The Death of Reb Dovid Weinstock זצ"ל
by David Kornbluth
Our grandfather, R’ Dovid Weinstock ז"ל, was killed by the Nazis in Buchenwald concentration camp on October the 16th, 1939. A lot more is known about this murder now than when I was growing up.
The murder was naturally always a very painful subject for everyone. As long as I knew her, my mother, his eldest daughter Fay, could not hear about it without crying bitterly. She knew of course the general outlines of his death. She had visited the graveside in Vienna and had been involved, with her siblings, Sara, Esti and Tully, in the setting up of his new gravestone. The existence of an individual grave is of itself something quite rare in the Shoah.
A few years ago I located some unusual documentation about the death, and I have tried to knit the story we have to tell into a reliable and coherent narrative. I have tried, too, to see it somehow from R’ Dovid's point of view, as I often do when I think of it.
The narrative divides into several, albeit interconnected, parts.
Firstly, the telling of the death is preceded by the circumstances of R’ Dovid as he tried to save himself and his family.
Secondly, there are the facts, now documented, of the killing itself, beginning from when he was taken prisoner.
Thirdly, a word about how these documents were found.
Fourthly, R’ Dovid's Stammbaum or Family Tree, and a word about the memorial which includes him in Vienna.
Fifthly, a list and a short description of the documents that were found.
The World of R’ Dovid ז"ל
The story of the killing of R’ Dovid really begins in March 1938, when the Nazis took over Austria and Vienna. Open persecution and restriction of the Jews began.
R’ Dovid, as is well known in the family, was not particularly well off. He was a "trader". There was a failed bank and some dealings in precious stones. His wife Chaya Ides ז"ל had a wool shop in the Jewish quarter which helped. R’ Dovid of course was, rather, a great Jewish scholar and author, steeped in the Galician world of the higher reaches of Torah and Kabalah, just like his illustrious ancestors . He often visited the public libraries, the Nationalbibliothek and Stadbibliothek to consult Hebrew books and follow the newspapers. Several of his books were published after the war, like the Kol David, a Commentary on the Torah.
Clearly, though, he was nobody's fool. With the advent of the Nazis he acted, and in a very hostile political environment. By this I mean not just the danger on the streets of Vienna but also the fact that foreign countries were not willing to take in Jews seeking asylum. For an individual trying to escape this was a difficult and terrible situation.
For example, there was no British open door policy, neither for the UK nor for the vast British empire. In the end while somewhat less than ten thousand children, of whom some 7500 were Jewish, (according to the United States Holocaust Museum figures), were allowed into Britain in the "kindertransport" (including of course R’ Dovid's three daughters, Fay, Sara, and Esti and one son Tully). Britain itself was closed to almost all adults seeking entry. Worst of all Britain, for reasons to do with the difficulty of controlling the Arabs of Palestine, and so as not to provoke the millions of Muslims in British India or the Arab oil states, actually closed Palestine to all but a small quota of Jews with the notorious White Paper of 1939. Truly to R’ Dovid, and so many others in his position, it must have felt like the earth and the heavens were closing too.
In one direction, though, R’ Dovid's efforts met with success. And what an effort, emotionally and procedurally, it must of been. As we know Tully gets out to England first, and he does his best to try and get the others out. Uncle Leo Grahame, married to R’ Dovid's niece Guggy, gave the British authorities the required fifty pounds guarantee for refugees. (You just had to guarantee in writing, the money was not called for, but few Jews did it. It was intended to finance eventual re-immigration as it was expected by the British that the children would stay in the country only temporarily.)
So in April 1939 my mother Fay got out, one year after the Nazis took over. Esti and Tully had gone before in December 1938 and Sara got out in June 1939. My mother travelled on a grey Nazi passport stamped with a "J". She went via the Hook of Holland, Harwich and Liverpool Street Station. The youngest son Zwi (born 1925) was not sent out. He was at Nitra yeshiva in Czechoslovakia, near Bratislava. The Nazis did not allow goodbyes at the railway station.
R’ Dovid's plan, as my mother told me, was that the family should reunite in Israel. How heartbreaking all of this must have been for R’ Dovid, as his family breaks up to save itself.
