‘Avenger’ Holocaust Survivor Dies at 91
JNS.org — A Holocaust survivor who participated in a revenge plot to poison former SS officers after World War II has died at the age of 91.
Lithuanian-born Joseph Harmatz lost most of his family in the Holocaust and became one of the “Avengers,” a group of 50 young men and women who sought to punish the perpetrators of the Final Solution. Several members began working undercover at a bakery that was a supplier for an American prisoner of war camp, Stalag 13 at Langwasser near Nuremberg, Germany. On April 13, 1946, Harmatz oversaw the coating of 3,000 loaves of bread with arsenic with the goal of killing 12,000 SS personnel.
Harmatz once told the Associated Press that the mission was, “Kill Germans. As many as possible.”
While many SS officers became sick, none died as a result of the poison, though a recently declassified US military report revealed that the amount of arsenic used should have been fatal.
Authorities in Nuremberg investigated, but decided not to press charges because of the extraordinary circumstances.
“The terrible tragedy was about to be forgotten, and if you don’t punish for one crime, you will get another,” said Dina Porat, chief historian at Israel’s Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum, who is publishing a book on the Avengers. “This is what was driving them, not only justice but a warning, a warning to the world that you cannot hurt Jews in such a manner and get away with it.”
The Avengers’ attempt for revenge became a motif in the rallying cry for the establishment of the state of Israel.
Harmatz himself made aliyah and worked at the Jewish Agency for Israel, as well as being the director general of the Jewish educational organization World ORT.
His death was confirmed on Monday by his son, Ronel Harmatz.