On Honor Courts, Trials and “The Gray Zone”

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Jeffk 1970
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On Honor Courts, Trials and “The Gray Zone”

Post by Jeffk 1970 » Mon Aug 06, 2018 12:04 am

In August of 1950 the Israeli Knesset passed the Nazi and Nazi Collaborators Punishment Law (NNCL). The full text of the law is here:
http://www.mfa.gov.il/mfa/mfa-archive/1 ... 20571.aspx

Because it was assumed that no living Nazi would willingly come to Israel the law targeted those who collaborated with the Nazis during the war. The law gave Israeli law enforcement the ability to investigate Jews accused of collaborating with the Germans before immigrating to Israel.

We discussed this in various threads before but I thought it worthwhile to mention this Israeli law and how it was applied.

According to the author “Forgotten Trials of the Holocaust” it is unlikely that there was a groundswell among the population of survivors living in Israel for a law of this kind. This was intended more for the prewar population as a device to distance them from what they considered to be the shameful conduct of the European Jews. Many of the sabras looked down upon the survivors for what they considered to be a shameful response to the persecution and ultimately attempted genocide of the European Jews. The sabras felt the European Jews didn’t resist hard enough and allowed themselves to persecuted and murdered. There was considerable suspicion over what the survivors did in the camps to survive, including a myth that some female Jews prostituted themselves to the German forces and received tattoos identifying them as such. Survivors received the nickname “sabonim” or soap.

This contempt felt by the sabras towards the survivors doubled towards those who collaborated with the Nazis in order to survive. One member of the Knesset mentioned that collaboration included joining a Judenrat or becoming a Kapo (never mind that joining either was strictly voluntary).

The law itself was strange. It did not define a collaborator or distinguish between say a Kapo or a member of the SS. In effect it equated the two as the same. Naturally it was strictly post facto in design, looking at events in the past before the Israeli state existed. It applied to only one class of victim, the Jew, one location, Europe and a very specific time period, the years when the Nazis were in power.

It also made the death penalty compulsory for 1) Crimes Against Humanity 2) War Crimes and 3) Crimes Against the Jewish People. It created a mandatory 10-year-sentence for 2) Crimes against the persecuted persons 3) Membership in an enemy organization 4) Offenses in places of confinement 5) Delivering up persecuted persons to enemy administrations and 6) Blackmailing persecuted persons.

There were mitigating circumstances allowed if the person who committed the crime did so to save himself from the danger of immediate death and the court is satisfied that he did his best to avert the consequences of the act or omission or when the person who committed the crime did so did it with the intent to avert worse consequences and actually averted them. Judges were allowed to use this for 2-6 but for 1-3 the mandatory term was still 10 years. So someone might avoid the death penalty but still have to serve 10 years.

In the next post I’ll look at some trials but I don’t want this to get too long.
Last edited by Jeffk 1970 on Mon Aug 06, 2018 12:30 am, edited 1 time in total.
A joke going around Moscow during The Great Terror:

The NKVD knocks on a door.
The inhabitants ask who it is.
“NKVD.”
“You’ve got the wrong apartment. The Communists are upstairs.”

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Re: On Honor Courts, Trials and “The Gray Zone”

Post by Jeffk 1970 » Mon Aug 06, 2018 12:27 am

The issue with trials held under this law is that the records are currently sealed. In “Forgotten Trials of the Holocaust” Michael Bazyer quotes two Israeli scholars (Ben-Naftalie and Tuval) that say about forty prosecutions took place with about fifteen cases ending in convictions. The sentences tended to be light and sentences included the time the person was in detention waiting for a verdict. Only one trial resulted in a death sentence and this was overturned on appeal.

The author notes that the Israeli legal system does not have jury trials and judges return verdicts. These judges were European Jews who emigrated to the mandate before the war, including a Jewish lawyer briefly incarcerated in Dachau (Yosef-Michael Lamm). These judges found it hard to apply this law to the horrible choices faced by Jews caught up in Nazi terror and forced to make terrible choices. One Israeli Supreme Court Justice Moshe Silberg noted:
“It is hard for us, the judges of Israel, to free ourselves of the feeling that, in punishing a worm of this sort, we are diminishing, even if by only a trace, the abysmal guilt of the Nazis themselves.”

