'Six million Germans died': The headline that nearly became reality
Filmmaker Avi Merkado-Ettedgui reveals details of a secret plot to revenge the Holocaust
Of all the stories that have been told of the Holocaust and its horrors, perhaps this is one you won’t have heard. At the close of the Second World War, dozens of survivors plotted a titanic act of revenge: the mass murder of six million Germans.
It was 1945 and Europe’s Jewish population had been tortured and decimated. Abba Kovner, who later became one of Israel’s eminent poets, united 50 survivors who had cheated death in ghettos and concentration camps, and called them Nakam, or the Avengers.
Determined not to let the Holocaust pass without retribution — only a tiny fraction of those complicit in the greatest crime in human history were ever tried or punished — the Avengers concocted an astonishing plan to poison the water supply in Munich, Nuremberg, Hamburg and Frankfurt.
The little-known tale of revenge and betrayal, which threatened the lives of innocent civilians and implicates Israel’s first leaders, is told for the first time this week in my documentary Holocaust: The Revenge Plot.
“Though it may have been unprecedented, our act as a group was not a personal vendetta,” Kovner said in never-before-heard tapes he recorded before his death, in the late Eighties. They were unearthed when his grandson moved house and passed them on to the Moreshet museum. It was remarkable to listen to them decades later, and hear Kovner explain the desire for revenge that news of the Holocaust brought: “It was something horrible and new, [to] try and get even with the Germans in an unconventional act of vengeance and make them pay for the six million Jews.” He’s right: it was a horrible plan, to poison the water supply of four German cities, thereby killing millions of citizens indiscriminately in one go. But it was also a response to a magnitude of extermination that extends beyond the bounds of comprehension.
I have spoken to many Holocaust survivors and take particular interest in their stories, given my work as a tutor in Representation of History in Films at the Open University of Israel. But it was only when a student asked me if there were any Israeli films, like Inglourious Basterds, which tackled the idea of Jewish revenge that — while hunting for an answer — I stumbled upon this astonishing plot.
Having watched as family and friends were killed, many Holocaust survivors sought solace in reaching the Holy Land, where they could build a new life. Some vowed to never return to Europe, others chose to bury the memories. Survival had been so difficult that very few had a desire to fight back. Simcha Rotem, nicknamed Kazik, is one of the six surviving members of the 50 Avengers who chose to seek revenge. The last surviving member of the Jewish Resistance in the Warsaw Ghetto, Rotem, now 93, told me a story of the poverty and death he witnessed there, which will never leave me.
On one evening, like any other in the ghetto, Rotem had heard a baby crying as he walked down the street. The baby was cradled in its mother’s arms, the pair sitting on the floor. Rotem told me he moved towards them and saw the mother was dead.