Type of resistance: Attempts at revenge Country: Germany
This is the story of an attempt by a group of Jewish survivors of the forests who planned to take revenge on the Germans by mass poisoning. The description is by Pasha Reichman’s son, the historian Dr. Avidov.
On a day in December 1944 Pasha and Abba Kovner met for the first time in liberated Lublin. Immediately they recognized that they saw eye to eye on the cardinal issues –to leave Europe and to settle the score with the Germans. It was clear to them both that from now on their paths would be joined. This was the beginning of a strong friendship, which was based on true fellowship and mutual affection, which was broken only by the death of Kovner forty years later. Pasha unhesitatingly accepted Abba’s leadership, and never disputed his authority. Abba appointed him as his second-in-command and his deputy in his absence. And so it happened, that at the critical moment for eastern European Jewry and for the settlement of Eretz Yisrael, it was Pasha’s responsibility, as the operations leader of the “Nakam” group to carry out a plan unprecedented in world history, and to settle accounts with the Nazis. The plan was and remains as controversial as it was ambitious and visionary. Who was this man? What in his background prepared him to carry out the tasks with which he was charged?
When the war ended Pasha and Dora stayed for a while in the city of Sarna. Pasha was mobilized at the local recruiting office under the control of the NKVD, and his job was to comb the nearby forests in search of deserters, most of them nationalist Ukrainians. Despite the great danger that was part of the job, one can imagine that he took no little satisfaction from it, since most of the deserters were clearly anti-Semites who passed the war years in the wholesale murder of Jews, under the patronage of the Nazis. Pasha had already sworn to take revenge personally, but did not see any point in this any more, in the face of the enormity of the crime committed against his people. He aspired to national revenge. The opportunity for this was presented soon afterwards, with his arrival in Lublin.
Lublin was the first large city that the Red Army liberated in Poland in July 1944, about three months before the fighting died down in Warsaw. Therefore, it became a temporary capital and a drawing point for many Jewish survivors who emerged from their hiding places, from the forests and the camps. The first stop for many of them was in Peretz House in the city, where Avraham Perchik, the former partisan from the Pinsk forests, tried his best to supply them with the initial aid in their new lives. In this hostel, a group of Zionist activists was formed under the leadership of Abba Kovner and Eliezer Lidovski with the aim of directing the few survivors to Eretz Yisrael. Thus was established the first headquarters of what was to be called several months later “The Eastern European Jewish Survivors Brigade”. Members included Abba Kovner, Eliezer Lidovski, Pasha, Avraham Perchik and Bezalel Kek (Michaeli). The activities of this group branched out with time over wide areas of Europe, and after it joined with members of the Agency sent from Israel for this purpose, brought about the mass aliya within the framework which was nicknamed “Bericha”.
Simultaneously, Kovner and Pasha secretly began to organize a small group of comrades from within the brigade, who began to prepare practical plans for revenge operations against the Germans. The group was consolidated gradually, while it moved its staff first from Lublin to Bucharest, then to northern Italy and finally to Paris. At its height, the group, which was called “Nakam” or “Revenge”, numbered between 50-60 men and women, all of them veteran fighters from the ghettos or the forests, who were chosen carefully from a much larger number of candidates. The basic principle was “National revenge – not personal”, the revenge of a people against a people which tried to destroy it. This was what Pasha had wished for all through the war years. From his point of view, the war could not end now, when for the first time, the initiative belonged to those who had been the attacked. In his memoirs he summed up his position in these words:”We are continuing the Jewish war against the Germans…It is unthinkable that there not be a fitting response to the murder of six million Jews”. And indeed, a fitting response did not come from the institutions of the state-to-be, and in this respect it was the historic mission of the “Nakam” group to fill the void which was left.
The main plan of the “Nakam” group, which they called Plan A, would have awakened horror even in the days of towards the end of the Holocaust, all the more so after the fact: Widespread indiscriminate slaughter of the German population by poisoning the water in four main cities simultaneously: six million, if they succeeded, for six million. Hierarchical cells of the group were placed in the water plants and waited for the signal. Kovner went to Eretz Yisrael to obtain the necessary poison. Pasha took command, and from his headquarters in Paris kept in touch with the various cells. Everything was ready, and time was pressing, and the window of opportunity which had opened at the end of the war, when Germany was still empty of foreigners, began to close quickly. In the meantime, emissaries of the Haganah in Europe began to follow the activities of the group with suspicion and to limit their movements. Similarly, members of the Haganah tailed Kovner in Eretz Yisrael. In all their contacts with the members of the Haganah the heads of “Nakam” did not mention their main plan, and asked for help only with Plan B, to poison S.S. officers, who were being held in American prisonier of war camps, and in this they did receive logistic help. Finally, Kovner did obtain the poison, but he was stopped by the British on his return journey, it seems as a result of betrayal by a very senior member of the leadership of the Yishuv.
With a heavy heart Pasha was forced to scrap Plan A and focus the efforts of the group on Plan B.It was implemented in a prisoner-of-war camp near Leningrad, where 12,000 prisoners were being held, of them thousands of S.S. A group led by Yosef Hermatz infiltrated the camp’s bakery and managed to smear 3000 loaves of bread with arsenic. The following day the bread was distributed and thousands were hurt, 3,800 according to one of the local papers. Not all of those who were affected died; many suffered severe injuries but remained alive. There are differing versions as to the exact number of those killed. In newspaper clippings from that time the numbers vary from 200 to 1,000.This was a little regrettable, but enough to rebuild somewhat the low morale of the group’s members, who were deeply disappointed at the cancellation of Plan A. The day following the operation the members of the group left Germany according to a plan of retreat which had been drawn up beforehand. Six weeks later they were already sailing on their way to Eretz Yisrael. They intended to prepare in Israel for the continuation of their activities, but the whirlwind of activity before the War of Independece swept them up, and they did not return to the business of revenge. Pasha joined the Haganah and afterwards joined the IDF and fought in the War of Independence. Later he established a family and was fortunate to see the birth of children and grandchildren. Nevertheless, all his life he had the feeling of a missed once-in-a lifetime opportunity, to bring about a fundamental change in the saga of the relationship between the Jewish people and the rest of the nations of the world.
Yitzhak “Pasha” Reichman died in 2005.
For further reading:
Gefen, M. and others (Eds. 1959), Sefer Hapartizanim HaYehudim, Tel Aviv.
Livnah, N. (1980) Ke-Oranim Govhu: Partizanim Yehudim BeYaarot Vohlyn, Givatayim.
Sarid, L.A. (1997) Bemivhan Heanut Vehapedut (2 vols.) Hotzaat Moreshet, Tel Aviv