One of the earliest Trials involved a female Jewish Kapo named Else Tarnek (Trank). The prosecutors followed a similar pattern in all these cases by charging the defendants with the harshest allegations to lead to death penalties. They charged Tarnek with war crimes and crimes against humanity even though Tarnek was only accused of beating fellow inmates. Tarnek was a block commander (a position the SS chose for her) and her responsibilities included maintaining order and discipline. This included lining the women up for roll call and supervising the distribution of food. She hit women with her hands and forced them to kneel, a common camp punishment.

The judges acquitted Tarnek of the war crimes and crimes against humanity charges and found her guilty of two lesser charges, assault and battery. They sentenced her to two years imprisonment with time served. Tarnek was released the same day having already spent two years in detention.
A joke going around Moscow during The Great Terror:

The NKVD knocks on a door.
The inhabitants ask who it is.
“NKVD.”
“You’ve got the wrong apartment. The Communists are upstairs.”

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Re: On Honor Courts, Trials and “The Gray Zone”

Post by Jeffk 1970 » Thu Aug 16, 2018 3:23 am

Bump to work on tomorrow.
Damned and determined to finish the rest of this.
A joke going around Moscow during The Great Terror:

The NKVD knocks on a door.
The inhabitants ask who it is.
“NKVD.”
“You’ve got the wrong apartment. The Communists are upstairs.”

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Re: On Honor Courts, Trials and “The Gray Zone”

Post by Jeffk 1970 » Sun Aug 19, 2018 4:05 am

Another trial brought up in “Forgotten Trials” is that of Hirsch Berenblatt. Berenblatt served as the Jewish police commander of a town in Poland called Bedzin. He stood accused of helping the Germans rounding up Jewish citizens of Bedzin, including handing Jewish orphans over to the Gestapo. The court originally found him guilty and he received 5 years. The Israeli Supreme Court overturned his sentence and acquitted him. The justices felt that it was difficult to charge, prosecute and sentence those who found themselves in such a position. One justice, Yakov Ulshan even stated that “This is a question for history and not the courts.”
A joke going around Moscow during The Great Terror:

The NKVD knocks on a door.
The inhabitants ask who it is.
“NKVD.”
“You’ve got the wrong apartment. The Communists are upstairs.”

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Re: On Honor Courts, Trials and “The Gray Zone”

Post by Jeffk 1970 » Sun Aug 19, 2018 4:15 am

So, what is “The Gray Zone?” I think we all know what this is even if we all articulate it in different ways. For me it is the area where impossible choices lie, where right and wrong get twisted due to circumstances beyond someone’s control. In the camps circumstances reduced people concerned to a large degree how they were going to survive from one day to the next. There was an honor system of sorts, prisoners I saw interviewed mention that the ultimate crime was stealing from another prisoner. Outside of this “organizing” items from the camp itself was perfectly legitimate. The SK’s and the women who worked in “Canada” saw nothing wrong with using clothing from the dead or eating food brought by those who wound up in the gas chambers. This was true in other camps like Treblinka or Sobibor.This was survival. Those who took these items to survive would never have stolen from ten living or dead under normal circumstances. But the camps existed outside of anything “normal.”
A joke going around Moscow during The Great Terror:

The NKVD knocks on a door.
The inhabitants ask who it is.
“NKVD.”
“You’ve got the wrong apartment. The Communists are upstairs.”

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Re: On Honor Courts, Trials and “The Gray Zone”

Post by Jeffk 1970 » Sun Aug 19, 2018 4:24 am

But what of those who did darker things besides using clothing, pocketing money or eating the food of the doomed?

I went round and round with Balsamo over the plight of the SK’s, those who dragged the bodies out the gas chambers, buried/burned them, cut the hair and searched the bodies for valuables. To me these people are blameless because this was not their choice to do these things but they did them to survive.

