Joel Brand

2007 Schools Wikipedia Selection. Related subjects: Historical figures

Joel Brand (April 25 1906–July 13, 1964) was a Hungarian Jew who played a prominent role in trying to save the Hungarian Jewish community during the Holocaust from deportation to the German death camp at Auschwitz.

Described by historian Yehuda Bauer as a brave adventurer who felt at home in "underground conspiracies and card-playing circles," Brand teamed up with fellow Zionists in Hungary, in or around 1942, to form the Aid and Rescue Committee, a small group dedicated to helping Jewish refugees in Nazi-occupied Europe escape to the relative safety of Hungary, before the German invasion of that country in March 1944.

Shortly after the invasion, Brand was asked by SS officer Adolf Eichmann to help broker a deal between the SS and the United States or Britain. Eichmann told Brand that he was prepared to release up to one million Hungarian Jews, who were otherwise destined for Auschwitz, if the Western Allies would supply Germany with 10,000 trucks, and large quantities of soap, tea, and coffee. The proposed deal, later described by The Times as one of the "most loathsome" stories of the war, became known as the "blood for goods," "blood for trucks," or "Blood and Cargo" proposal. It came to nothing and so historians can only speculate as to whether Eichmann's offer was genuine. There are theories that it was a trick intended to pacify the Jewish community to prevent an uprising, so that they would quietly board the trains to Auschwitz thinking they were being resettled, or that it was a cover for high-ranking SS officials, probably including Heinrich Himmler, to make contact with the U.S and Britain to negotiate a secret peace deal that did not involve the Soviet Union, and possibly one that also excluded Adolf Hitler.

Whatever its purpose, the deal was thwarted by a suspicious British government and the Jewish Agency, to Brand's great distress. Their reasons for scuppering the proposal, and the consequences of doing so, have been the subject of bitter debate ever since, particularly among Hungarian Holocaust survivors, some of whom have said that it was an unforgivable betrayal. Brand himself said: "Rightly or wrongly, for better or for worse, I have cursed Jewry's official leaders ever since. All these things shall haunt me until my dying day. It is much more than a man can bear."


Brand was born in Năsăud, Transylvania, now Romania, moving in 1910 with his family to Erfurt in Germany, where he was raised and educated. He became a communist and worked for the Comintern as a sailor and odd-job man, spending time in the Philippines, Japan, China, and South America before returning to Germany, where he became a middle-ranking communist functionary. His position led to his arrest after the Reichstag fire in 1933, when the Nazis began rounding up socialists and communists. When he was released in 1934, he left Germany and settled in Budapest, Hungary, where he got a job with the Budapest Telephone Company and became a Zionist, joining the Mapai (Israel Labour Party) youth movement.

In 1935, he married another member of the Zionist movement in Budapest, Hansi Hartmann, who owned a factory that produced gloves, socks, and sweaters. In July 1941, Hansi's sister got caught up in the so-called Kamenets Podolskiy deportations, when the Hungarian government decided to deport between 18,000 and 25,000 Jews to German-occupied Ukraine, because they could not prove they had Hungarian citizenship. Between 14,000 and 16,000 of the deportees were gunned down by the SS on August 27 and 28, 1941, but Brand paid Josezf Krem, a Hungarian espionage agent, to get Hansi's sister back safely. That incident was the beginning of Brand's involvement in smuggling Jewish refugees from Poland and Slovakia to the relative safety of Hungary.

Yehuda Bauer, Professor of Holocaust Studies at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, writes of Brand that he was a man who enjoyed easy living and adventure, who felt at home in cafés and bars, in "underground conspiracies and card-playing circles," and whose truthfulness was "not always impeccable," but he was also a brave and intelligent operator who genuinely wanted to help Jews escape death.

As the situation for Jewish communities in Europe worsened, Brand teamed up in his rescue activities with Rudolf Kastner, a Zionist lawyer and journalist from Cluj, and Samuel Springmann, a Polish Jew and centre-left Zionist who owned a jewellery store, and who began to function as the treasurer of their fledgling rescue committee.

