EUROPA PLAN BY GISI FLEISCHMANN AND HER SUCCESSORS

Virtual museum, workshops and essay competition

Europa Plan by Gisi Fleischmann is designed to present and embrace not only an extraordinary fate of a rare, brave woman (1892-1944), but also her devotion and responsibility to the European vision of helping hand for persecuted and haunted people. The beautiful human idea of Europa Plan originated in Slovakia. It could not be realized 75 years ago, but we could help it to succeed now.

WHAT WAS THE ORIGINAL EUROPA PLAN FROM 1942?

Europa Plan was code name for a large scale rescue plan to exchange European Jews for money, developed in the autumn of 1942 by the “Working Group” in Slovakia, an unusual alliance between Zionists and ultra-Orthodox Jews headed by a Zionist and a woman, Gisi Fleischmann, at the suggestion of Rabbi Michael Weissmandel, cousin of Fleischmann. IT WAS THE ONLY ONE JEWISH RESCUE GROUP IN EUROPE THAT DID NOT WANT TO SAVE ONLY THEIR COMMUNITY. The plan was supported and realized by Gisi Fleischmann. Between March 26 and the end of July 1942 some 50,000 Jews had been deported to Poland. Another 7,000–8,000 Jews had escaped to Hungary. An offer was made to Dieter Wisliceny, Eichmann's emissary to Slovakia, to ransom Jews for money and an initial bribe between $20,000 and $55,000 was accepted. Soon thereafter the deportation of Slovak Jews was halted. The Working Group believed that the bribe had brought the deportations to a halt and that larger sums would indeed save a larger number of Jews. However, no evidence has been uncovered that link the bribe to the halt in deportations. Contemporary historians agree that an internal Slovakian concern over the impact of the deportation of Jews on the economy was the reason for halting the deportations. Even the Vatican had protested, which had additional impact, since Jozef Tiso, the president of Slovakia, was a priest.

It is known that Wisliceny, who received an advance payment from the Working Group, forwarded $20,000 to the WVHA (Main Economy Administration Office of the SS). The negotiations dragged on until August 1943 with Himmler's consent, perhaps as a way of feeling out Jewish power, but then broke off on Himmler's order (according to Wisliceny). In this way broke in autumn 1943 Gisi Fleischmann´s plan to save the famous „children´s transport“ in Terezín as well.The financial means, fixed at $2–3 million, were to be provided to Germans by Jewish organizations in the free world, and mainly by the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC). Sally Mayer, the JDC representative in Geneva, proposed to deposit the money in blocked accounts in Switzerland until the end of the war, according to the transfer regulations of the Allied countries, because the Joint was unwilling to break the Allied transfer regulations and to send money directly to the enemy, which clearly would have jeopardized its legal standing in the United States. The Germans were well aware of the difficulties that the Jews had in raising the promised sums though the Jews did not know that the Germans were informed about their communications with Switzerland. It is assumed that the main idea behind the apparent German willingness to discuss the plan lay in Nazi counterpropaganda.

The Europa Plan served later as a basis for the negotiations between Eichmann and the “Relief and Rescue Committee” headed by Rezsö Kasztner in Budapest in the summer of 1944 and the so-called offer of one million Jews for 10,000 trucks, in which Gisi Fleischmann was involved as well. We could document it with her letters from the last period of her life.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: Jewish Virtual ibrary, L. Rothkirchen, Ḥurban Yahadut Slovakia (1961), includes Eng. summary, passim; O.J. Neumann, Be-Ẓel ha-Mavet (1958), 160–5; M.D. Weissmandel, Min ha-Meẓar (1960), passim; A. Weissberg, Desperate Mission: Joel Brand's Story (1958) passim; N. Levin, The Holocaust (1968), 535–40; Y. Bauer, Jews for Sale: Nazi Jewish Negotiations 1933–45 (1994); S. Aronson, “The 'Europa Plan,'” in: W. Laqueur (ed.), Yale Encyclopedia of the Holocaust (2001).

