(photo credit: Jonathan Beck)
A senior Zionist official stationed in Switzerland during World War II was likely the first person to receive information from a German source regarding the plan for the systematic extermination of Europe's Jews, according to a new book published by Yad Vashem.
Chaim Pazner, head of the Jewish Agency's Palestine Office in Geneva, immediately forwarded the information to senior British officials and to Jewish officials in British-ruled Palestine, and the report reached the top echelons of the British government, according to the book, Chaim Pazner - The Man Who Knew.
The book - written in Hebrew by Menahem Michelson, with contributions from historian Sir Martin Gilbert - describes a report from a German source in the summer of 1942 about the Final Solution and the British government's refusal to make that information public.
On July 29, 1942, Pazner received a coded message in a telephone call from his former economics professor in Basel, Edgar Salin, telling him that he had received information of "supreme importance." The economics professor, who had converted to Christianity years earlier, was friends with Dr. Arthur Zommer, a German officer and fellow economist who was opposed to the Nazi regime and who had been leaking confidential information about Hitler's plans to his Swiss friend.
Pazner immediately took the night train from Geneva to Basel, arriving in the Swiss city on the morning of July 30, the book relates.
Salin then shared with him the information he had received from the German officer.
"In the East, there are camps being prepared which will be used to destroy all the Jews of Europe and many of the Soviet war prisoners by gas," the message read. "Please pass this message on immediately to Churchill and Roosevelt personally."
"If the BBC broadcasts a daily warning to the Germans not to operate the gas chambers maybe they will not operate them, because the criminals are doing everything they can to prevent the German people from finding out what they are planning to do and it is clear that they will also do this," the terse but bone-chilling message stated.
Salin read out the information to Pazner, instructing him to copy it down word by word.
"Who gave you this information?" a stunned Pazner asked.
"An impeccable source," the professor answered. "The source is German."
Previous reports about the Germans' intentions and the mass killings had already filtered out from Polish intelligence or from Jewish sources, but this information was the first to come directly from Germany itself, said Prof. David Bankier, head of the International Institute for Holocaust Research at Yad Vashem.
"The information was about a plan, but there was not [just] a plan but implementation," Bankier said.
Pazner then passed on the information to a Swiss Jewish leader, Dr. Benjamin Sagalowitz, who was a friend of the representative of the World Jewish Congress in Geneva, Dr. Gerhart Riegner, the book relates.
Next, Pazner rushed the information to Jewish Agency officials in British-ruled Jerusalem.
Then, on August 2, 1942, he met with a British intelligence officer in Geneva who went by the name of Victor Farell, and who worked in the British Passport Control Office in Switzerland. Pazner implored him to pass on the information to Churchill as the German source had requested.
The British official said he would do so, but the report was never broadcast on the BBC, the book recounts.
During a follow-up meeting, the British official assured an anxious Pazner, who had been eagerly waiting to hear the BBC radio broadcasts, that he had indeed passed on the message and that it had reached Churchill, and would again recommend it be broadcast on the BBC, adding that there was only so much he could do.
But still the report - and the warnings to the Germans not to gas the Jews - was not broadcast.
Pazner died in 1981.
"Throughout his life my father always carried this sadness that nothing was done with this information," recalled Avi Pazner, veteran Foreign Ministry diplomat. "He had passed on a message which could have stopped the Holocaust, but nothing was done," he said.
Riegner, the WJC official in Geneva, had been previously credited with being the first to notify the West of the Nazis' plan for the systematic extermination of the Jews in what has become known as the Riegner telegram.
Riegner had received his own information about the Nazi plan to kill all the Jews of Europe during the first days of August that same summer, from a prominent German industrialist, later identified as Eduard Schulte, according to the definitive The Abandonment of the Jews by noted Holocaust historian David S. Wyman.
The Israeli author of the new book said this week that while it had been assumed that Pazner was the first to receive information from a German source of the Nazi plans for the mass extermination of European Jewry, there was no conclusive proof of this, noting that such documentation was never found in the British archives, with wartime messages routinely intercepted by the Gestapo.
In the end, neither Pazner's nor Riegner's message were able to stop the German killing machine.
Riegner's message, which reached the US in August 1942, was not released to the press until late November, at the request of the State Department who viewed the reports with total disbelief and who had asked American Jewish leaders not to publicize the information until it was confirmed.
Even after the belated State Department confirmation, the Nazi extermination of the Jews of Europe continued unabated for another two-and-a-half years. â€¢
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