“If we succeed in the great masterpiece of human love, we might be able to say that we have not lived to no avail.” (1942)
The life of the Jewish activist Gisi Fleischmann from Bratislava was full of paradoxes. She was born to an orthodox Jewish family in Bratislava; yet, the Promised Land – Eretz Israel, former Palestine – was her ideal. During the war, the Slovak Republic (under the dictate of Hitler's Germany) Gisi worked for the official Jewish Council, which was forced to co–organise deportations. Meanwhile, while she was also the head of the clandestine Working Group which was trying to get the deportations halted. She pursued such noble goal by less-so-noble means: using bribery. She was helping Jews throughout Europe, but was unable to help herself.
Who was Gisi Fleischmann?
Gisi Fleischmann, née Fischer, was born in Bratislava in 1892. She only completed eight years of primary schooling. At the time, it was quite rare for girls to pursue studies. Yet Gisi worked was devoted to keep making progress throughout her life and continued to learn throughout. Her two brothers, David and Gustav, were her early role models and supporters. David graduated in medicine, Gustav in law. They jointly grew attached to the idea of Zionism, the establishment of the independent Jewish state on the territory of the then Palestine. Gisi soon became officer of the Women’s International Zionist Organisation (WIZO) to be later elected the Chairperson of its Slovak chapter. At the break out of the Second World War and following the foundation of the Slovak Republic in 1939, Gisi decided to use her organisational talent and international contact network to rescue the Jewish community that was most dear to her. The Israeli historian Gila Fatran learned from witness testimonies that Gisi had forced all staff at The Jewish Council to turn their pockets inside out whenever a refugee arrived and was in dire need of money, and the treasury was locked.
Gisi the activist
Gisi Fleischmann was responsible for coordination of emigration and aid to refugees who streamed to Slovakia from Germany and the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia after the Anschluss of Austria. She managed to raise substantial amounts of funds for the rescue effort abroad. She used a whole range of means to support the idea of funding and operating labour camps in Slovakia, in order for the local Jews not to have to be deported to the extermination camps. She worked with the International Red Cross and with messengers who used to deliver money, valuables, clothing, food, and mail to concentration camps. She was probably the first to inform the International Red Cross of the tragic predicament of Slovak Jews in General Government in Poland.
Gisi the activist was untiring in helping since Hitler came to power from 1933 to her untimely death. First, she did so through the WIZO as the representative of the Lord Mayor Fund, HICEM, and later as staff member of the state-funded and controlled Jewish Council (in Slovak Ústredňa Židov, in German Judenrat). From 1941 she served as the head of the clandestine Working Group also known as the Nebenregierung (Shadow Cabinet) within the Jewish Council. She managed four men, two of whom were rabbis. That is something quite unique in Jewish community k even today. The Working Group that she led, rightfully enjoys prominent status within the European historic context: not only did she strive for the rescue of the fellow citizens in her homeland, but, through the Europe Plan, she wanted to resolve the situation faced by Jews within wider context.
After the break out of the Slovak National Uprising in late August 1944, Eichmann’s “finest man” arrived in Slovakia: SS–Hauptsturmführer Alois Brunner. He made personally sure that Gisi Fleishmann was sent on one of the last transports to Auschwitz. That is indeed the last news we have of her.