At the same time R’ Dovid tried to get to Palestine. Under the British system you had to get an entry or immigration "Zertifikat". But these were very limited and distributed by the Jewish political parties in Palestine. People closer to the Aguda party, for example, got certificates. (I heard this from R. Pollak, headmaster of Horev school in Jerusalem, whose father had been the headmaster of my mother's Beis Yacov school in Vienna and got out this way.) So Palestine was closed too.
However R’ Dovid's father R' Gershon, did get to Palestine. He held a German passport.
He came by boat from Trieste and lived on in Palestine only some eleven months. He is buried in Nachalat Yitzhak Cemetery, Givatayim. He got hold of a certificate, which his daughter, Chana Hinde, who was R’ Dovid's sister, also obtained. Perhaps one could still enter as a "capitalist", for which you had to be able to show sufficient funds, although the Nazis had confiscated his property, as they did to all departing Jews.
Note also that R’ Dovid managed to send out not just four children but also his scholar's library, Some of this ended up with his sister Gitel Mosel in Jerusalem. But many crates of his books were apparently overtaken by the war and destroyed in Antwerp, perhaps on the way to London.
And then, a few months after the escape of four of his five children, everything did close in on R’ Dovid.
The Imprisonment and Murder of R’ Dovid ז"ל
R’ Dovid was arrested on the orders of Reinhard Heydrich, Chief of the Security Police (and apparently as part of a cynical birthday present for him). He was in a group of 1,050 (stateless and Polish) Viennese Jewish men. The Buchenwald records list him as a Pole, but he was, I think, stateless. My mother remembered his efforts to gain Polish nationality, and that they proved fruitless. (See also document number 8 which mentions papers from the Polish consulate which he probably had on him for protection, and which would have been all the more useless as Germany has just conquered Poland.)
His death was in the very early days of the Holocaust, before the organization and planning necessary for the mass murder all the Jews of Europe existed. The Nazis were still letting Jews leave and sarcastically saying in their propaganda that no one wanted Jews. Perhaps we can imagine that, conscious as he was of the need to escape, R’ Dovid might have made it out if he had had more time. This is especially so as the Viennese Jewish community quickly got itself organized to help people get out.
When R’ Dovid was taken something clearly unusual happened. Four hundred and forty Jews, arrested and held at the Vienna Stadion, the soccer stadium, were subject there to racist anthropological examinations by a Commission led by Joseph Wastl, a member of the Austrian Nazi Party since 1932, and the head of the Anthropological Department of the Natural History Museum in Vienna. R’ Dovid was subject to these degrading tests and measurements. The Nazi anthropologists used all this to substantiate their anti-Semitic racial theories (see the two photos of R’ Dovid and two data sheets of personal details and measurements, documents 1, 2 and 3 of our list).
Take a look at that photo of R’ Dovid with the metal prod around the back of his head. That says it all. I leave it to each one of us to imagine what he must have felt. No doubt he was precisely ordered by his Nazi captors how to sit and probably even what expression to form on his face. His feelings as a captive must have been awful. We can only hope that he could take some comfort from the strength of his Yiddishkeit.
The two data sheets were filled in by the Nazi "scientists".
Sheet 1 shows personal details : name, date of birth, date of arrival in Vienna (1914), children (5), origin in East Galicia, his father's and mother's names and birth dates. Sheet number 2 has the actual physical details and measurements. Then there are the two photos of R.David. Papers like this do not exist for most other victims of the Holocaust. The data sheets and photos were kept as part of the Vienna Museum records. The Buchenwald concentration camp documents, which we shall meet later, are from the Buchenwald (Memorial) Archive.
The existence of all these documents is probably due to the German tendency to make and keep records of everything and also to the fact that it was early on in the Holocaust.
