The Last Jewish Elder of Bergen-Belsen.
Josef Weiss – worthy in a degrading environment
(Original: Der letzte Judenälteste von Bergen-Belsen. Josef Weiss- würdig in einer unwürdigen Umgebung)
712 pages, bound, 98 illustrations, 14.8 cm x 22.7 cm,
ISBN 978-3-86933-082-2, 38 00 €.
© 2012 Helios Verlag Aachen (Germany) Publishing
(English version provided by HELIOS, where the article originated. It has been very freely re-done by Bob Solomon (USA/Yahoo Groups) for easier reading.
In the German Nazi terror chain of command, a "Jewish Elder" was a working prisoner who usually was a prominent personality and a willing recipient of others. On the other hand, he was also the representative of a "Jewish Council" and a helper to all those Jews who were threatened by, and who became victims of the Nazi Holocaust. The result of this problem of dual roles was that the "Jewish Elder" had to engage in a balancing act that was never entirely free of accusations of collaboration and corruption.
This book is not only a biography of one such man in Germany, Josef Weiss, but it is also the beginning of research that has barely begun in Germany. The reputation of the "Jewish Elders" is still heavily burdened with many reproaches.
The name Bergen-Belsen was synonymous with terror, horror, and starvation of the people caught in the Nazi concentration camp system. That in such an inferno, a Jew from the Lower Eifel could have been presented as a model and a source of hope to many people, "the ultimate Jewish Elder", and a charismatic personality, seems contrary to the basic function of the systematic German discrimination against its prisoners. The material presented offers an important review of the literally indescribable complexity of the crimes inside the concentration camp of Bergen-Belsen (1944/45).
Although it is designed as one man's biography, the book is an important contribution to the discussion of the alleged "willing helpers" of Nazi terror and one more proof of the complex of extermination measures used in Bergen-Belsen. The author stresses the fact that there were also many "unsung heroes" who have not yet appeared in most histories of the period, and he bases his account on previously unpublished material. Hans-Dieter Arntz primarily wants to present one more insight into the 'Star Camp' typified by Westerbork (Holland) where, prior to being deported to Bergen-Belsen, in that terrible period, the mass of Dutch and German Jewish prisoners were housed.