The Extraordinary Story of Michał Weichert
He was born in 1890 in Podhajce, Galicia. Studied in Lemberg (now Lviv) and Vienna. Received his doctorate in law in Berlin, where he also studied stage direction with Max Reinhardt and contributed to Martin Buber’s monthly Der Jude. Headed Warsaw’s Yiddishe Dramatishe Shul and the Union of Jewish Stage Artists. Rafał Węgrzyniak writes in his biographical study Procesy doktora Weicherta (Dr Weichert’s Trials, 2017) that he tried to socialize the Yiddish theatre with financial support from professional associations and political parties. That antagonized private owners and led to his ouster from the Union (pp. 57-58). A prolific essayist, he published in Warsaw’s Literarishe Bleter, the most important Yiddish literary journal of the time whose regular contributors included Peretz Markish and Isaac Bashevis Singer. He was part of the Yiddish delegation to the VIII International Congress of Pen Club, which took place in 1930 in Poland. Węgrzyniak points out that the delegation was not mentioned during the opening ceremony.
Weichert adapted for the stage Shalom Asch’s novel Kiddush Hashem with its climactic martyrdom of the Jews of Tulczyn after they had been handed over to the Cossacks in exchange for sparing the town (p. 66). In 1930 he staged in Warsaw, in his own Yiddish translation, George Büchner’s Danton’s Death with unavoidable hints at the Stalin-Trotsky conflict which foreshadowed the Moscow political trials. It was in Danton’s Death that the famous dictum about revolution devouring its own children was first pronounced. According to Węgrzyniak, left-oriented Weichert tried his best to cover-up the drama’s anti-revolutionary implications. As a result Danton and friends go to their death, keeping their faith in the revolution and the ‘victory of freedom’ (p. 78-79). Weichert taught at Warsaw’s Yiddisher Teater Studye. The students were mostly members of Bund youth organization and of communist drama groups, mostly workers and craftsmen keeping their daytime jobs. One of them, Moyshe (later Michał) Szwejlich - a natural comedian with whom I had the pleasure to work at Ida Kamińska’s State Jewish Theatre – was a tailor who, as we were told, returned from the Second World War a veteran with a sewing machine on his shoulders. Weichert himself made his living as legal adviser and high school teacher. The Studio’s diploma performance was praised leading by Polish theatre artist, Stefan Jaracz and Aleksander Zelwerowicz. An article in Wiadomości Literackie, a journal hostile to ‘jargon’ culture, praised Weichert as a‘prominent theatre artist educated in a good German school’ who was trying to Europeanize the Jewish theatre by pulling it out of ‘dilettantism and profiteering’ (p. 87). Out of the Studio came the Jung Teater. A photo taken in 1933 and entitled ‘Michał Weichert among the graduates of the Studio and actors of the Jung Teater’ (p. 91) has preserved more than thirty faces of young men and women at the threshold of their art and lives that were destined not to last much longer.
He staged Boston by Bernard Blume, called ‘a reportage in 44 scenes,’ on the controversial trial of anarchists Sacco and Vanzetti. The renowned Polish director Leon Schiller named it ‘one of the most interesting shows of the season’ (p. 110). By invitation, Weichert produced it also on an experimental Polish stage, winning praise from the famous Polish critic Tadeusz Boy-Żeleński. Węgrzyniak remarks, that ‘in the years 1937-1938 when the NKVD arrested more than a million and a half people, most of whom were subsequently convicted, half of them condemned to death,’ Weichert’s progressive theatre successfully staged Theodore Dreiser’s American Tragedy, discrediting – as in Boston - the American system of justice. The American Tragedy was directed by Jakub Rotbaum, a graduate of the Studio at Moscow’s Jewish State Theatre (Gossudarstvienny Yevreyskiy Teater or GOSET). Rotbaum directed the play again in 1955 with success on Polish stage. In 1934 Weichert staged in Warsaw Kamiński Theatre (named after Ida Kamińska’s father) the world premiere of Friedriech Wolf’s Profesor Mamlock, ‘perhaps the first theatrical drama on persecution of the Jews in the Third Reich’ (p. 129). At the same time, he presented a ‘facto-montage’ Krasin about the Soviet ice-breaker which rescued an international team of explorers of the North Pole. Still in the same season, the Jung Teater played a Soviet drama, directed by Rotbaum, Lebn ruft (its Russian title was Zhizn zavyot—Life Calls), already in the style of socialist realism as prescribed at the time in Moscow (p. 141). Węgrzyniak quotes denunciations sent to the Polish authorities by Jews who resented Weichert theatre’s political profile and by stage entrepreneurs trying to get rid of his competition. In 1936, the Ministry of Internal Affairs withdrew the Jung Teater’s concession despite energetic intervention by leading Polish artists and writers such, as Zelwerowicz, Schiller, Boy-Żeleński, Jaracz, Nałkowska and Wittlin (p. 159). Węgrzyniak points to the ‘ideological blindness’ of many intellectuals of that generation, not only Jews who tried to ‘get out of the ghetto,’ and reminds ‘how quickly German left-wing radicals, like Piscator and Brecht, ran from the Soviet Union to the discredited United States, when in 1937 Moscow started to arrest and deport German exiles back to Nazi Germany’ (p. 201).
