February 22, 1943. Jewish Combat Organization assassinates Alfred Nossig, a Gestapo collaborator

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Alfred Nossig, Wandering Jew, 1899, Berlinka photo collection, Central Jewish Library

At the end of February 1943, the Jewish Combat Organization carried out another execution in the Warsaw ghetto. Alfred Nossig, once an important Zionist activist, sculptor and Gestapo collaborator, was shot in his own apartment at Muranowska 42 Street.

 

From the autumn of 1942 both the main resistance organizations in the Warsaw ghetto, the Jewish Combat Organization and the Jewish Military Union, assassinated collaborators who could threaten preparations for the fight against the Germans. On October 29 the JCO fighters shot dead Jakub Lejkin, the head of the ghetto’s Jewish police. Emanuel Ringelblum lists a dozen other people for whom the attacks were prepared, not all of which were successful – for instance Józef Szeryński, Lejkin’s deputy, was only wounded.

Alfred Nossig was born in 1868 (according to other sources – in 1864) in Lviv. “He was a versatile man,” write Barbara Engelking and Jacek Leociak, “he wrote, sculpted, studied law and economics in Lviv, philosophy in Zurich, and medicine in Vienna.”[1] As a prolific journalist, in his texts, from theatre plays to works on economics, he was especially concerned with Jewish issues. Among his works were Król Syjonu [King of Zion] (a drama about Simon Bar Kochba, the leader of the 1st century uprising against the Romans) or the novel Jan Prorok. Opowieść na tle galicyjskim  [John the Prophet. A Galician story] set in Lviv.

Nossig became famous especially as a self-taught sculptor, creating works such as The Wandering Jew, Judah Maccabeus, King Solomon. He also sculpted the death mask of the Austrian Empress Elizabeth (Sissi). Nossig’s exhibitions in Paris and Vienna were well received by critics. He collaborated with Ignacy Jan Paderewski, the world famous pianist and later Polish prime minister.

Alfred Nossig, early 20th century. National Library of Israel
Alfred Nossig, Próba rozwiązania kwestii żydowskiej
[An Attempt to Solve the Jewish Problem],
Lviv 1887. Polona

For decades, Nossig was involved in the debate about the future of European Jews. In his youth he was in favor of assimilation, but in 1887 he published the treatise Próba rozwiązania kwestii żydowskiej [An Attempt to Resolve the Jewish Question], in which he switched to Zionist positions, proposing the creation of a Jewish state in Palestine. Nossig wrote about Zionism ten years before Theodor Herzl’s publication of The Jewish State. Nossig’s and Herzl’s programs were in fact very similar, but it was the Viennese thinker who set about promoting the idea of ​​Zionism with more energy and became its main preacher in the eyes of the public.[2] In 1903, there was a loud conflict between them at the 6th Zionist Congress in Basel – Herzl then took up the British proposal to settle Jews in Uganda, which Nossig strongly opposed.[3]

Later, Nossig visited Palestine to explore the possibilities for its colonization by Jews and also undertook talks with the government in Istanbul about the opportunities for Jews to emigrate to the Ottoman Empire.

Probably from 1913, Alfred Nossig was an agent of German intelligence, and after World War I worked for the Abwehr.[4] After 1918, he got more and more involved in Polish affairs, became a permanent correspondent of the Polish press, an art reviewer and critic. He preached the idea of ​​a federation of European countries, founded numerous associations, including those promoting his own artistic works. In 1933, he moved to Poland, where he raised funds for the creation of the monumental Holy Mountain sculpture, which was to stand on Mount Carmel as a symbol of the presence of Jews in Palestine.

In 1940, Nossig came to the Warsaw ghetto. In December 1939, Ringelblum noted that “Nossig was appointed head of the Emigration Department in the [Warsaw] Jewish Community. Rumors about the displacement of one and a half million Jews from Poland, starting in January”.[5] However, no emigration was prepared by the Germans, as employment in the Judenrat was a cover for the agent’s activities. According to other sources, he later headed the equally fictional Department of Culture in the Warsaw Ghetto. Nossig wrote reports for the Germans on the morale of the Jewish people. At first, he lived, like most of the ghetto elite, at Chłodna Street, at number 39, then at Muranowska 42 Street. It was there that on February 22, 1943, the JCO fighters shot him.[6]

Ber Warm, a member of the Jewish Order Service (ghetto’s German-controlled Jewish police), mentioned that he saw Nossig in the office of Karl Georg Brandt, the SS officer responsible for the deportation of Warsaw Jews to Treblinka in the summer of 1942:

