English translations

Translation of Presser's "0ndergang"

Presser “0ndergang” II page 101, 2nd alinea. About the “lists”:

Did it matter much to the Germans? Did it mean anything to them? Perhaps, perhaps not, usually not. One can say about most of these lists that they gave, at their best, to the persons who were registered on them, some kind of postponement from deportation. At their best, before we mentioned already our hesitation. Because how human was it in those circumstances to believe in that “protection”. To go into hiding was for many a difficult, almost impossible, a really impossible step. And if only such a list could hold (wouldn’t the war be over “soon”) if such a list didn’t “platz”, if...

Here is the place to mention the most odd, strange list of all, as well as one of the most improbable facts of a time which was really not devoid of such facts. It is the Weinreb-list, the list of Friedrich Weinreb.



“A murderer of his brethern, only out for his own benefit”, “a man who swindled hundreds of Jews”, “a false Messiah”. And: “the greatest illegal worker, who should receive knighthood”. With all possible nuances in-between:

a most remarkable spectre. A historian should not forget that he has the duty to continue seeing the human being, the man, who was in all this subject and object at the same time, who was involved actively as well as passively. This meant to work through the thousands of pages of an immense material, dossiers, letters, cuttings etc. That had to be done. The conclusion which this historian has reached at last after much work, was greatly worth the effort. Not to mention what the insight in such a deeply human piece of history has meant. Friedrich Weinreb was born on the 18th of November 1910 in Lemberg, but already in July ‘16 he came to the Netherlands, studied at the Dutch Economical University in Rotterdam, doctorate December '38. He worked at the Dutch Economical Institute, wrote a few publications, married in '36, had 6 children from which one died in the camp of Westerbork. In '41 his thesis "The development of the building trade in the Netherlands", was finished, but could not be published anymore. At the beginning of the war he was dismissed "in the normal way" as a Jew, but he continued working at the Institute legally till November '41, clandestine till July '42, when a threatening letter put an end to that. An orthodox Jew, fervent follower of the scholar Nathan Birnbaum.

In the beginning of the occupation, he made, at the request of Prof. dr. N.J.Polak, a report that should show that the influence and meaning of the Jews in the Netherlands was not such that anti-Jewish measures from the side of the Germans would be motivated. “This rather extensive report did of course not meet its purpose, as the measures of the Germans were not based on reasonable motives” as Weinreb said, adding oddly that the initiative came from a group of gentlemen who were in contact with the Italian consul in Amsterdam. Also he gave parallel lectures to Jewish students who were sent away from the Rotterdam-university because of the war.

The beginning of the “Weinreb-Spiel” was rather simple (of course “Spiel” should not be translated here by “play”). As a counsellor of the eastern-Jewish community in Scheveningen, -some members thereof came to visit him. They were threatened to be sent to work-camps and had already passed the medical examinations. That was in the beginning of ‘42. By then it was already known that persons who had opted for emigration, could receive a postponement. The Ministry of Work accepted, as Weinreb discovered, a declaration of this kind as sufficient. Well, what was simpler than to write out such a declaration himself? Even when in reality there was no option for emigration at all? All you needed was a piece of paper, a typewriter and a little bit of luck.

At the beginning Weinreb kept it steady, till June '42 not more than 30 persons, but when the deportations started and the "Joodse Raad" seemed to swallow these declarations, there soon came tens, hundreds of people looking for help. By their ever-growing quantity they formed a growing danger.

Then Weinreb stopped giving out declarations. Instead he told the people who came to him simply to tell the "Joodse Raad" that they were on a "Weinreb-list", which he then confirmed when the Joodse Raad inquired about it. This soon led to such a chaos that no one bothered to go into this matter any deeper. The most important was, again, that the Joodse Raad took the lists seriously. Weinreb impressed on the people, who were of course to believe that the cover was serious, to keep quiet about it to the German police. He told them that this was a "Wehrmachts-Angelegenheit" and that the police would not like that. It goes from itself that Weinreb, already only to protect himself, continuously urged the people to look for some other cover, or if this was not possible to go into hiding. In the beginning Weinreb worked gratis, but a remark of one of the people that he didn't understand that all this was free, gave him the idea to charge money. Gradually Weinreb received large amounts of money, which he used as he declared, among other things for: support of people in hiding, false identity cards, distribution-bons, illegal emigration.