The journey to Buchenwald took one or two days. The examinations at the Vienna Stadium ended on Saturday the 30th of September (see email of M. Berner of the 13th of November 2003, document number 15). Immediately afterwards the prisoners were deported via the Westbahnhof railway station to Buchenwald. And R’ Dovid is listed in the camp documents we have as having arrived in Buchenwald on the second of October (see camp document number 7, dated 25 October 1939 at bottom left signed by an officer in the Effects Room). The prisoners suffered severe abuse and beating from their guards during the march from the station to the camp and on their arrival. The group were kept together in appalling conditions of endemic dysentery, hunger, exhaustion, and lack of hygiene or medical care. Many (over 300) of the prisoners died in Buchenwald in the next few weeks and months. Only 26 of the 440 survived the war.
Two weeks later R’ Dovid הי"ד was dead. The death is listed in camp document number 4 of the 16th of October 1939 as having occurred at 1.35 p.m. The cause of death is given as "coma diabeticum".
We know he was diabetic. But of course (if we are to believe the Nazis) the murder method, in this case, consisted in the very act of removing his diabetic medicine. This may have occurred at any point after he was imprisoned, if indeed he was able take medicine with him. The medical papers he had, called "Gesundheitsbefunde" i.e. health details, which are noted in camp document number 8, dated 25th October 1939, signed by the camp commander, obviously had no beneficial effect on the Nazi camp guards.
The rest of the camp documents show how his belongings were listed (see the two camp documents numbers 7 and 8 of 25th of October 1939) and the apparent return of his belongings, minus clothes, to his widow (see document number 8).
And then there is the extraordinary process of the return and burial of an urn of ashes, see document number 5 dated 20th October 1939, which is just four days after his death. Our grandmother must have been somehow informed of his death. We see how she requests, presumably as instructed, the urn of ashes and remits the cost of sending them, three Reichmarks. This is in the form of a letter from the Jewish section of the central Viennese cemetery to the burial authorities of Weimar in Thuringen where Buchenwald was situated. Those Weimar authorities received this letter on the 25th of October and apparently sent the urn . On the 30th of October the document was filed away.
We can actually also see grandmother's signature dated the 22nd of November 1939 on document number 9, also from the Buchenwald camp archive. Here she has signed a receipt confirming the receipt of his effects, and this paper has been sent back to the camp.
As to the urn itself, my mother, Fay, used to say that there was really no way of knowing what was in there. She could only hope it was her father's ashes.
Why did the Nazis send back an urn to be buried. This must have been their general practice then. Perhaps they were still attempting to keep up appearances at this early stage of the Holocaust.
Grandmother ז"ל buried him in the grave he has to this day in the Jewish section of the Central Cemetery in Vienna, with the plaque she must have organized in difficult circumstances. There is another similar plaque or gravestone two graves to the left (see document number 16, P. Kornbluth "Notes for a Weinstock visit to Vienna" 9 July 2007). According to the records in the cemetery, that is the index card of the grave, the burial took place on the 10th of November 1939.
This same card gives the date of death as "15. 10.1939" that is the 15th of October. Whereas the camp documents give the date as the 16th of October, see document number 4. This is of importance of course for the date of the yahrzeit. The 16th of October is 3 Marcheshvan, and 3 Marcheshvan is written on the old and new gravestones. So the dating on the camp documents seems to be reliable, as they were of course closer to the event.
We note that R’ Dovid's children, Fay, Sara, Esti and Tully, set up a new gravestone many years after the war 1985. The grave is located at Zentralfriedhof, Tor IV, Gruppe 21, Reihe 19, Nummer 17. This is called the "Rabbis Row, Orthodox Sector" in the cemetery index card.
Grandmother, Chaya Ides, who signed off on the effects on the 22 of November 1939, left Vienna for Palestine a few days after (still in the month on November). She collected Zwi, on the spur of the moment at Bratislava, where he had come to see her (see letter 5 February 1940). She was part of a large ill-fated group on a ship traveling down the Danube. They got stuck at Kladovo, Yugoslavia, and later moved to Sabac. Sadly this was one of the few, if not the only, escape ship run by the Zionist rescue organizations, later to be known as Mossad L'Aliya Bet, which did not make it. I have little doubt that the British authorities prevented the onward journey. That would have been fully in keeping with their policy and practice (see also "The Last Escape", Ruth Eliav, 1974, Gollancz). Grandmother was killed by the Nazis in 1942 after they invaded Yugoslavia. Zwi though had been sent on to Palestine with Youth Aliya.