In place of the Jung Teater, Weichert registered Junge Bine (Young Stage) where he premiered in Yiddish Georg Büchner’s Woyzeck, and the next season, the Jewish Don Quixote, A Merry Opera, based on Mendele Moycher-Sforim’s Benyumen Hashlishi in a the Moscow GOSET adaptation. Benyumen, a shtetl Jew submerged in books, and his companion Senderl, an even more naïve and helpless character, venture to find the legendary kingdom of royte yidelekh made up of the lost tribes of Israel (literarily ‘little red Jews’). A Zionist critic protested that the ‘aspiration for Eretz Israel is not a quixotic dream’ (p. 171), disregarding the implication that ‘red Jews’ lived just across the Soviet border, a phrase that always caused chuckles in the audience when the comedy was played in our State Jewish Theatre in 1960 in a new adaptation titled Dreamers of Kaptzansk.
When in September 1939, the Jewish Citizens Committee appealed to Jews of the entire world for material help, Weichert initiated a Coordinating Commission (Komisja Koordynacyjna or KK) of all Jewish Social and Charitable Organizations. Co-founded by the historian Emanuel Ringelblum, the Commission played an important role during the first two years of the war when neutral United States sent iaid for both the Christian and Jewish population, and the German authorities ‘demanded that the distribution be taken care by the population’s representatives’ (p. 204). This is how the Jewish Social Self-Aid or Jüdische Soziale Selbshilfe (JSS) came into being, parallel to the gentile Main Welfare Council or Rada Główna Opiekuńcza (RGO). Weichert became first a member of JSS’s Presidium and later on the President. JSS supported Jewish hospitals, ambulatories, orphanages, soup-kitchens, shelters for refugees and the elderly. Items considered luxuries, such as coffee, tea, chocolate, cocoa, canned fish, the organization exchanged for flour and ‘Avo soup’ in order to feed the largest possible number of starving inhabitants of the ghettos and inmates of the camps. In the same way costly pharmaceuticals were exchanged. Weichert was later to be criticized on the grounds that as a result of these transactions the luxury products ended up in German hands. But was there a better solution? He antagonized his Jewish competitors unable to keep up with his higher German education, impeccable knowledge of German language, and his ‘good’ non-Jewish looks. ‘Long Michał, depending on the situation, replaces his Star of David armband with a Red Cross armband back and forth’ –claimed Ringelblum in his Kronika Getta Warszawskiego on 9 January 1940. According to Węgrzyniak, ‘during a roundup for forced labor, Long Michał was seen in the company of Germans and Americans of the Red Cross’ (pp. 203-204). I do not recall any other Jew being criticized for taking off his ghetto armband to his or her advantage, or for avoiding forced labour.
Węgrzyniak points out that Weichert’s relations with the Polish gentile welfare workers, including Count Adam Ronikier who presided over the RGO, and Prince Janusz Radziwiłł of the Stołeczny Komitet Sapomocy Społecznej (or Capital City Committee for Social Self-Aid), were quite different. They agreed that the Jews, though a ten percent of the general population, should receive seventeen percent of the foreign aid ‘due to their particular situation and the treatment by the occupation authorities’. Janusz Machnicki of the Committee, in his 1946 statement emphasized that Weichert ‘selflessly led a hopeless fight for rescuing his brethren’ (p. 216). Social worker Karolina Lanckorońska worked with him in helping prisoners in jail wrote in her Wspomnienia Wojenne (Wartime memoirs) that Weichert was a man ‘of great heart and courage who worked miracles at his horrible outpost’ and she added that ‘Jewish Committees regularly supplied us with food which we passed on to the Jews in prisons’ (p. 217).