And later, mind you, later also for other purposes.

The verdict of '48 reproaches Weinreb that he, in that later stadium, gave an important part of the money he had received to S.D people. Is that reproach deserved? Who acknowledges, should remind himself that very many Jews, during the occupation via go-between gave money or goods to the Germans to receive a "Sperre" or something like that.

Anyone who laughs here, should put himself in the terrible situation of the Jew during the occupation. The Dutch government in London had, as we saw before already, a different opinion. Did this keep the Dutch resistance from saving warriors doomed to die, by bribery or with other pecuniary efforts? Did the resistance ask itself then if that money shouldn't be used for other goals? The judge disapproved of Weinreb's financial policy, even if he did not condemn Weinreb for it. Again, this historian is happy not to be a judge. This is how the "Weinreb-List" started. Of course, also more and more people whose families were in Westerbork facing deportation, turned to him. Weinreb continued and in this manner his list counted only from Westerbork 500 persons, who at least received postponement of deportation. Regularly he received telegrams from Westerbork to confirm in a critical situation that so-and-so was on his list; sometimes 10, sometimes 20 persons at a time. Weinreb ascribed his action also an important psychological effect. Weinreb: "for many the situation was, when the fetching people from their houses started, without any hope. Only to reckon with an intervention of the allied forces did not stimulate these people enough to try to withdraw from these razzia's. In most cases the habitual laziness won. But when, by my action, an emigration within foreseeable time came into perspective, they awoke from their lethargy It became important to them now to keep safe to be able to emigrate. That is why everybody now that he had a concrete goal not too far in the future, sought for means to stay free till that time. I understood that when they once had made the step into illegality, the rest would follow. The first step was the most difficult and the "list" spurred them into it. This indirect influence of my list comes very much into the front in the percentage of people in hiding who stayed alive. By no other action and by no other instance so many Jewish people, relatively speaking, have been kept alive. Directly or indirectly through this hundreds of people did not arrive in Polen." Has one to say that his action outgrew Weinreb? With his offices in Scheveningen, The Hague and Rotterdam and Amsterdam? The 11th of September '42 Weinreb got caught: a Dutch Jewish girl arrested as a "person in hiding" in a cinema (!) told when she was interrogated that Weinreb had advised her to go into hiding, awaiting her emigration.

Was this the end of Weinreb? Koch wanted to know who gave Weinrebthe order for his action. It didn't occur to this Koch that it could be a personal initiative. This was Weinreb's chance: he invented 2 instructors , Generalleutnant H. J. Von Schumann, who was supposed to be in Berlin and Herr von Rath, working at the Ortskommandatur. Weinreb said that he had spoken with the last one several tines, sometimes in the presence of a Dutch man, called Six. This Six, as Weinreb told Koch, had received all the money from Weinreb. Koch after investigating the matter, soon came to the conclusion that Weinreb must have been the victim of a sophisticated crook, and Weinreb, pretending to be very angry, said that he wished this von Rath all bad luck in the world. Thereafter Koch set Weinreb free to detect this crook. This did not only mean freedom for Weinreb but also the maintenance, at least for the moment, of his list, even in Westerbork. Lets realise what was going to happen now: Weinreb could continue, not afraid of being discovered by the German police, even covered by them! Already here, at this point, the historian could feel obliged to warn the reader that all this really happened, were it not that even many more fantastic things occurred. Weinreb continued: every morning he had to report to the Germans and every week he had to give Koch an extensive report about his hunt for von Rath. Weinreb could not find this man, but in the meantime he gave Koch all kinds of vague indications about German officers doing illegal work and so on, keeping by this Koch very interested. But the time came that Weinreb had to come up with something: he instructed a certain underworld figure he had come to know, to act for him as Six, which cost him more than 10.000 FL. In the beginning this Six played his part rather well, but finally he fell through so that on the l9th of January '43, Weinreb was met by Koch with the ominous words: "Now the play has come to an end". All was lost.

