INTRODUCTION BY SIMON WIESENTHAL
Jewish Documentation Center, Vienna
With this book, the generation of the survivors fulfills an obligation to the memory of a person who deserves undying remembrance as one of the great figures of the Holocaust--Gisi Fleischmann of Slovakia.
Gideon Hausner, Eichmann's prosecutor, was right when he wrote of her, "Gisi Fleischmann's name deserves to be immortalized in the annals of our people, and her memory should be bequeathed to further generations as a radiant example of heroism and of boundless devotion." The woman's achievements were of that magnitude--but her soul was greater still.
She came from an Orthodox Jewish family, but felt drawn to Zionism and became head of the Women's International Zionist Organization in Slovakia. Anticipating what would happen, she sent her own two children to Palestine before the outbreak of the war. Although she also could have gone, she stayed in Slovakia, intending to assist the Jewish community there.
Because "independent" Slovakia was a Nazi puppet state, it became necessary to found an underground rescue group to help Jews. Gisi became the soul of this organization, corresponding with Jewish groups abroad, and doing everything possible to avert the danger threatening her community. Eichmann's office, as well as the Slovakian regime, understood quite soon that she would hinder their plans to annihilate Slovakian Jewry. She made several trips to Hungary to try to collect funds for the persecuted Jews of Slovakia and Poland, established contact with the Jewish Agency office in Istanbul, and was in touch through messengers with the HeHalutz Center in Geneva. She and her organization even tried to help and rescue Jews caught in the ghettos of Poland, with a special emphasis on children.
Gisi also appealed to Jewish organizations in countries not occupied by the Nazis to support the Europa Plan, a scheme devised by her gifted colleague Rabbi Michael Weissmandel to save all the Jews still alive in Europe. But, although she and her colleagues were able to rescue thousands, their dream of saving millions did not bear fruit.
The work to which Gisi Fleischmann dedicated her life came to an end when Eichmann sent SS Captain Alois Brunner to Bratislava to purge Slovakia of its remaining Jews. This was in the fall of 1944. By that time there was no doubt that the Nazis had lost the war. They had been defeated on all fronts; only on one they wanted to be victorious--the front against the Jews. Gisi was deported with the rest of her people, and was promptly murdered.
As these words are written, Alois Brunner, perhaps the most outstanding surviving Nazi war criminal, is living as a free man in Damascus, Syria. Human justice did not get to this man. He committed his crimes not only in Slovakia, but also in Austria, France, Greece, and Yugoslavia, yet he has nothing to fear. All attempts to have him extradited have been refused. It seems that in Syria the murder of Jews is not a crime.
Monsignor Josef Tiso, president of the Nazi puppet state of Slovakia, was a willing tool in the hands of the Nazis and bore a heavy share of responsibility for the Jewish tragedy in his country. After the war he was tried in Czechoslovakia, and was executed for his crimes. Some Slovakian emigrants in the free world have tried for years to convince the Vatican that Tiso should be canonized. In light of the man's record, this request can only be called obscene. It is to be hoped that Rome will not grant it.
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, together with those of Hannah Senesch and the non-Jew Raoul Wallenberg.
With this book Joan Campion has filled an important gap in the history of the Holocaust, and especially of Slovakian Jewry. More than eight years of research, carried on in a chronic state of underfunding and often despite the misunderstanding of those who did not appreciate the greatness and historical importance of her subject, have resulted in the best portrait of Gisi Fleischmann we are now likely to get. Not only all students of the Holocaust, but all who care about humanity, can be grateful to Ms. Campion for her dedication.