What if Oskar Schindler had been a greedy, philandering, two-faced Nazi-sympathizing profiteer who stood to make fortunes from the slave labour of Jews in Poland, Bohemia and Moravia?
Well...it looks as though he was! Schindler joined Nazi Germany’s military intelligence service, Abwehr, in 1936. After witnessing the wide-spread horrors of Kristallnacht against the Jews, he joined Hitler’s Nazi Party in 1939.
Let’s set the record straight: My research shows that Schindler wasn’t a Nazi sympathizer. He was a Nazi.
Furthermore. Prior to the German occupation of Czechoslovakia (Schindler’s country of birth), he spied on his country by collecting information on railways and troop movements for the Nazi government. He was arrested for espionage by the Czechoslovak government but released under the terms of the Munich Agreement.
Did Schindler stop his spying activities for Hitler after the arrest? Hardly. He continued to provide information to the Nazis, spying in Poland in 1939 to aid Hitler’s invasion at the start of World War II.
Yet we know Schindler as a champion of human rights, a man of courage and tenacity, a beacon of exemplary morality in time of colossal darkness. History books and Hollywood blockbusters deem him a hero for having shielded between 1000-1200 Jews from death camps in his factories as slave labour. And rightfully so. Because saving one life, never mind 1200, no matter the circumstances, agenda, character, history or ideology of the saviour ...is all that matters. He saved. While millions stood by and didn’t. He’s a hero. End of story.
Actually, there lived another Czech nationalist who, in the 1940s, saved as many as 300,000 Ashkenazi ews of Europe, without ever exploiting them or actively working to spy for and benefit the greatest evil on earth...and you’ve never even heard of him.
That no one ever heard of him is downright criminal. But this huge void of history is pinpoint strategic and quite explicable, if we take human nature into account.
Before divulging the details of one of the grandest rescue efforts on the planet, and biggest for European Holocaust Jewry, let’s poke and see why museums have buried this event from our view. (“museums” are human rights organizations, social justice causes, governments and academia en masse).
Shouldn’t history books, school curricula and Spielberg productions jump at the chance to expose this mammoth reclaim of human life and liberty for hundreds of thousands Hitler-terrorized souls?
The answer is simple but three-fold.
For starters, the year was 1946 with death camps liberation complete, Hitler’s horrors exhumed, photographed, and documented. Six million became the number everyone in Europe understood.
With their families wiped out, their possessions, residences and assets seized by local governments and repossessed by their gentile neighbours, Holocaust Jewry’s most inconvenient return was viewed as repellent and intrusive.
But a pesky problem arose when it became apparent that Adolf didn’t quite manage to finish the job; hundreds of thousands miraculously survived and even dared to return to their homes and homelands. With their families wiped out, their possessions, residences and assets seized by local governments and repossessed by their gentile neighbours, Holocaust Jewry’s most inconvenient return was viewed as repellent and intrusive.
Let’s remember that Germans collected Jewry destined for gas chambers, allowing them to bring only the barest of necessities for the journey to hell. Everything else, all household possessions, clothes, furniture, art, jewelry, silverware, anything of value (material or otherwise) was left behind. It’s no surprise, then, that collective moral fibre of enlightened Europeans was squarely focused on protecting their thievery of Jewish possessions, not compassionate welcoming of the returning sufferers whose stuff they had snatched.
Upon their return, death-defying Jewish citizens found themselves raped of all that was once theirs, no civil nor legal rights, and no ability to gain access to family valuables and keepsakes. Their bank accounts - closed or ceased.
These personae non gratae, who for years endured unspeakable evil, were outright refused an open door to where they resided prior to the genocide. They found themselves homeless, and by virtue of necessity, in a second set of camps called Displaced Persons Camps. As far as their possessions such as art, jewelry and heirloom silver menorah candlesticks - those are still tightly hidden out of view in museum basements throughout Europe, Vatican vaults and private homes and collections; subjects of restitution claims till this day. They don’t even come up at auctions to avoid provenance investigations.