Was this the end of Weinreb? One would think so. In any case this became a very disagreeable time for Weinreb, to say the least: very heavily abused, totally exhausted he arrived the 13th of May '43 more dead than alive in Westerbork. His family had already been brought there and in the meantime his eldest son had died. For weeks Weinreb was in hospital in Westerbork. After having beaten Weinreb up and made it, as was normal for them, very hot for him, Bolland, the assistant-Sachbearbeiter had given up the investigation when he left in April '43 for Italy. And now the chance: in Italy this Bolland fell from the tower of a tank and being unfit for military service, he was sent back to The Hague. Having no special task there for the time being, he remembered the still-unfinished Weinreb case and decided to see if he could make something out of that. On the 28th of June '43 Bolland had Weinreb brought back to Scheveningen, saying that he (Weinreb) and his family in Westerbork would get a last chance. What chance? Until July 17 '43 Weinreb didn't hear anything, was in prison very worried about his family in Westerbork. Then it came out: as was commonly known, Weinreb had the confidence of many Jews, especially rich ones. Well, Weinreb could start working for the SD "to repair what he had spoiled in such a mean way". What he had to do was to find these rich Jews, who in the meantime had gone into hiding and to hand them over to the SD. Yes or no? Yes meant Theresienstadt, no Mauthausen. Weinreb said yes, not knowing as yet what he could make out of these possibilities. His family staid as hostages in the hands of the Germans. First he wanted to gain time: before starting to work he first had to recover, as he was still in a very bad condition. Bolland understood this and this is how a very comical intermezzo in prison started. Weinreb received "Krankenkost" (special food for ill people), potatoes with gravy full milk. He was regularly aired. Also his mind got a special treatment: he received the books he asked for, even a Hebrew prayerbook (Bolland begged him to keep this a secret). He was freed from all disagreeable tasks, a fact which was met in prison by jealousy and hostility from the other prisoners. Weinreb became reckless and when an orderly asked him how it was possible that a Jew could receive such a treatment, he answered him that he was Mussert’s future father-in-law. Promptly the special diet was stopped, but when Weinreb complained to Bolland, the orderly got a telling off and Weinreb received his food again. Sometimes he got raw eggs (to regain his forces) then cookies and even a box of matsos. Let's stop here with all the details about this pet-child. Soon Weinreb devised a plan which attracted this Bolland, (described by Weinreb as very fond of money) very much: the Weinreb-list would revive, an office for registration was to be installed and the persons inscribed would receive a special "sperre-letter". Also in Westerbork people could inscribe on this list (the plan of the Germans was to deport all these persons anyway, not to Portugal, as they presumed, but to Poland). Weinreb made Bolland believe that he (Weinreb) could, without much difficulty, come upon, mostly hidden, treasures that these Jews possessed Bolland was more than enthusiast about these plans: “I could hardly get rid of him, for hours and hours we sat together in the prison, building castles in the sky about what could be done with all that money.”

Bolland was convinced that he could not be cheated like that stupid German, Koch. Weinreb also said he had connections in Belgium, especially with the Antwerp diamond centre. This attracted Bolland and a certain Krom, a colleague of Bolland even more, and this gave Weinreb more of a breathing space.