In early 1943, the group was joined by Otto Komoly, a Budapest engineer, reserve officer, war veteran, and member of the Liberal Zionist Party, who was known and highly respected among the Jewish community in Budapest. Komoly's membership gave the group the credibility it needed. He became their chairman, and with that, the Va'adat Ezrah Vehatzalah (Vaada) — the Aid and Rescue Committee — was born, consisting of Komoly, Kastner, Joel and Hansi Brand, Moshe Krausz and Eugen Frankl (both Orthodox Jews and Zionists), and Ernst Szilagyi from the left-wing Hashomer Hatzair. Operating outside the structure of the formal Jewish institutions, the committee embodied a "daring and activist ethos," according to historian Ronald Zweig, that the Judenrat, the official Jewish Council set up at the instruction of the Nazis, lacked entirely.

Meeting with Eichmann

Brand told his story as a prosecution witness at the trial of Adolf Eichmann in Jerusalem in 1961
Brand told his story as a prosecution witness at the trial of Adolf Eichmann in Jerusalem in 1961

On Sunday, March 19, 1944, the Germans invaded Hungary with relatively weak forces which met no resistance. Brand was abducted and hidden in a safehouse by Josef Winninger, a courier for the German Abwehr (military intelligence), who had been taking money from Brand in exchange for information about Jewish refugees, and whom Brand paid between $8,000 and $20,000 for a place to hide.

According to testimony Brand gave in 1954 to the District Court in Jerusalem during a libel case — and which he repeated during the trial of Adolf Eichmann in Jerusalem in 1961 — on April 16 or 25, 1944, he was told by one of the German agents in Budapest, probably Winninger, that he was to wait at a certain street corner at an appointed time, and would be taken to meet Eichmann.

Brand was taken to a luxury hotel that Eichmann was using as his headquarters. He told the court in German that "[t]he words which then passed between us have imprinted themselves on my memory till I die." Brand later told the court during Eichmann's trial that Untersturmbannführer Kurt A. Becher, an SS officer and emissary of Heinrich Himmler, was standing behind Eichmann during the meeting.

If this is correct, it means the meeting was of extraordinary importance, according to historian Yehuda Bauer, because Brand also testified that Gerhard Clages, the chief of Himmler's Security Service in Budapest, and a rival of Eichmann's, was present at a later meeting, again with Becher and Eichmann. This means that Himmler had involved three of his men of the same rank to negotiate with Brand: Eichmann, whose job it was to kill Jews; Clages, whose task for Himmler was to reach out to forge a positive relationship with the West, because Germany knew it was losing the war; and Becher, who Bauer writes was meant to ensure the SS did not lose any money or goods.

Brand said that Eichmann asked him "Do you know who I am?" and continued:

I have carried out the Aktionen in the Reich — in Poland — in Czechoslovakia. Now it is Hungary's turn. I let you come here to talk business with you. Before that I investigated you — and your people. Those from the Joint and those from the Agency. And I have come to the conclusion that you still have resources. So I am ready to sell you — a million Jews. All of them I wouldn't sell you. That much money and goods you don't have. But a million — that will go. Goods for blood — blood for goods. You can gather up this million in countries which still have Jews. You can take it from Hungary. From Poland. From Austria. From Theresienstadt. From Auschwitz. From wherever you want. What do you want to save. Virile men? Grown women? Old people? Children? Sit down — and talk.

Brand told Eichmann that he was not empowered to make that decision and asked where they were supposed to obtain the cargo from, given that the Germans had confiscated Jewish property. Eichmann suggested he go abroad and negotiate directly with the Allies. Eichmann told him they wanted any kind of cargo, but particularly trucks. "Ten thousand trucks are worth a million Jews to me," Brand quoted him as saying. Eichmann also asked for one thousand tons of tea and coffee, and soap. According to Bauer, Hermann Krumey, an assistant of Eichmann's, also asked for machine tools, leather and other goods, but the proposal soon settled into 10,000 trucks and various consumer items. Figures that were mentioned according to later testimony from Rudolf Kastner were 200 tons of tea, 200 tons of coffee, 2,000,000 cases of soap, 10,000 trucks for the Waffen-SS to be used on the eastern front, and unspecified quantities of tungsten and other war materials.

