Holocaust survivor Joseph Harmatz, who led a revenge plot to poison former S.S. officers after World War II, has died at the age of 91.
The Lithuanian-born Harmatz, who lost most of his family in the Holocaust, was one of the “Avengers.” The group of 50 young men and women wanted to punish the perpetrators of the Holocaust. Several undercover members of the group began working at a bakery that supplied the American Stalag 13 POW Camp at Langwasser near Nuremberg, Germany. On Apr. 13, 1946, Harmatz oversaw the coating of 3,000 loaves of bread with arsenic to kill 12,000 S.S. personnel.
The goal was “Kill Germans,” Harmatz told the Associated Press before his death. “As many as possible,” he said.
For unexplained reasons, while many S.S. officers became sick, none died as a result of the arsenic, despite a recently declassified U.S. military report showing that the amount of arsenic used should have been fatal. Authorities in Nuremberg later 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,” she said.
The Avengers’ attempt for revenge became a motif in the rallying cry for the establishment of the state of Israel. Afterward Harmatz made aliyah, he worked at the Jewish Agency for Israel and as director general of the Jewish educational organization World ORT. His death was confirmed on Monday by his son, Ronel Harmatz. JNS.ORG