To some extent this extended to the Kapos, both Jewish and non-Jewish. These men and women helped the camps run smoothly. In order to do this these men and women sometimes treated the prisoners harshly, including killing them. They were not free agents in this but they did have choices and what choices they made helped define where individually they fit inside this “gray zone.”
A joke going around Moscow during The Great Terror:

The NKVD knocks on a door.
The inhabitants ask who it is.
“NKVD.”
“You’ve got the wrong apartment. The Communists are upstairs.”

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Re: On Honor Courts, Trials and “The Gray Zone”

Post by Balmoral95 » Sun Aug 19, 2018 4:24 am

Rumkowski, in your opinion?

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Re: On Honor Courts, Trials and “The Gray Zone”

Post by Jeffk 1970 » Sun Aug 19, 2018 4:41 am

A pretty crappy person who abused his position by molesting little girls. He also deported his rivals and others who disagreed with him.

The one thing about him is he actually made Lodz viable for a long time by working hard for the Germans.
A joke going around Moscow during The Great Terror:

The NKVD knocks on a door.
The inhabitants ask who it is.
“NKVD.”
“You’ve got the wrong apartment. The Communists are upstairs.”

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Jeffk 1970
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Posts: 9214
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Re: On Honor Courts, Trials and “The Gray Zone”

Post by Jeffk 1970 » Sun Aug 19, 2018 9:07 pm

Gray zone continued..
This included those Kapos who abused prisoners. Those who did it as part of their duties while trying to alleviate the conditions of their charges IMO deserve understanding, those who abused prisoners sadistically don’t.
A joke going around Moscow during The Great Terror:

The NKVD knocks on a door.
The inhabitants ask who it is.
“NKVD.”
“You’ve got the wrong apartment. The Communists are upstairs.”

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Re: Honor Courts: Krierger vs. Mittelman

Post by Jeffk 1970 » Sun Aug 19, 2018 9:39 pm

Another alternative to trying Jews existed called the Biet Din or religious court.


In this case it took place in New York. In this case Benjamin Krieger accused Majer Mittelman of killing his brother. Krieger struck Mittelman outside of the shop he owned, claiming that Mittelman struck his brother over the head while Mittelman kept order in the food line at the camp. Krieger’s brother eventually died from the blow. Mittelman agreed not to press charges. The American Jewish Congress agreed to hold a Beit Din. Mittelman wanted a chance to clear his name while Krieger wanted some sort of justice for his brother.

The tribunal started on October 10th, 1950. There were two Rabbis and an attorney presiding over the proceeding. Both sides received counsel.

According to Krieger, his brother lined up to receive his portion of bread and watery soup. Mittelman, the alleged Blockschreiber (responsible for keeping order in line and make sure each inmate only received one portion) told his brother he already received his portion. His brother denied this and remaIned standing in line. Mittelman took the bowl and struck his brother on the head. When Krieger protested Mittelman struck him in the chest. Krieger’s brother died a few days later in the hospital. Krieger brought a witness who collaborated Krieger’s story.

Mittelman brought his own witnesses who stated that Mittelman was ill much of the time and confined to barracks. One of the witnesses was the Jewish camp doctor who confirmed Mittelman’s condition. This doctor also denied that anyone was admitted during the time of the alleged attack with a fractured skull or brain hemorrhage. Mittelman himself stated that there was no Blockschreiber for the barrack and denied ever striking any Jew during that time.

Under cross examination Mittelman did admit that he sometimes checked the food line but denied ever being a Blockschreiber. He did not remember how often he did this.

The tribunal issued its ruling a month later. They acquitted Mittelman of killing Krieger’s brother but believed that Mittelman was the Blockschreiber for the barrack. They also believed that Krieger’s brother died in the camp due to a beating.
A joke going around Moscow during The Great Terror:

The NKVD knocks on a door.
The inhabitants ask who it is.
“NKVD.”
“You’ve got the wrong apartment. The Communists are upstairs.”

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