The JSS was dissolved In July 1942, during the culminating period of the destruction of Jews in the Polish lands. Weichert and three other members of the Presidium survived, but his sister, brother-in-law and his wife’s entire family perished. He lived now in a little room in the reduced Kraków ghetto and worked for an office of craft shops. Węgrzyniak quotes from Ruta Sakowska’s Ludzie z dzielnicy zamkniętej (People from the Closed Quarter) that despite official liquidation, the remaining members of JSS Presidium with help from the RGO ‘continued their activity, sending foreign aid food to the camps’ (p. 225). In March of 1943, during the final liquidation of the Kraków Ghetto, the self-aid organization was legalized again under the name on Jüdische Unterstuzungsstelle (JUS) and distributed ‘a considerable amount of food, medications and clothing from foreign aid passed on by the International Red Cross.’ The JUS had then under its care eight residual ghettos and 44 camps, including PÅ‚aszow near Kraków where ‘it twice a week delivered bread from Kraków bakeries and caloric soup for hospitalized prisoners’ (p. 226).
Węgrzyniak writes that Weichert tried to contact the Jewish underground, but representatives of the Jewish Coordinating Commission, Leon Feiner and Adolf Berman (brother of Jakub Berman), ‘negatively evaluated JUS [...] and passed its opinion to Jewish representatives in London and to the Warsaw Council for Aid to the Jews (Rada Pomocy Żydom or RPŻ), which in its report to London called for ‘stopping any deliveries to JUS on the grounds that it is a tool of German propaganda’ (p. 228). Itzhak Cukierman, one of the leaders of Jewish Fighting Organization (ŻOB), in his memoirs maintained that because of the activity of JUS and its correspondence the Allies did not believe the information about the annihilation of the Jews. ‘It transpired that in the days when the Germans drove the Jews of Warsaw, and also the Jews of Poland, including the Jews of Kraków to their deaths, Weichert on German instructions founded the Jüdische Unterstutzungsstelle (JUS) in place of Jidyszer Hilfs Komitet (JHK). While murdering the Jews, the Germans entrusted Weichert with an assignment to call on the outside Jewish world for help: medicine, food etc. [...] Weichert’s letters sent abroad during the months and weeks of bloodshed and mass murder, created an impression abroad that aid is needed for starving people…Everyone felt that Weichert was a traitor in German service… he was the only Jew [legally] walking without the Star of David, [obviously] he did what was told.’ Cukierman emphasized that the Jewish underground sent Marek Arczyński of the RPŻ ‘to convince [Weichert] that he needs to discontinue his shameful activity and to propose him to go underground’ (p. 229-230). Arciszewski in 1947 testified that after he presented him the resolution of the Polish underground and of the Jewish organizations, Dr. Weichert ‘expressed willingness to comply with the decision, asking only that he be treated with understanding and be provided with a shelter in Warsaw for himself and his family’. However, at the next meeting in early March 1944, ‘he decidedly refused to obey,’ saying that he does not recognize the authority of the Jewish underground, because ‘his authorities are in London with the Polish government [in exile], that he considers his activity is needed and will carry on’ (p. 233-236).
