts to place an agent in the Baltic state had resulted in dismal failure. The agents had soon lost contact and were presumed dead.

In the summer of 1944, a huge sum of $2 million (mainly donated by Jewish charities) had been sent from the US for the purpose of saving Jews in Europe, and had been received into the account of the War Refugee Board’s Stockholm Enskilda bank account. This particular $2 million had been specifically earmarked for helping Baltic Jews. With no information as to just how many Baltic Jews remained alive, but previous painful experiences having shown there were plenty of charlatans who had profited despite failing to bring a Jewish witness to events in Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia to the neutral territory of Sweden, Olsen, and his close colleague, US Ambassador to Sweden Herschel V. Johnson, were running out of time and ideas.


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