WHO WAS GISI FLEISCHMANN?

“As to Gisi Fleischmann, perhaps the best-known victim of Brunner and Tiso, her name will deservedly be held up as a shining example of courage and nobility….” (Simon Wiesenthal)

Her life story was very dramatic and the story of her heroism is not one that can be found in schoolbooks. Perhaps she did not excel as a housewife, mother and wife, but her underground work was followed by at least two rabbis, which was unheard of in the Jewish community at the time. She married a not very successful tea and coffee merchant, who died early from complications associated with diabetes. She had two daughters, who she sent to Palestine. By doing so she saved them from deportation, but also made their life difficult and uneasy. Until the end of their lives, they remained more or less alone and never had children. On the other hand, to her community, Gisi was an example of unlimited dedication and courage. (“It throws me as the ball from my mother to my daughters and from the daughters to the mother. But above it all is my community.”)

The life of the Jewish activist Gisi Fleischmann (1892 – 1944) was full of paradoxes. She was born to an orthodox Jewish family in Bratislava, however, the Promised Land – Eretz Israel, formerly Palestine – was her Zionist ideal. She worked in the official Jewish Council, which was forced to co-organize deportations, while she was also the head of the illegal Working Group which was trying to stop them. She pursued such noble goal in a non-noble way, using bribery. She was helping Jews throughout Europe, but was unable to help herself.

Her heroism cannot be expressed by an exact number of Jews saved, as with Oskar Schindler or Nicolas Winton case. As a Zionist activist and representative of several Jewish organizations, she at first helped countless Jewish refugees from the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia as well as from Poland, Austria and Germany and later, together with other members of the Working Group, she strived to halt deportations in Slovakia as well as throughout Europe within the Europa Plan, mediated information on deported Jews and organized material assistance for them. She also systematically cooperated with foreign Jewish organizations, from which she gathered funds for labour camps in Slovakia which were considered to be a safer alternative to extermination camps.

She grew up in a family who ran a small hotel in the Old Town of Bratislava. Her two brothers graduated at medicine and law. Her younger brother, a doctor of law, was one of the first victims of the expanding Nazism in Bratislava. Because of his Jewish origin, he was beaten to death and kicked down the stairs by a group of young Fascists. At that time, girls in traditional Jewish communities were primarily oriented towards marriage and family care. But Gisi was different; definitely not the standard “stay-at-home” type. She was a beautiful and elegant woman with a cultivated taste in clothes, and good manners. The tendency of the time to give only boys an academic education left Gisi with only a basic education, but that did not prevent her from teaching herself. As a young woman, she fell for the progressive Zionist movement, which encountered strong opposition since Bratislava had traditionally been a bastion of Orthodox Judaism. Her involvement with Zionism brought her many problems. However, she was a natural leader with great communication skills thanks to which she soon made contacts with activists in other countries and cities, such as Paris, London, Budapest, Vienna and others, and acquired decision-making powers. At the outbreak of World War II, her abilities and activities led to her becoming the leader of the Judenrat, a Jewish Council, also known as the “Jewish Centre”, which was governed by Slovak authorities, but indirectly also by the German government. As a member of this institution, from 1942 she was in the forefront of the illegal Working Group (whose members had begun to meet much earlier). Focusing on the organization of aid, through the American Joint Rescue Organization and other institutions and individuals, she tried in every possible way to interrupt and stop the deportation of Jews to concentration and extermination camps. She was probably the first to inform the International Red Cross about the tragic situation of Jews in Poland.

The Working Group, of which she was the acknowledged leader, not only sought to rescue members of their community within the country, as was common elsewhere, but through an initiative called the Europa Plan also addressed the catastrophic situation of Jews in the broader context. She was responsible for communicating with German advisers for the Jewish issue in Bratislava. After the start of the Slovak National Uprising, she came into contact with the renowned anti-Semitist, Alois Brunner. Gisi tried to make an agreement with him, the same as with his predecessor Wisliceny, through personal intervention and bribery, but she underestimated her opponent. Was she either too naive, confident in her abilities, or simply tired from constant strain, fear of exposure or personal problems? At the time, she received bad news from her daughters in Palestine about their situation, and her mother was seriously ill. She received repeated offers to emigrate, all of which she refused. She was persecuted by the National Security Centre; later imprisoned and released. In September 1944, Gisi was arrested again and deported to a forced labour camp in Sereď and in October 1944 to Auschwitz in one of the last deportations from Slovakia. After her arrival at Auschwitz in October 17th, all records of her disappeared.