Eichmann said he was willing to offer one thousand Jews in advance, and on receiving the first payment, a further ten per cent. He told Brand: "Pick them anywhere you want. Hungary, Auschwitz, Slovakia — anywhere you want and anyone you want." Brand was asked where he wanted to go to make the offer to the Jews and the Allies. He chose Istanbul. "The Jews, in the meantime, would be sent to Auschwitz to be gassed until such time as a favorable reply was received," according to historian Raul Hilberg.

Brand asked what assurance Eichmann could offer the Allies that the Jews really would be released. Eichmann responded:

You think we are all crooks. You hold us for what you are. Now I am going to prove to you that I trust you more than you trust me. When you come back from Istanbul and tell me that the offer has been accepted, I will dissolve Auschwitz and move 10 percent of the promised million to the border. You take over the 100,000 Jews and deliver for them afterwards one thousand trucks. And then the deal with proceed step by step. For every hundred thousand Jews, a thousand trucks. You are getting away cheap.

Brand told the court: "On leaving the building, I felt like a stark madman." It was the first time anyone from the Aid and Rescue Committee had met Eichmann. Brand testified: "What were we to do with this monster's offer? ... I had gotten to know the Germans and their cruel lies exceedingly well. But the thought of 100,000 Jews 'in advance' tortured my mind and gave me no respite. I had no right to think of anything but this advance payment." He believed that if he could only return from Istanbul with a promise, at least those 100,000 lives might be saved.

He met with Eichmann again, the last meeting taking place on May 14, 1944. Eichmann told him the deportations to Auschwitz were about to begin at a rate of 12,000 Jews a day, but that they would not be exterminated while negotiations were ongoing. According to Brand's testimony, Gerhard Clages, chief of Himmler's Security Service in Budapest, and Eichmann's rival, was present, and handed Brand $50,000 and SFR 270,000. Brand told U.S. emissary Ira Hirschmann during an interview on June 22, 1944 that Eichmann had offered to blow up Auschwitz — "dann sprenge ich Auschwitz in die Luft" — and free the first "ten, twenty, fifty thousand Jews" as soon as he received word from Istanbul that an agreement had been reached in principle.

Eichmann told Brand he was free to travel but that he should return to Budapest soon. According to Yehuda Bauer, Brand was not consistent in his testimony regarding how long Eichmann had given him, but said at various points that it was within one or two weeks, within two or three weeks, and that he could "take [his] time." A report prepared by Kastner and entered as evidence during Eichman's trial states that Eichmann expected Brand to return within two weeks.

Hansi Brand testified during Eichmann's trial that she and her husband met with Eichmann on the day before Joel left for Istanbul, and that she was given to understand that she and her children would effectively be held hostage in Budapest until Joel returned. "It was very obvious, although it was not actually said in so many words, 'you will remain behind as hostages.' I cannot recall that precisely. But I was told that I was not allowed to leave Budapest with the children, and that I had to report every day. By then we had had so much experience with our illegal work that it was not necessary to give any further explanations. What it means is obvious, if someone is told that he may not leave Budapest, and I have to report every day."