According to W[ęgrzyniak, while ‘the Kraków section of the Council for Assistance to the Jews asked Weichert to help send abroad correspondence with information on the situation in the camps, especially at Płaszów’, the Coordinating Commission and the Warsaw RPŻ persistently discredited him and his JUS, because ‘they wanted to have a monopoly on financial support from the Western charity organizations, especially from the US, which they needed for hiding the Jews in their care’ (p. 236). Tadeusz Pankiewicz - whose ‘Aryan’ pharmacy was allowed to remain within the Kraków Ghetto and provided assistance to the Jews - wrote that ‘Dr. Weichert greatly helped to supply the Jewish population with food and medications received from Geneva International Red Cross, thus saving health and lives of many people’ (pp. 240-241). Positive is also the recollection of Professor Tadeusz Seweryn of the Krakow RPŻ, who wrote in Przegląd Lekarski (1/1967) that through the Austrian Julius Madtrisch company, which employed Jewish tailors at the PÅ‚aszów camp, the Krakow branch [of RPŻ] managed to deliver baking flour, beans, buckwheat and extra flour for enriching the [so-called] JUS-soup,’ and that after the camp was liquidated, the remaining RGO clothing, footwear and food which were in MichaÅ‚ Weichert’s possession passed to the [Krakow] RPŻ and subsequently were sent by train to Brünlitz for the 1200 Jews who had been taken there and saved by Oskar Schindler’ (s. 242). The same episode was later presented in a more ‘combatant’ style by the president of Kraków RPÅ»Ż StanisÅ‚aw Dobrowolski in the Polish supplement of the Warsaw Yiddish newspaper Folks Sztyme: ‘With the acquiescence the management of the RGO, we robbed those warehouses and after selling the booty we obtained financial means to continue and even expend our activity’ (p. 243). When in 1944 Weichert was facing imminent arrest, Dobrowolski hid him at his sister’s before finding him another hiding place, where Weichert was ‘supported by RPŻ funds until liberation’ – writes WÄ™grzyniak, basing himself on Władysław Bartoszewski’s and Zofia Lewinówna’s antology Ten jest z ojczyzny mojej. Weichert’s son was hiding separately and Weichert’s wife and daughter were in the countryside passing as non-Jewish refugees from the Warsaw Uprising. Edmund Seyfried, the Director of the RGO, in his 1949 statement added that even in hiding, it was Weichert’s ‘advice which was used by the RGO in directing help to the Jews in the camps’. Seyfried also confirmed that ‘supplies taken over from JUS were used for helping Jews in hiding through the Kraków branch of RPŻ, which received them as a result of Dr. Weichert’s recommendation.’ By selling ‘luxury’ items from the JUS warehouse, such as coffee, tea, and sardines, the organization collected about two million zlotys (s. 244-245).
Węgrzyniak quotes three anonymous denunciations received by the Ministry of Public Security (MBP) immediately of the flight of the Germans. ‘Dr. Michał Weichert, former director of the Warsaw Jung Teater, collaborated with the Gestapo during the occupation in Warsaw. Before the [Warsaw] Uprising he escaped to Kraków.’ ‘Dr. Michał Wajchert [sic], now living in Kraków at 27 Gertruda Street, during the occupation organized the so-called Juden Hilfstelle [sic]. Using this firm, he received, as charity from abroad, large amounts of medicines, which were meant for the Jewish population, but in fact were being given away by Wajchert to German hospitals. After the annihilation of the Jews, Wajchert still remained in contact with the above mentioned charitable organizations, misleading them about the actual situation and thus hiding the fact of mass annihilation of Jews by the Germans. On this ground, he kept receiving huge transports of medicines which entirely served the needs of German hospitals. For those acts, the underground Jewish Fighting Organization sentenced Weichert to death, but due to technical difficulties could not carry out this sentence.’ According to a third denunciation, Weichert, ‘an actor and stage director of an experimental Warsaw theatre […], fraternized with members of the Gestapo, especially with the commandant of the PÅ‚aszów concentration camp, the infamous mass murderer Göth and with the head of Jewish police there Hilowicz. [...] After the liquidation of the Kraków Ghetto, he had a second apartment outside of the Jewish quarter, where he lived with his wife, and their son and daughter,’ and ‘though they were Jews, they went around without the Star of David armbands, which only Jews who were Gestapo confidantes did not wear’ (p. 252-253). On the basis of files from Weichert’s trial deposited at the Kraków branch of Institute of National Memory (IPN), Węgrzyniak writes that the chief of the MBP’s First Department, lieutenant Jan Górski, who was ‘in fact Jakub Gincberg, a prewar actor of the Ida Kamińska’s troupe’ [?], sent to the Kraków Office of Security (UB) an ‘information pertaining Dr. Michał Wajchert [sic] for operative application,’ followed by written testimonies of Adolf Berman of the Warsaw RPŻ and Itzhak Cukierman of the Jewish Fighting Organization which had sentenced Weichert to death (s. 249). Węgrzyniak mentions that of the 44 Jews who along with Weichert were tried by Polish courts for alleged collaboration with the Germans, thirty were convicted, including ten condemned to death (p. 255).