A new museum devoted to the Ma'apilim exists now in Israel at Atlit.
How The Documents Were Found
A short note about the discovery of the documents used here might be of interest.
In 1999, or thereabouts, an exhibition was mounted in Germany with a particular dual aspect. The aim was to encompass, compare and perhaps balance the good Weimar of Goethe and the evil concentration camp of Buchenwald, situated in a suburb of Weimar called Ettersburg. This exhibition caught the eye of a journalist from the International Herald Tribune which ran a lengthy article on the peculiar character of the exhibition as a conscious attempt by the new Germany to come to terms with its awful past. The timing of the taking of the Jews fitted with what was known about R’ Dovid.
I made several phone calls to Weimar trying to trace a possible exhibition catalogue. My inquiries led nowhere. So I asked Niti to help. Anita von den Benken was an impressive young German diplomat whom I had met while ambassador of Israel to Unesco at a Conference on underwater archaeology. She has since joined the private industry. Of course Niti was much more effective. Her persistence soon paid off. The first result was that she received a xerox copy of bits of the exhibition catalogue (document number 11).
The exhibition had two distinct parts. In fact the catalogue opens both from the back and from the front. One section shows Goethe's drawings of the area and other artistic objects while the other features the terrible story of the 440 Viennese Jews sent to Buchenwald after being racially measured in Vienna. Indeed the Buchenwald half was all about the 440, including survivors' recollections. Each of the 440 had a short identifying section. R’ Dovid's reads : "David Weinstock, 64 Jahre Geboren am 21 Marz 1875 in Kuty, Komissar, seit 1914 in Wien, verheiratet, Vater von funf Kindern, gestorben am 16 Oktober 1939 in Buchenwald ".
That is "David Weinstock, 64 years old, born 21 March 1875 in Kuty, trader, since 1914 in Vienna, married, father of five children, deceased on the 16 October 1939 in Buchenwald".
This was the first indication that we were really onto something. The catalogue of course led us back to the Vienna Natural History Museum. Both of us were a little surprised to find out that the same Anthropological Department still existed in the museum and even more so to learn that staff there where actively engaged in studying the museum's role in 1939. Then after a long wait and further proddings the museum sent us the Buchenwald concentration camp documents which proved so valuable. This material was accompanied by a formal letter, with a kind of apology, from the head of department and other staff, see documents 14. I did not reply.
The 'Stammbaum'. The Memorial in Vienna.
The Stammbaum or Family Tree: see documents 18 and 19.
Perhaps as part of his preparations to leave and send out as much as he could, R’ Dovid wrote out his illustrious rabbinical ancestry in the fly-leaf of his Chumash מקראות גדולות Vayikra, published in Vilna 1899 by the famous publishing house "The Widow and Brothers Reem". Like every other book of his library, the volume also bears the Hebrew words " Mishpachat Weinstock ", i.e family Weinstock, apparently written by his sister Chana Hinde. The Stammbaum covers one full page in a front fly-leaf opposite the title-page.
The family tree is preceded by a Beis - Heh at the top right corner. It is divided a little over half way down by a line across the page. The upper part is of 16 lines, the lower part of 15. He also wrote the beginnings of the family tree in the same words on two other pages. The back one of four lines, the front one of two words. Perhaps the page finally used took the ink better.
The Stammbaum was given to me by my mother on the aliya of our family.
The Memorial to R’ Dovid
Perhaps this is the place to note that the names of R’ Dovid and his wife Chaya Ides form part of the Holocaust Memorial for Viennese Jews inside the entrance to the beautiful surviving nineteenth century Seitenstettengasse shul in Vienna. (The same address as the Jewish cemetery offices from which document 5 was sent.) There is also a memorial to Viennese Jews who died fighting for Israel in 1948 where Zwi's name, הי"ד , appears.
List of documents and sources
Buchenwald concentration camp documents are from the camp archive now called the Buchenwald Memorial.