Bandi Grosz peace mission

"Blood for goods"
The Holocaust
Hungary: WWII
Jews in Hungary
People and events
Kurt Becher
Joel Brand
Adolf Eichmann
Heinrich Himmler
Rudolf Kastner
Kastner train
Chaim D. Weissmandl
Malchiel Gruenwald
Joel Teitelbaum
Rudolf Vrba
Vrba-Wetzler report
Alfréd Wetzler
Yehuda Bauer
John Conway
Ben Hecht
Raul Hilberg
Miroslav Karny
Ruth Linn

The day after his last meeting with Eichmann, Brand secured "full powers" from the Zentralrat der Ungarischen Juden (the main Hungarian Jewish council) and was told he had a traveling companion, Bandi Grosz, a Hungarian Jew alleged by various sources to have been a spy for the Germans, Hungarians, British, and Americans, who was traveling under cover of being the director of a Hungarian transport company engaged in talks with the Turkish state transport corporation.

The men left Budapest on May 17, 1944 and were driven by the SS to Vienna, where they stayed the night in a hotel reserved for SS personnel. In fact, Brand's trip is now believed by many historians to have been a cover for Grosz's mission. Grosz, who was low level enough to provide plausible deniability for the Germans in case anything went wrong, later testified that he had been told by Clages, on behalf of Himmler, to arrange a meeting in a neutral country between two or three senior German security officers and two or three American officers of equal rank, or British officers as a last resort, in order to negotiate a separate peace between the German Sicherheitsdienst (SD) (part of the SS) and the Allies.

Slovak historian Miroslav Karny writes that: "From British documents published in the seventies as well as from the memoirs of Joel Brand, it is obvious that Grosz carried not only an offer that Hungary would change over to the side of the Allies on condition the Soviet offensive stopped at the Hungarian border, but in particular a proposal from the chief of Himmler's Security Service in Budapest, Gerhard Clages, that two or three higher German intelligence officers should meet with their American counterparts to discuss a separate peace. In case of failure, Grosz was to organize a meeting with British officers via officials of the Jewish Agency in Istanbul. Grosz stressed to Brand that the intelligence service mission was the main thing and Brand's mission was intended just as a cover. Referring to his talks with Clages, Grosz explained: 'The Nazis know that they have lost the war. They know that peace cannot be reached with Hitler. Himmler wants to use all possible contacts to get down to negotiations with the Allies.' He added: 'Your Jewish affair was only an auxiliary question'."

Meeting with the Jewish Agency

In Vienna, Brand was given a German passport in the name of Eugen Band. Brand cabled ahead to the Jewish Agency in Istanbul (then Constantinople) to say he was about to arrive, then flew first to Sofia, then on to Istanbul, by German diplomatic plane, arriving on May 19. He had been told by the Jewish Agency by return cable that "Chaim" would be in Istanbul to meet him. Excited by his mission, and believing that others would understand its importance, he believed "Chaim" referred to Chaim Weizmann, then president of the World Zionist Organization who later became the first president of Israel, but in fact they meant Chaim Barlas, head of the Istanbul group of Zionist emissaries.

Brand was further confused when, arriving in Istanbul, he found that, not only was no one waiting to meet him at the airport and no entry visa had been arranged, but that he was threatened with arrest and deportation, which he later took as the first sign of what he came to see as his betrayal by the Jewish Agency. In fact, when he landed, Chaim Barlas was at that very moment driving around the city trying to obtain Brand's visa.

Yehuda Bauer argues that Brand, then and later, never understood the actual powerlessness of the Jewish Agency. The fact that his passport was in the name of Eugen Band, and not Joel Brand, would in itself have been enough to cause the confusion. The visa situation was eventually sorted out by Bandi Grosz, who had intelligence connections in Istanbul and who made a few calls, and the men were taken to a hotel, where the Jewish Agency emissaries were waiting.

Raul Hilberg writes that Brand was angry and excited. He quotes Brand as saying: "Comrades, do you realize what is involved? ... We have to negotiate ... With whom can I negotiate? Do you have the power to make agreements ... Twelve thousand people are hauled away every day ... that is five hundred an hour ... Do they have to die because no one from the Executive is here? I want to telegraph tomorrow that I have secured agreement ... Do you know what is involved, comrades?"

For the Jewish Agency, matters were not so simple, Hilberg writes. They could not be sure that their telegrams to Jerusalem would not be intercepted and changed, or held up. No one had the influence to obtain a plane. No one from the War Refugee Board was available. The American Ambassador was in Ankara and no plane seat could be obtained for a trip there.