The prosecutor accused Weichert that ‘despite an explicit order from a superior underground organization called the Coordinating Commission [...], he continued the functions of an Organization for Helping the Jews [...], which allowed the Germans to create a false picture aimed at undermining world community’s opinion about the extermination of Jews in Poland, thus he helped the occupying authorities and acted against the interest of the Polish State’ (p. 256). Arczyński of the RPŹ testified that ‘activity of the JUS was very harmful to the Polish and Jewish cause, while its [material] help was very negligible because most of the shipments fell into the German hands’ . In addition, ‘the Co-ordinating Commission came to a conclusion that the so-called help for the Jews in the camps merely prolonged the agony of the dying Jewish population’ (p. 257). Asked whether Weichert had the duty to subordinate himself to the orders of Commission,’ Arczyński replied: ‘This was his individual decision. Also among the gentile Poles some recognized the underground authorities while others did not’ (ibid). Berman admitted that ‘seventeen thousand dollars designated for Lwów was lost, and 150,000 sent for the Jews from London to Warsaw never reached its destination’ (p. 258). Cukierman confirmed that ‘the ŻOB condemned Weichert to death, but for technical reasons, the sentenced was not carried out.’ Berman clarified the situation, explaining that while ‘the fighters intended to eliminate Weichert, the civilian organizations opposed it.’ Dobrowolski, an RPŻ worker, confessed that ‘for us, that [JUS] help was like feeding a pig before the slaughter, prolonging the existence of Jews who from the beginning were condemned for annihilation’ (p. 259) – apparently unaware that such ‘logic’ undermined the sense of the very existence of his RPŻ, the Council for Helping the Jews (other than collecting money which often ended up unaccounted for). Nevertheless, even Dobrowolski had to admit that ‘some people lived on and survived thanks to injections of medicine and additional food’ received from the JUS. A witness of the defense Dr. Aleksander Biberstein, who had worked as a physician in the Płaszów camp, emphasized that ‘help from JUS was absolutely indispensable,’ and added: ‘I would be accusing Dr. Weichert, if he had given up and had not helped as much as he could. We had no help from anybody else’ (p. 258).
On 7 January 1946, the Special Criminal Court in Kraków ruled that the trial did not reveal ‘any fact that would disqualify the accused ethically or morally [and that] neither forms of actions nor person of the accused lead to a conclusion that the accused assisted the invader in the sense of the deeds as charged [...], in consequence of which the Court has aquitted the accused of the charges presented against him.’ The prosecutor appealed to the Supreme National Tribunal. The SNT’s prosecutor rejected the appeal seeing no sufficient reasons for an appeal. But Jewish ostracism continued and made it impossible for Weichert to return to his true life. The Bundist monthly Folkstsaytung published an attack on him by Leon Finkelstein, a journalist who survived the war in Russia. ‘Less than two years ago in Moscow, I heard allegations of despicable actions in Poland by the well-known writer and stage director Michał Weichert. I was told that he was a schoolmate of the arch-murderer [Hans] Frank, that they lived in cordial friendship, and that while Poland was a hell for the Jews, Weichert was doing very well [...]. Soon information came to the Soviet Union from America [...] that Weichert served the Germans and sent to America false accounts of the Jewish situation in Poland.’ Finkelstein did not want to believe what ‘friends, mostly in theatre circles’ were telling him, he could not accept the view that Weichert, with whom he had worked together in cultural organizations, ‘could be capable of such baseness.’ But when Finkelstein returned to Poland, everyone told him: ‘Don’t even talk about him, he is a despicable traitor.’ The article criticized members of the Jewish Historical Commission for treating Weichert ‘in a very friendly manner’, and a Yiddish female writer for maintaining that ‘Weichert is being unjustly wronged.’ Finkelstein tried to guess ‘at what price’ Weichert ‘managed to save himself and his family,’ and concluded that he should ‘immediately face the tribunal of the Jewish community or accept the stigma of a bloody traitor. [...] Otherwise, his name ought to be crossed out of the Jewish community. No Jew is allowed to associate with a man who exploited his position of a Jewish writer and cultural worker to sow devastation within his own people. He is an abomination, detest him, for he is cursed’ (p. 268-271). This was a literal echo of the Jewish religious excommunication, the herem.