This was how Weinreb started the Belgian action in his adventure. Weinreb even succeeded in getting his family out of Westerbork. This was a comedy on its own (November 24th '43): between a few German resorts, all smelling big money, it even came to a kind of competition who would be the first to bring this family to The Hague. But Weinreb continued: travelled a few times back and forth to Westerbork where he had in the meantime some 1500 "clients" who paid him 100 fl. each. With this money he succeeded to keep Bolland c.s. happy: But from the middle of January '44 Weinreb began smelling a rat: a man from the SD who was involved and who was afraid for himself if Weinreb would be caught, insisted that Weinreb should disappear. And when Bolland c.s. insisted on concrete results, and the Weinreb-list in Westerbork finally "platzed", Weinreb and his family on the 7th of February '44 went into hiding. The next day, the 8th, the police came for him, but he was gone. One can imagine how extremely foolish the Germans looked then! When after the capitulation Weinreb came out of hiding and went to The Hague he was promptly arrested and accused of: the making of the lists, the using of the money from the lists for himself (this was taken back in the verdict), or for the SD, trahison of persons from the illegality (underground) and of Jews and so on. The case dragged on for years and in '47 Weinreb was condemned by the "Bijzondere Gerechtshof" in The Hague to 3½ years and by the "Bijzondere Raad van Cassatie" to 6 years. In the verdict one can find very remarkably strange things: among others it says about Weinreb; that the ''legal order cannot permit that any person, relying on his own possibilities and on his own moral standard, decides about life and fate of others. As a matter of fact one could argue that this means a condemnation of all illegal work PER SE. What illegal worker during the war, did not decide about life and lot of others, relying on his own possibilities and with his own moral standard? What else did illegals do during the war? It would bring us too far to cite the complete verdict, as a historian I cannot and will not do the work of the judge. But for him, AS a historian, ànd the documents about Weinreb ànd the verdict-Weinreb are material, just as for him and Weinreb and the judge are human beings, acting in a certain place under certain circumstances.

Well, by reading through all this he can't avoid the question if the has put himself sufficiently in the situation during the war, if the judge realised sufficiently what it meant then to be a Jew. If he would have, then in the Weinreb-case the unbelievable would not have happened that the "three boys from Windekind" (the German police-center in The Hague) were heard as witnesses, that those tormentors, thieves and murderers who were outwitted by Weinreb, could plead against him or wash themselves clean at the cost of Weinreb. Then the judge would not have forgotten that every Jew was condemned to death during the war, without exception, without any exception.

Did Weinreb betray anyone? In one case it has been proved. The historian can also in this one case have his doubts. From the many accusation so little is left and about that what is left: is it indeed true? And that which is true, can it indeed be called trahison? Didn't Weinreb have all reasons to expect that the few names he mentioned at last, were from people who had already gone into hiding, as had been agreed between Weinreb and them. Did Weinreb cause accidents?

Is he by his action responsible for the death of others? To this question the historian has only one answer: NO. Was the Weinreb-list a swindle, the German-one, the real one, such as the Portuguese-list also was. And much more dangerous, for these, by the Germans accepted, "real" lists, gave the people all too often a feeling of safety. But those list "platzed" just as the Weinreb-list did.

Swindle? What during that time was not swindle? Wasn't a false identity card swindle too? Weinreb did not pretend he was a liberator; at the best he gave postponement and this not seldom to people who in Westerbork were already nominated for deportation. It is completely absurd to say that the Weinreb-Sperre by her annulment in Westerbork, caused the deportation and death of a number of Jews. On the contrary: the Weinreb-list has in some cases stopped the deportation and death of a number of Jews. It is a lie that Weinreb stopped Jews from going into hiding. Tenfolds of declarations prove the contrary. As a matter of fact Weinreb's first arrest was due to having a Jewish girl advised to....go into hiding. Gertrud Van Tijn wrote about this case: "For whom who had nothing, this in any case meant a postponement.: what could go sour on vinegar?" Was Weinreb an egoist? Here we come to his motives, to his personality. The whole case is such a chaos, there are hundreds, thousands of facts and one sees this one man act, manoeuvre, hear him talk; An egoist? Why then didn't he go into hiding once he had his family back from Westerbork? He continued. Because he liked this poker-play so much? Because he wanted to be a Shabtai Zwi figure? A fakir? A magician? We are not convinced of this. Was he a Köpenick-person? Others advised him to describe himself as such, but all that happened was much too horrible for that. Was he ambitious? He did not deny it, but what can we do with that? Weinreb has been condemned after a long and painful trial. A case that has moved and shocked many, in and outside of Holland. From many sides there are testimonies, actions. At one point it looked as if this was to become a second Dreyfuss-affair, but the Dutch people and many circumstances differed greatly from then, around 1900. Nobody had to write here a "J'accuse", but that does not mean that Weinreb has been sentenced justly, rightly.