They told Brand that Moshe Sharett, head of the Jewish Agency's political department, and the Zionist movement's chief ambassador and negotiator with the British in the British Mandate of Palestine (and later the second prime minister of Israel), would be arriving in Istanbul to meet him, which gave Brand hope that the situation was being taken seriously. He passed them an accurate plan of the Auschwitz complex (possibly the Vrba-Weztler report) and demanded that the gas chambers and railways lines be bombed. He later said that he got the impression that the Agency officials were not quite taking it all in. "They did not, as we did in Budapest, look daily at death."

In the meantime, the Agency gave Brand a piece of paper purporting to be a written agreement that it would accept Eichmann's offer in principle. The document promised the Germans $4,000 for each 1,000 Jewish emigrants to Palestine and SFR one million for each 1,000 Jewish emigrants to Spain. In return for allowing the Allies to supply goods to the Jews in the concentration camps, the Germans would receive equivalent supplies for themselves. Brand took the document to deliver to Eichmann, hoping it might be enough to halt the deportations, at least temporarily.

Arrested by British intelligence

After a few days in Istanbul, it became clear that Sharett was not going to arrive, and Brand was told he had been refused a visa and that the British were actively preventing him from traveling to Turkey. Brand was asked instead to travel to Aleppo on the Syrian-Turkish border to meet Sharett there. He was reluctant to do this because the area was under British control and he was afraid that the British would interfere with his travel plans and would want to question him. However, he was persuaded to go, and left by train, accompanied by two members of the Jewish Agency.

On the train, Brand became even more nervous after being approached by men who said they were agents of Zeev Jabotinsky's Alliance of Zionists-Revisionists Party and the World Agudath Israel Orthodox religious party. They told him that the British were going to arrest him in Aleppo. "Die Engländer sind in dieser Frage nicht unsere Verbündeten", they told him. ("The British are not our allies in this matter.") If he continued on his journey, he would not be allowed to return, they said.

Brand told the court that he was terrified when he heard this, because not returning to Budapest within the timeframe specified by Eichmann meant "the failure of my mission and the extermination of my family and a million other Jews in Hungary." However, he was assured by one of his traveling companions from the Jewish Agency that nothing was going to happen to him in Aleppo, and he wanted to believe this: "I could not believe that England — this land which alone fought on while all other countries of Europe surrendered to despotism — that this England which we had admired as the inflexible fighter for freedom wanted simply to sacrifice us, the poorest and weakest of all the oppressed."

British Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden rejected the blood-for-trucks proposal, arguing that the Allies could not do anything that "looked like negotiating with the enemy."
British Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden rejected the blood-for-trucks proposal, arguing that the Allies could not do anything that "looked like negotiating with the enemy."

After arriving in Ankara, the men continued by train to Aleppo. According to Ben Hecht, just before arriving the Jewish Agency official who had assured Brand he would not be arrested told him that, should he indeed be picked up by the British, he was not to speak to them without a member of the Jewish Agency being present. Hecht argues that this was the ultimate betrayal. Not only had the Agency effectively handed Brand over to the British, Hecht says, but they then acted to ensure he remained silent unless the Agency itself gave him permission to speak.

As soon as he arrived in Aleppo on June 7, 1944, Brand was arrested by two men in plain clothes who blocked his way then pushed him into a Jeep waiting with its engine running. He discovered later they were British intelligence.

According to Raul Hilberg, details of Brand's business in Istanbul had been passed to London and Washington. The Cabinet Committee on Refugees in London, which included British Foreign Secretary (later Prime Minister) Anthony Eden and Colonial Secretary Oliver Stanley, considered the bloods-for-truck proposal and decided against pursuing it. If the suggestion had indeed come from the SS, it was a clear case of blackmail, and in any event, supplying extra trucks would simply strengthen the enemy's hand, writes Hilberg. In addition, to leave the selection of refugees to be saved up to the Nazis, without considering the interests of Allied prisoners, would leave the British government opened to domestic criticism.