Thus we come to a dark and well-hidden chapter of European post-Hitler archives. Not that pre-Hitler was any prettier.
The approximate 300,000 skeletal Jews of Auschwitz (and 372 other death camps and ghettos), subject of this untold rescue, were not just direct victims of everyone’s popular and convenient satan, Hitler and his followers. They were now Holocaust survivors persecuted by Eastern Europeans (particularly Poles) in endless murder sprees and pogroms. The same Jew-hatred pogroms that took place for centuries in Europe before Hitler became an embryo.
Dead Adolf had absolutely nothing to do with what was being done to Jews in post-war Europe. It was right back to the good old work of “Jews are Christ Killers” Christian pulpits, that, over two millennia, cooked the bloodstream of everyday people.
Just as European governments, educators, and history record-keepers don’t want to flag enormous and widespread European complicity with Hitler by the likes of almost every European creed beginning in the 1930s, the same ilk certainly has little nerve to disclose what went on in their backyards post-moustache, when Jews annoyingly returned. Hitler, for all intents and purposes, must remain the one and only evil we can blame for eternity. He provides the perfect camouflage over 2000 years of murderous post-Christ history towards the Jews. It is masterful, albeit intellectually dishonest, but will remain this way until the end of time.
The second reason for obscuring this story is that the heroic man at the centre of this mammoth rescue mission was not a Nazi but a Communist. And all communists must remain irredeemable in perpetuity, even if they defeated The Third Reich while sustaining the greatest loss of life to do so. Oh, and rescued Jews from the camps - another tiny footnote.
And thirdly, and most notably, the man in question was himself, a Jew. And God knows, Jews are held to a different standard than Nazi-collaborating gentile Schindlers. How dare this Jew be a member of a communist regime, play hard by its rules and profit? Rescue, you say? ....Rescue, shmescue.
Here our story begins.
Asher Zelig Goldberger was born in a town called Sobrance, in the easternmost province of Slovakia, into a poor Orthodox Jewish family. At the age of 13, Asher sustained physical injuries from a routine antisemitic attack by local gentile kids. Once home, he sought solace in his father’s arms. The elder Goldberger uttered a phrase that would forever change the course of Asher’s life and be indirectly responsible for the invaluable human building block of the State of Israel:
“Jews were born to suffer, my son.”
Young Asher couldn’t acquiesce this reality-rooted Yiddishkeit platitude. He couldn’t possibly assess the 2000 year struggle to hold on to Judaism and sheer survival on Christian-ruled lands his father was referring to. But he certainly wasn’t going to take part in the continued sad plight of his people.
Soon after the incident, Asher began reinventing his identity and altering his name. He eventually settled on Zdeněk Toman of Austro-Hungarian resonance. His Jewishness became perfectly mum but not sanitized, as his deeds will prove decades later.
Young Toman studied in Prague where he became a young communist, like many of his age. With the German occupation of Czechoslovakia in 1939, he came to live in London among other exiles. His communist connections eventually landed him a job in the administration of the exiled Czechoslovak government in London. So while living in the west, he became a member of Czechoslovak politics, albeit as a member of the exiled government.
Once back in Prague, where Jews were considered scum, Toman kept his identity secret to survive and advance his career. At the conclusion of the war, Toman was named the head of the Czechoslovak foreign intelligence service by the Communist Party. He remained in this position from 1945-1948.
Why would the notoriously paranoid Communists put a man who worked in capitalist Britain at the head of intelligence?
All communists, whether in Moscow or London during war years, worked towards one goal; the takeover of Czechoslovakia by the communist camp. But there was a practical reason for installing Zdeněk Toman as foreign intelligence chief; he could procure money. Lots of it.
In conjunction with his new found power, and just like Schindler, Toman built a successful black market empire, which earned him the title of kingpin of the Czechoslovakian underworld. Toman figured out a perfectly covert way to operate alongside his official duties, all while enriching himself and remaining anonymous in post-war Czechoslovakia. And just like Schindler, his underworld activities had nothing to do with ideology or politics, only finances.