There is a sentence, he has been punished.

This historian, if I may repeat, has worked through the material that is in the RIOD and has studied the many amplifications that came in the course of the trial. This massive material seems like a roman of Balzac: one sees all those persons sprawl, driven by fear, by greed; tens, hundreds of them. And then there is this one man, no hero: he never took himself for one, not without weaknesses, he admitted them. A helper and rescuer of many, they testified.

Has a statue been erected for Weinreb? Did one give him an order of knighthood? Did one honor him with a present? He was severely punished.

How is that? Why? The writer of this wants to try, remark: try, to give an answer; it is not more than a personal conviction. Well: the Jew Weinreb has become the scapegoat for the failing of many non-Jews. He should have failed, failed too, because they failed. Not only didn't they do their duty, he too didn't. If there were no Jewish traitors, one had to invent them. The few who were sentenced after the war meant too little. Here was one of sufficient greatness. This historian did not hide the fact that this is a supposition, but on the other hand he has sufficiently made clear that he believes in it. That it is his conviction.


from the translator

About the omitting of the chapter about Weinreb in the American translation, the following was written in the Amsterdam’s students weekly "Propria Cures", April 26th '69:

"Lou de Jong was to translate the book "Ondergang" (by Prof. Presser) for the American edition "Ashes in the wind". Of course it can surprise nobody that De Jong on his own initiative has omitted the whole chapter about Weinreb. As a matter of fact he had permission to shorten the book by 40% (from which he made 50%) but that does not have to mean that especially Weinreb has to be removed from history. 60% means that in any case 5 pages should have been left of that chapter. De Jong defended himself by saying that the Weinreb-story anyway wouln't interest the .1 American public. This is a lie: precisely from America there came many protestations against the verdict on Weinreb. For example from the American League for Human Rights, from the World Jewish Congress and from the American organisation of orthodox Jews, agudath Israel, which sent telegrams of protest to the prime-minister Drees and to the queen of Holland: Besides that: one of the few articles that the New York Times devoted to the occupation of The Netherlands was on the Weinreb-case, under the headline "Something rotten in the state of Holland". Later De Jong spread the rumour that Prof. Presser himself had changed his opinion on Weinreb, a lie that Presser denied vehemently in an interview in '70, shortly before his death. In this interview with Philo Bregstein Presser said that the RIOD (where De Jong and Van der Leeuw (see on him later, please) are directors) tried to make him change his mind concerning Weinreb, but that he sees no reason for that at all.

Mr. A. J. Van der Leeuw studied chemistry in Groningen during the war. In '91 he said in an interview that he soon became a member of the student resistance, but it seems that Van der Leeuw was a member of the resistance after the war, as so many "heroes" with him. That Weinreb did something during the war and that he didn’t is probably the source of his hostility to Weinreb. This is at least the reason that Presser mentions himself in the last sentences of his chapter about Weinreb.

Perhaps it is interesting for you to know that De Jong, Van der Leeuw and a few of their kind, still now, in '98, do their utmost not only to prove that Weinreb was a war-criminal, but that they also try, by anonymous letters to prevent "Shidouchim" (matches for marriage) for Weinreb's 5 children (from which I, the translator of this chapter, am the eldest) and his 25 grand-children and his, till now, 32 great-grand-children.




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