Yehuda Bauer stresses other factors for the British decision not to consider the proposal. The British were convinced they were dealing with a Himmler trick of some kind, he writes, possibly an attempt via Bandi Grosz to strike up a separate peace deal with the West in order to cause a rift between the Western Allies and the Soviet Union. Bauer also writes that, if the trucks-for-blood deal had gone through and large numbers of Jews had been released from Nazi-held territories, a consequence of them being gathered together and transported through Central Europe would have been to halt Allied airborne military operations, and possibly also land-based ones, turning the Jews, in effect, into human shields. Bauer believes the British feared this may have been Himmler's primary motive in proposing the deal, because the suspension of Allied attacks would have allowed the Germans to concentrate more of their forces against the East.

Brand's failure to return to Budapest within the two weeks expected by Eichmann was regarded as a disaster by other members of the Aid and Rescue Committee. A report written by Kastner states that Eichmann started demanding that Brand return, and wanted a "clear-cut answer" as to whether the blood-for-trucks proposal had been accepted. The report says: "We had to explain to him every day that discussions on this matter between London, Washington and Moscow could be protracted. There were enough reasons for delay. Apparently the Allies could not easily be brought to a common denominator about such a delicate matter. The continuation of the deportations of Hungarian Jews was complicating the negotiations." On page 48 of the report, Kastner wrote "... on 9 June Eichmann said, 'If I do not receive a positive reply within three days, I shall operate the mill at Auschwitz'." (Ich lasse die Muehle laufen. )

Meeting with Moshe Sharett and hunger strike

Brand testified that he was taken to an elegant Arab villa where some high-ranking British officers were staying, and on June 11 was introduced to Moshe Sharett with whom he spoke for a whole day, during two sessions of six hours each. Sharett wrote in his report of June 27, 1944: "I must have looked a little incredulous, for he said: 'Please believe me: they have killed six million Jews; there are only two million left alive'."

After the second session, Sharett spoke to British officials and turned again to Brand, telling him: "Dear Joel, I have to tell you something bitter now." He told Brand he would have to "go south," not back to Budapest, because "[t]he British demand it." Brand started screaming:

Do you know what you are doing? This is simply murder! That is mass murder. If I don't return our best people will be slaughtered! My wife! My mother! My children will be first! ... I have come here under a flag of truce. I have brought you a message. You can accept or reject, but you have no right to hold the messenger ...

Despite his protests, Brand was taken to Cairo, where he was questioned by the British for ten or twelve hours every day. On the tenth day, he went on hunger strike, writing in a letter to the Jewish Agency Executive that: "It is apparent to me now that an enemy of our people is holding me and does not intend to release me in the near future. I have decided to go on a hunger strike again and will do my utmost to break through the bayonets guarding me." On the seventeenth day, he was handed a note from one of the Jewish Agency men he had traveled to Aleppo with, urging him not to be difficult.

Brand later testified that Lord Moyne, the British Minister Resident in the Middle East and a close friend of Prime Minister Winston Churchill, was present during one of the interrogations and is alleged to have said: "What can I do with this million Jews? Where can I put them?" Lord Moyne was assassinated in Cairo a few months later on November 6, 1944 by Eliyahu Bet-Zuri and Eliyahu Hakim of the Lehi (Stern Gang). Ben Hecht writes that Ehud Avriel, the Jewish Agency official who had accompanied Brand to Aleppo and had assured him the British would not arrest him, insisted that it was not Lord Moyne who had said this, and asked Brand not to repeat Moyne's name in Brand's autobiography, Advocate for the Dead. However, Brand repeated under oath during Eichmann's trial that it was Lord Moyne who had said it.

During a meeting with Moshe Sharett on July 6, 1944, Anthony Eden expressed his "profound sympathy" regarding the decision to block the negotiations with Eichmann, but said he had to act in unison with the United States and the Soviet Union. There could not be "anything that looked like negotiating with the enemy."