The known Zionist and writer prof. Alfred Nossig, a Jew from Germany, reportedly a former Austrian diplomatic representative during the last world war, often came to Brandt at the Befehlstelle [the German headquarters to manage the great deportation at Żelazna 103 Street, tenement house preserved to this day – P.B.]. The fact that some 2 weeks before the liquidation of the ghetto [according to some sources, the execution took place in April 1943 – P.B.] prof. Nossig was shot dead in his own apartment by members of the Jewish Combat Organization, indicating that he provided Brandt with information from the ghetto that he was popularly known as a “snitch”. Currently, I have learned from reliable sources that after Nossig’s death, a document was found near him, guaranteeing personal inviolability as a deserving Jew. Also found was a letter prepared by him to the authorities, in which he indicates that the Jews are preparing underground and other bunkers for the possibility of a new “deportation action”, he gave examples of the locations and arrangements of some shelters in the ghetto. (…) Prof. Nossig had the so-called “Brandt’s pass”, which made it possible to move around the entire former large ghetto, and thus unlimited access to all “shops” [forced labor workshops – P.B.]. When Brandt found out about the shooting of Nossig, he was to declare “Ja, die Lumpen haben solch einen alten Mann nicht verschont”. How hypocritical it sounded in the mouth of Brandt, a beast in human flesh who [had] on his conscience hundreds of thousands of Jews of both sexes, regardless of age!. [7].

Zachariasz Artsztajn / dulag121.pl

After the deportation action in January 1943, Nossig was to be the only man allowed to cross the ghetto’s borders. “Nossig was easy to recognize because he wore a long gray beard, which was rare in the ghetto,”[8] recalled Jakub Gutenbaum, who participated in the observation of the collaborator. When Nossig left the closed district, he usually headed for the Gestapo headquarters at Szucha Alley. This decided about the JCO sentence.

The attack on Nossig was organized by Icchak Cukierman. As he recalls, he chose three JCO members for action: Zachariasz Artsztajn, Abraham Breier and Paweł Szwarcsztajn.[9] The young men were not persuaded by the pleas for the life of a man who had once made great contributions to the Zionist movement. “In the pocket of the murdered man, a report was found for the Gestapo about the January action, where the CO [JCO – P.B.] is called a bandit organization”[10] – confirms Ringelblum, who in his Chronicle of the Warsaw Ghetto calls Nossig “a Jewish Gestapo man.”[11] Gestapo ID issued in 1933 was also supposed to be found in Nossig’s clothes.

It was not the end of the executions of the collaborators. On February 26, the JCO shot and killed Mieczysław Brzeziński, who commanded the Jewish police at Umschlagplatz during the great deportation.

Written by Przemysław Batorski
Footnotes:
[1] Barbara Engelking, Jacek Leociak, Getto warszawskie: przewodnik po nieistniejącym mieście [The Warsaw ghetto: a guide to the non-existent city], Warsaw 2001, p. 229. Information on Nossig’s activities follows this publication – pp. 229-231.
[2] Michał Śliwa, Idea państwa żydowskiego Alfreda Nossiga na tle kształtowania się doktryny syjonizmu politycznego [Alfred Nossig’s Idea Of The Jewish State Within The Context Of The Development Of The Doctrine Of Political Zionism], „Athenaeum. Polskie Studia Politologiczne”, no 58/2018, p. 35.
[3] Ibid., p. 36.
[4] Surely before 1939. Emanuel Ringelblum, Kronika getta warszawskiego [Chronicle of the Warsaw Ghetto], introduction and ed. Artur Eisenbach, transl. Adam Rutkowski, Warsaw 1988, p. 42, footnote 2.
[5] Ibid., p. 42.
[6] E. Ringelblum, Stosunki polsko-żydowskie w czasie drugiej wojny światowej [Polish-Jewish relations during the Second World War], introduction and ed. Tadeusz Epsztein, JHI Press, Warsaw 2020, p. 226.
[7] Pamiętniki z getta warszawskiego. Fragmenty i regesty [Diaries from the Warsaw Ghetto. Fragments and regests], ed. Michał Grynberg, Warsaw 1993, s. 76-77.
[8] Jakub Gutenbaum, Wspomnienia z Warszawy [Memories from Warsaw], http://zapispamieci.pl/jakub-gutenbaum-2/, access 22.02.2021 r.
[9] Icchak Cukierman, Nadmiar pamięci: siedem owych lat: wspomnienia 1939-1946 [A Surplus of Memory: Chronicle of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising], transl. Zoja Perelmuter, foreword and ed. Marian Turski, afterword by Władysław Bartoszewski, Warsaw 2000.
[10] E. Ringelblum, Stosunki polsko-żydowskie…, op. cit., p. 216-217.
[11] E. Ringelblum, Kronika…, op.cit., p. 534.