Weichert sent a justification of his behaviour to the editor’s office, bur it was never published. An editorial in a leftwing Zionist bi-weekly Nasze Słowo—unequivocally entitled ‘Traitors to the Court!’—seconded Finkelstein’s attack and asserted that Weichert ‘still has not cleansed himself of the heavy accusations of national treason’ (p. 272). Moreover, Finkelstein’s article was reprinted by a Montreal Yiddish newspaper Keneder Odler, which did publish Weichert’s denial, but with a one-year delay. A book by Melech Neustadt on the annihilation of Warsaw Jews published in Tel Aviv first in Hebrew (1946) and then in Yiddish (1948) included all three accusatory letters that had been sent from Warsaw to London back in 1944. ‘Jewish activists cooperating with the Polish Underground State were convinced that the continuation of Weichert’s JUS organization limited the subsidies which they received from the [exile government in London’ – explains Węgrzyniak (p. 273). Former workers of the JUS as well as physicians and pharmacists who had collaborated with them published an open letter in the Keneder Odler and in the New York Yiddish daily Forverts which categorically denied the accusations against Weichert and his organization. But the author of the book defended them in his own letter to Forverts.
By 1949, Sąd Obywatelski or Citizens’ Court (later called Sąd Spoleczny or Social Court) appointed by the Central Committee of Jews in Poland (CKŻP) had investigated 78 cases of Jews accused of ‘undignified’ behavior during the Holocaust – writes Węgrzyniak following Andrzej Żbikowski. Unfortunately for Weichert, the judges of the communist-dominated Court included all three authors of the accusatory letters that had been sent to London in 1944. Moreover, two week before his trial, Dos Naye Lebn – the press organ of CKŻP - disregarding judicial rules, published the text of the indictment (p. 276). The Prosecutor in his opening speech said that ‘by its legal existence, the JUS weakened the will to fight the enemy, because it falsely indicated a possibility of survival through passive behavior […] and actually propagated passivity among the Jewish masses who were led to the annihilation, thus consciously or unconsciously helping the occupying power in its action of extermination of the Jews’ (p. 277). He also accused Weichert of ‘separating himself from the underground movement which represented the only appropriate method of armed resistance,’ adding that ‘by his self-preservation, passivity and his separation from moral responsibility for the reality in which he existed, Weichert became a collaborator’ (p. 277-278). He finished his speech with what was in effect blackmail: ‘The verdict ought to be an expression of solidarity with the Warsaw ghetto fighters who sacrificed their lives defending the dignity of the nation.’ As a witness, Adolf Berman accused Weichert of close cooperation with the RGO headed by the ‘super-reactionary count Roniker’ who participated in the ‘famous Katyń provocation.’ Węgrzyniak explains that in April 1943, after the Germans discovered the mass graves of Polish military officers at Katyń, representatives of RGO were among those sent to inspecgt the site. Making a more explicit statement than he did at the earlier Kraków trial, Berman said that when the ŻOB command ‘intended to sentence Dr. Weichert to death in order to cleanse the stigma of disgrace,’ the Coordinating Commissions opposed it ‘for politically-tactical and technical reasons.’ ‘We came to a conclusion that we were dealing here with a case of a moral-political aberration as a consequence of lacking ideological spine’ – explained Berman, a psychologist by education. Edelman, who in his testimony given nine months before this trial maintained that ‘the decision to execute Dr. Michał Weichert was unanimously taken by the ŻOB High Command in the second half of 1943’ but was not carried out’, ‘because our Kraków group had been already crushed’ (p. 283), now claimed that the verdict was passed—by Cukierman, Cywia Lubetkin, Tuwie Borzykowski and himself—in February of 1944 after information from Switzerland that Weichert in his letters had claimed that the news about Jewish annihilation is exaggerated, and that reports from the Polish underground had indicated that medicines sent to JUS were entirely taken over by the Germans. This does not quite agree with the first testimony given in 1945 to the Ministry of Public Security by Cukierman that the verdict was passed after information that ‘in Switzerland, a deposit of two million dollars had been made for JUS’ (p. 283). That was a large amount of money then, especially in the black market, and ŻOB would undoubtedly have preferred to have this in their account.