The leak to the press and the end of the proposal

British intelligence leaked details of the Brand mission to the press. On July 19, 1944, BBC Radio broadcast a story that two emissaries of the Hungarian government had appeared in Turkey proposing that all Jews still in Hungary would be allowed to leave if England and America would supply a certain amount of pharmaceuticals and transport, including trucks, with a promise that the equipment would not be used on the Western front. The proposal, which the BBC called "humanitarian blackmail" was reported as a crude attempt to set the Allies against each other, and the report added that it was not clear whether the plan had the approval of the German and Hungarian authorities. Documents released during Eichmann's trial show that, after the broadcast, Joachim von Ribbentrop, the German Foreign Minister, asked to be informed about the facts of the matter. The New York Herald Tribune carried the same story and The Times of London called it one of the "most loathsome" stories of the war.

The leaks killed whatever might have remained of the initiative, although the mass deportations of Jews from Hungary had already been stopped by the Hungarian government on July 7, fearful that government ministers might be held personally responsible by the Allies.

The British released Brand in October 1944 but, according to Ben Hecht, would not allow him to travel to Hungary, compelling him instead to travel to Palestine. Yehuda Bauer disputes this, arguing that the story of Brand being forced to travel to Palestine was spread around Israel at the time of the trial of Malchiel Greenwald, a freelance writer who accused Kastner, by then a government spokesman, of having collaborated with the Nazis. The story was repeated by Amos Elon in his Timetable: The Story of Joel Brand in 1981. In fact, writes Bauer, by that time Brand himself was terrified of returning to Budapest, convinced the Germans would murder him.

In Palestine, Brand tried to contact Chaim Weizmann, the president of the World Zionist Organization. Weizmann responded to Brand's letter, saying that his secretary would arrange an appointment for the men to meet. Brand alleges that the appointment was never made. The last lines of Brand's testimony to the District Court in Jerusalem during the libel trial were: "Rightly or wrongly, for better or for worse, I have cursed Jewry's official leaders ever since. All these things shall haunt me until my dying day. It is much more than a man can bear."

Himmler's involvement in the proposal

Heinrich Himmler in 1945. It is obvious, argues Yehuda Bauer, that Adolf Eichmann was Himmler's reluctant messenger during the meetings with Brand.
Heinrich Himmler in 1945. It is obvious, argues Yehuda Bauer, that Adolf Eichmann was Himmler's reluctant messenger during the meetings with Brand.

Bauer writes that we know the deal originated with Heinrich Himmler because a cable from Edmund Veesenmayer of the SS to the German Foreign Office on July 22, 1944 stated that Brand and Grosz had been sent to Turkey on the orders of Himmler. Kurt Becher also indicated that his orders came direct from Himmler: "So I came into contact with Joel Brand ... Trucks were a big problem. So trucks were discussed, 10,000 trucks that is. There were many discussions. Himmler said to me: 'Take whatever you can from the Jews. Promise them whatever you want. What we will keep is another matter'."

Eichmann himself later testified that the order came from Himmler, and a report from Kastner shows that Eichmann did not seem happy about having to deal with Brand. Kastner wrote that when Brand failed to return from Istanbul, Eichmann said: "Yes. I saw all of this in advance. I warned Becher countless times not to allow himself to be led by the nose. If I do not receive a positive answer within forty-eight hours, I will have all this Jewish bag of filth from Budapest laid low." (Werde ich das ganze juedische Dreckpack von Budapest umlegen lassen.)

Bauer writes that the "clumsiness of the approach has been a wonderment to all observers." He argues that it is obvious that Eichmann was Himmler's reluctant messenger, and that Eichmann's own inclination was clearly to continue murdering Jews, not to sell them. On the day that Brand left for Vienna and Istanbul, Eichmann traveled to Auschwitz to make sure that Rudolf Hoess, the commander of the camp, would be ready to receive the first arrivals due to leave Hungary on May 14. Hoess told him there would be problems processing such large numbers, whereupon Eichmann ordered that there should be no selections but that all the new arrivals should be gassed immediately, which does not indicate that he was willing to delay the exterminations until Brand returned from Istanbul, as Brand seemed to believe.