HISTORY OF RECEPTION OF GISI FLEISCHMANN´S LEGACY IN SLOVAKIA

In Slovakia, for a long time Gisi Fleischmann was only little known, probably because she was Jewish and spoke only German, Hungarian and Hebrew. But she was born and lived in Bratislava and therefore belongs to its history. As an active heroine of anti-fascist resistance she also belongs in the history of Slovakia and the Slovak State. Especially the idea of the Europa Plan brings her in the European History. The life of Gisi Fleischmann provides a lot of inspiration because of the fact that she was not an exactly positive heroine. It offers space for the artistic portrayal of periods which have not been explored that well and, even if they were, the information only remained available to close professional circles, inaccessible by the general public. An artwork can release and open this issue to the common people and especially students.

Books

First was published in 2003 Listy Gisi Fleischmannovej, selection of her letters to rescue organizations, edited by Katarína Hradská. The same historian published in 2012 a book describing her life (Gisi Fleischmann, Return Undesirable).

Radio and theatre

  • Radio trilogy The Woman Rabbi premiere, which was broadcast by Slovak Radio in September 2008, and which represented Slovakia at the International Prix Europa in Berlin and was also broadcast by Czech State “Vltava” Radio in November 2008.
  • Radio premiere of the radio version The Woman Rabbi in Italy, which was broadcast on the 22nd and 26th of January 2010 by Radio Citta del Capo in Bologna, directed by Fulvio Ianneo.
  • Theatre premiere The Woman Rabbi, which was shown on 24 March 2010 in Bologna by Reon Theatre, directed by Fulvio Ianneo.
  • Theatre premiere The Woman Rabbi, which was shown on 3 March 2012 in Bratislava by Slovak National Theatre, directed by Viktorie Čermáková.

Film

Documentary film The Woman Rabbi, K2 Production, directed by Anna Grusková, 2012 The first film about Gisi Fleischmann offers many discoveries from Slovak, Israeli and American archives, testimonies of witnesses, interviews with historians from Melbourne to Bratislava and theatre scenes from Italian theater of Bologna with actors Anna Amadori, Valeria Dada Berardi, Micaela Piccinini, Eleonora Massa a Lorenzo Bonaiuti, theatre direction Fulvio Iaenneo. As to the genre, the film could be described as a feature documentary that alternates moving picture scenes from the life of Gisi Fleischmnan, played by Italian actors, with authentic documentary parts, contemporary film shoots, photographs and testimonies of the living relatives of Gisi Fleischmann, and various historians. One of the most important themes which unwind throughout the film is the concept of Gisi Fleischmann’s heroism. It is unquestionable that she showed great civic bravery when, to a crucial extent, she helped her community in Slovakia as well as abroad. On the other hand, her activism significantly affected her family life. The film is designed to present Gisi’s heroism in all of its dimensions, even the less positive, which however does not diminish its value and credit.

Exhibitions

The objective of the first exhibition Imprints of Gisi Fleischmann (Pisztory Palais, Bratislava, 21.3.-21.4.2013, curated by Anna Grusková) was to provide time and space for the intimate encounters not only with the unique photographs and documents mapping the life and era of Gisi Fleischmann, many of which are publicly presented for the first time, but also with the latest results of a symbolic handover of her legacy to the youngest generation of the Slovak artists from Ø Photography Studio at the Department of Photography and New Media at the Academy of Fine Arts and Design in Bratislava (curated by Silvia Saparová). The exhibition was transformed and re-installed in Berlin, Neue Synagoge (11.9.2014-29.11.2014) with the new title Gisi Fleischmann – Ein jüdisches Schicksal aus Bratislava. The exhibition, catalogue and workshops with film screening was supported by European Remembrance Programme in 2013 (Documentation Centre of Holocaust and AtractArt, 25 000 E).