The defense brought in 101 witnesses, including 70 former camp prisoners who confirmed receiving help from JUS. The prosecution presented only eleven, four of whom admitted that they, too, benefited from help from the organization. Weichert in his statement said that he felt wronged by the slanderous accusations and mentally tortured for uncommitted deeds. Acting in the interest of the Jews, he was ready to negotiate with the devil himself and could not accept the view that helping Jews in the camps amounted to ‘feeding them like pigs before slaughter’ (p. 278). Węgrzyniak does not explain why Weichert nevertheless admitted ‘some degree of harmfulness of his actions,’ asking for a verdict that would ‘enable [his] return to normal work after five years of hard moral suffering’ (including ten months in jail). The verdict was announced on 28 December 1949: ‘The Social Court states that organization called Judische Unterstuzungsstelle (JUS) was appointed by the Nazi authorities in their own interest. The Social Court has found that by accepting the nomination as the head of that organization – collaborationist in its assumption – and by acting at his position and staying there despite an appeal from underground organizations [to discontinue], Dr. Michał Weichert committed an act of collaboration with the Nazi authorities. Acknowledging Dr. Michał Weichert’s guilt as a collaborator, the Social Court severely condemns him’ (p. 285). In justification of the verdict, the Court stressed that Dr. Weichert’s collaboration with the occupying Nazi authorities took place in a period when […] in the Warsaw Ghetto the Jewish Fighting Organization, by its heroic and unshaken resistance, was laying the appropriate strategy for fighting against the enemy, when the resistance movement was being organized in nearly all the camps, and units of Peoples Guard (Gwardia Ludowa) waged military actions against the invader.’
Weichert was unable to appeal, because the Social Court and the entire CKŻP were already about to be liquidated. In private letters, he argued that in Communist Poland leaders of the Jewish underground like Adolf Berman tried to cover-up their ‘collaboration with the London government’ which could have dire consequences, and in order to emphasize their merits sought find ‘a quisling’. This was more difficult because virtually all members of the Judenräte had been murdered by the Germans. The few surviving leaders of the ŻOB also needed such a quisling for a different reason. The Warsaw Ghetto underground proved totally unprepared and helpless in face of the summer 1942 mass deportation to Treblinka. The reason? They didn’t listen to Mordechai Anielewicz who had first-hand information on what the Germans were doing to the Jews in the East. As Matthew Brzezinski (the son Zbigniew) writes in his book Isaac’s Army (New York 2012): ‘Party elders cringed when he arrived from Vilna in late 1941 waving a gun around, warning anyone who would listen that they would all die unless they rose up.’ They viewed his message as ‘dangerous fearmongering,’ treated him ‘as a hysterical troublemaker’ and ‘effectively, sent him packing [as a] loose cannon whom no one was ready to believe’ (Isaac’s Army p. 194). He came back again when it was too late. Yet still in time to attack the Germans in January 1943 and interrupt a follow up deportation. ‘The teenagers – the seventeen- and the eighteen-year-old who made the bulk of the Young Guard [Shomer Hatsair] – loved him’ – writes Brzezinski (ibid). He became ŻOB’s commander-in chief, because he was not tainted by the stigma of ‘relative passivity during the deportations,’ and not because he ‘wanted it very much’ – as Edelman commented later (Isaac’s Army, p. 200). Yes, they fought for honour and dignity in the belated April Uprising, but it was first and foremost for their own honour and dignity that they fought. And in the end, they badly needed someone to blame for their big blunder.