Bauer argues that the presence of Clages at the meetings signals that Himmler had changed the emphasis from trucks-for-blood to the hidden agenda of secret talks aimed at peace. Bauer writes that there is no indication of what exactly Himmler wanted to achieve, because he did not commit his thoughts to paper, but Bauer points out that Brand and Grosz arrived in Istanbul just two months before the July 20, 1944 assassination attempt on Hitler, and that Himmler knew there was a plot, though did not know where and when it would be carried out. It is possible that Himmler wanted to open negotiations for peace in the event that Hitler did not survive, using two low-level agents, a Jew and a spy, in case he had to distance himself from their mission; and if Hitler did survive, Himmler could offer him the chance to conclude a separate peace deal with the West, excluding the Soviet Union.

Brand himself eventually adopted such a theory. Two months before his death he testified at the trial in Germany of Eichmann's deputies Hermann Krumey and Otto Hunsche. He told the court that "though the deal was suggested by Eichmann" it must have originated in the mind of Himmler as one of his desperate attempts at driving a wedge between the Allies. "I made a terrible mistake in passing this on to the British. ... It is now clear to me that Himmler sought to sow suspicion among the Allies as a preparation for his much desired Nazi-Western coalition against Moscow."


In Budapest, the Vaada had waited anxiously for Brand's return and for some news that the Allies would help. Hilberg writes that the committee did not expect the Allies actually to supply goods to Eichmann, but it hoped for some gesture that would allow protracted negotiations with the Nazis to begin while the Jews waited for the arrival of the Red Army. Brand's failure to return to Budapest meant the Vaada was thrown back on its own resources, bitter about the lack of help from the outside world, and in particular from Jews living in safe countries.

Bauer argues that the mistake the Vaada made was to adopt the almost anti-Semitic belief in unlimited Jewish power. The committee believed that Jewish leaders could move freely during the war and could persuade the Allies to do whatever needed to be done to save the Jews of Hungary. They had similar trust in the goodwill and power of the Allied leadership, but the Allies were gearing up for the Normandy invasion just as Brand set out on his mission, and "[a]t that crucial moment," writes Bauer, "to antagonize the Soviets because of some hare-brained Gestapo plan to ransom Jews was totally out of the question." Bauer writes: "Perhaps, in their hopeless situation, [the Aid and Rescue Committee] had to believe these things in order to survive, but when their beliefs had to be tested against the cold realities of a world war, they proved to be so many illusions."

Kastner later wrote that the Vaada had no choice but to believe in the possibility of rescue. Of Jewish communities living in countries unaffected by the Holocaust, he wrote: "They were outside, we were inside. They moralized, we feared death. They had sympathy for us and believed themselves to be powerless; we wanted to live and believed rescue had to be possible."

On May 27, 1944, Hansi Brand was arrested and beaten, though she testified at Eichmann's trial that she withstood it and gave the Hungarians no information about the deal that Eichmann had told her was a "state secret" (Reichsgeheimnis). Brand was a bitter man when released by the British; he joined the Lehi (Stern Gang) who were fighting to remove the British from the land that became the State of Israel in 1948. The Istanbul mission created a rift between him and his wife, who for many years wondered what the truth was behind her husband's inability to return to Budapest.

Bauer concludes that, despite the haphazard nature of the mission and its ultimate failure, Brand was an extremely courageous man who had passionately wanted to help the Jewish people, and yet whose life was thereafter plagued by the suspicion of family and friends, part of a serious misunderstanding, according to Bauer, of "all the Jewish actors in the situation."

Brand died in Israel in 1964, probably of liver disease brought on by alcoholism.

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