VIRTUAL MUSEUM, WORKSHOPS AND ESSAY COMPETITION EUROPA PLAN

Virtual Museum

During the research in Gisi Fleischmann´s footsteps by Anna Grusková, since 2003 till now, both in Europe and Israel, a lot of documents were collected, mostly unique and publicly unknown. The largest part creates unpublished letters written by her to rescue organizations in Europe, some, very few have a personal character. There are also many photographs, newspaper articles, public records etc. Since the physical body of Gisi Fleischmann disappeared in Auschwitz, there is no grave of her, no place where a commemoration could be held. In the virtual museum will be created space, where could visitors enter her life and legacy in different houses/places, important in her life time. The houses /places are in Bratislava, Budapest, Terezin and in Auschwitz.

The virtual museum consists of two parts: 1) Gisi´s homes / places exposure ready for the real museum Gisi Fleischmann - text passages, and other written documents, photographs, vintage print, film footages, interactive modules 2) Additional materials that do not fit into the exhibition - remaining documents and photographs, scientific studies, excerpts from books about Gisi Fleischmann and vital links for deeper interest in the personality of Gisi Fleischmann All these materials will be translated into English and / or in Slovak.

The inspiration for the virtual museum of Gisi Fleischmann was the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam, which is of great importance for the city and for the Dutch tourism. The important partners of the museum are also the Moreshet Archives in Israel, Givat Haviva, where is located the estate of the Gisi Fleischmann daughters and much of her correspondence. We develop also a co-operation with the Terezín Memorial in the Czech Republic. Virtual form can attract with its easy accessibility and visual beauty mainly young people who avoid traditional museums, but could be accessible for all the Europeans and others interested in culture and history, regardless of age. Gisi Fleischmann spent almost all her life in Bratislava, but her deeds made her an European and international heroine.

The consultants of the Museum part are PhD. Katarína Hradská (Historical Institute of the Slovak Academy of Sciences), Prof. Eduard Nižňanský (Philosophical Faculty of the Comenius University in Bratislava), PhD. Daniela Stern Ozacky (Moreshet Archives in Israel), PhD. Vojtěch Blodig (Terezin Memorial, Czech Rebublic), Levien Rouw (Anne Frank House, Netherlands).

Workshops for Schools using the Virtual Museum of Gisi Fleischmann

The aim of the workshops is to help both teachers and students to understand links between the situation in Europe in the time of the Europa Plan from 1942-43 and today’s discussions about European policy and human rights challenges. One of challenging topics is a comparison of immigration policy for refugees streaming from Germany and other Nazi controlled countries during the WW2 and today´s s.c. “migrant crisis” in Europe, its heroes and heroines. We plan to realize ca 5 workshops in high schools in Bratislava (2x), Žilina, Nitra, Banská Bystrica. In the workshops will take part specialists on the European identity and policy from Slovakia, Czech Republic and Germany. The workshops will provide hands-on activities using Virtual museum of Gisi Fleischmann (survivor testimony, archival documents, literature, art and film designed to help educators create activities and lessons accessible to all learners.

Essay competition Europa Plan (by Gisi Fleischmann and her successors)

Based on knowledge provided by Virtual Museum of Gisi Fleischmann and workshops, a student´s essay competition will be announced with one simple question: What is your Europa Plan? This will strengthen students’ awareness of their own responsibility for today´s and tomorrow´s Europe. Historical context could help them to root in valuable human decisions of people, who inhabited Slovakia before them and will show them the positive pro-European strategies and solutions that were made even during the duration of the Nazi satellite Slovak State in WW2.

The project was supported by Fond na podporu umenia and Bratislavský samosprávny kraj.

Photo © Jakub Šípoš and Slovak National Archives