Soon after Weichert’s trial, Adolf Berman, to avoid the political consequences of his wartime activities under the auspices of the London government, left for Israel where – in order not to undermine his brother Jakub’s position in Warsaw – he joined the leadership of Israel’s Communist Party. Weichert, too, tried to leave, but his passport application was rejected – four times. Węgrzyniak suggests that he might have been needed for a likely future trial of ‘agents’ of Western organizations. Ostracized by the Jews, he sought work with Polish theatre. Leon Schiller wrote on his behalf to the Ministry of Culture and Arts. He was also recommended by BolesÅ‚aw Drobner and Zofia Nałkowska, but to no avail. Jewish artists who returned after the was, such as Jakub Rotbaum and Zygmunt Turkow, asked, ‘What had he done?’ The answer was, ‘Better not ask.’ It also did not help him that was the most prominent Jewish stage director in Poland with whom it would be hard to compete. In 1955 he wrote to Witold Balicki, the head of Department of Central Theatre Management, complaining that for ten years he has not been allowed to work as an artist, a man of letters and a scholar. His complaint was backed by Antoni Słonimski, Mieczysław Jastrun, Adolf Rudnicki, Artur Sandauer, but from the Yiddish side only by Salomon Łastik. They wrote that ‘denying a writer or an artist the right to work in his field is the most severe penal repression, which has not been legally imposed on Dr. Weichert either by the State or by the Social Court. They argued that this was a loss not only for him, but also for the theatre in Poland (p. 307). After a year, he heard from the playwright Roman Brandstaetter that Balicki could not help him, because ‘there are Jewish forces which paralyze his plans’ (p. 380). He made his living as a bookkeeper, then as an office worker, and finally in his profession - as a legal adviser.
After the October 1956 palace coup, the ‘Jewish forces’ apparently weakened, for in July 1957 – as a result of a recommendation from Wilam Horzyca and Erwin Axer – Weichert was allowed to join the Association of Polish Artists of Thetear and Film (SPATiF). In the same year, he also became a member of the Union of Polish Writers, whose president was Antoni Słonimski; and prominent criminologists Jan Sehn and Jerzy Jasiński introduced him to the Association of Polish Lawyers. Thus after years of civil death, he regained the right to return to his real life. Considering himself vindicated, he took advantage of the relatively open borders and decided to leave for Israel. He stopped over at a Warsaw hotel in order to bid good-bye to his old-time friends. ‘From Wrocław came Jakub Rotbaum with his sister Lea who had recently returned from the Soviet Union as an opera stage director. Of the State Jewish Theatre company came its vice-director Marian (Meir) Melman (though without his wife Ida Kamińska), a former member of the Vilner Troupe Chevel Buzgan […], and Szwejlich from the Jung Teater’ (p. 313).
But his escape took him in the wrong direction: Israel did not need his Yiddish culture, associated with the Holocaust (and ‘passivity’), and moreover, Cukierman lived there. ‘I do not want any trials, but I am warning: as soon as Weichert’s name appears as a worker or leader of any social organization or institution, there will be a trial!’ – warned Cukierman. ‘I will not insist on a trial, if he sits quietly’, he added (p. 325). Those were not empty threats. As Węgrzyniak reminds, just one year earlier in Tel Aviv someone shot to death Rudolf Kastner, who ‘through negotiations and transactions with Eichmann saved the lives of 1600 Hungarian Jews.’ Incidentally, many of those selected were Zionist activists with their immediate families.
Weichert died in 1967, but the controversy continued. ‘In his memoirs published in Israel, he accused us, that is Å»egota, of the theft of as much as 600,000 Jewish dollars’ (p. 399) – protested Dobrowolski in his own recollections (Wspomnienia Pacyfisty) published in 1989, where – according to Węgrzyniak – in about twenty pages he discredited the man whose life he had helped to save. But Weichert did not invent the information about the missing dollars. Historian Dariusz Stola in his book Nadzieja i zagÅ‚łda calculates that London had sent to Å»egota a total of 1,300,000 dollars, while ‘the receipts [...] confirm only about 600,000, that is less the one half of the amount’ – I quote after Anna Bikont’s Sendlerowa w ukryciu (Czarne 2017, p. 148). Thus, it was a matter of money again. Historian and former ŻOB member, Israel Gutman, omitted Weichert’s name even in a description of the JSS. The YIVO Encyclopedia of Jews in Eastern Europe erroneously states that Weichert was convicted both in 1946 and in 1949. Polski sÅ‚ownik judaistyczny, (Warsaw 2003) presents him as, among other things, ‘a pianist and a choir conductor.’ He was not omitted in the Leksikon fun jidysze shraybers (N. Y. 1986), but is absent in the biographical dictionary Żydzi polscy. Historie niezwykłe ( (Warsaw, 2010 and 2015), although his seems one of the most extraordinary.