Instantly, a skilled operative with access to enormous underground funds becomes a utility, a government conduit. Money is always needed to bribe politicians and foreign governments. Toman was able to secure and execute all of that for the communist party and more. He was an unknown, a proven loyal Bolshevik with access and invaluable skills.
On a personal front, Asher Zelig Goldberger marries an educated Jewish woman, another Czech expat from London. Their love match, albeit not without Asher’s frequent skirt-chasing, produces a son, years later.
Enter the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC).
The JDC is the biggest Jewish humanitarian agency of the time. It is the head and body of American Jewish philanthropy. It was created during the First World War and became the lifeline for surviving Jews in Europe after World War II. But first, the all-too-familiar lead-up.
An important distinction for those wishing to equate morally liberal America’s favorite economic refugee issue to barely standing, striped-pajamas Holocaust Jews with two thousand years of floggings as Christ killers on their skeletal frames. They were exiting, escaping, running away, not entering...for starters.
After the deadly pogrom against the Jews in Kielce, Poland, in the summer of 1946, Czechoslovakia became a transit country for a mass of Jewish migrants wanting to escape Europe, not enter! An important distinction for those wishing to equate morally liberal America’s favorite economic refugee issue to barely standing, striped-pajamas Holocaust Jews with two thousand years of floggings as Christ killers on their skeletal frames. They were exiting, escaping, running away, not entering...for starters.
Another important distinction was that Jewish exodus was streaming from existing countries of relative civilization and abundance to an undeveloped land of swamp and desert with no infrastructure, no sovereignty, no clean drinking water, zero agriculture and not a single tree in sight. The two refugee issues could not be more different. But I digress.
The pivotal Kielce pogrom, which began with the all-too-familiar blood libel of Jews kidnapping Christian children for a sacrificing ritual, resulted in 46 Jews dead (including pregnant women and babies) and hundreds beaten to a pulp. It was executed by Polish soldiers, Polish Police and Polish civilians.
Kielce wasn’t the only location of post-war attacks on the Jews. Krakow and the town of Rzeszow preceded the Kielce mob. (Czechoslovakia wasn’t much better.) Ninety percent of Polish Jewry was exterminated in the camps, more than any other country. But apparently not enough for the Poles.
Polish Jews who survived the war on the territory of the Soviet Union could not stay in Poland either; Poles labelled them agents of Bolshevism. This, coupled with the popular antisemitism that lives and breathes in Europe since the Big Bang, led to the bloody murderous pogroms that incentivized Jews to flood the Czech-Polish border.
The only people in the world willing to help and take the embattled Jewry in were the British Mandate-besieged Jews of Palestine. But how?
One way: they had to get them there illegally, passing through Southern Europe.
Suddenly, thousands clamoured the Czechoslovak border from Poland seeking sanctuary. They were being caught, arrested and returned. No one knew what to do with the Jews no country wanted. Their weeping violins, quantum physics and Mosaic laws were as useful as dirt. They were nothing more than a residue of the Final Solution composed by Richard Wagner not quite played to completion by Adolf Hitler.
At the border, holding camps were now constructed for the influx of the refugees, but this was no solution. What had to be controlled is the crossing of the borders itself. Zdeněk Toman controlled the borders.
JDC’s Director, Gaynor Jacobson, approached Zdeněk, the fixer, the communist, the black market profiteer. (That’s what you do to save lives). Toman promptly arranged for the passing of up to 300,000 Jewish refugees by opening the Czech borders. And yes, he was paid handsomely for it. But so were the Czech communist party officials Toman paid off to look the other way. Far, far, far the other way.
Schindler bribed Nazi officials by purchasing luxury items for them on the black market, the same black market where Toman operated and paid off communists from the other side of the political persuasion.
Thanks to the singular effort of one Zdeněk Toman, an estimated 200,000-300,000 Jews made their way to their indigenous homeland. Their ordeal with gas chambers, post-war pogroms, loss of family and stolen possessions with the escape from Europe was far from over. It was only a prequel to British soldiers’ bullets they’d be dodging as their ships approached ancestral shores.
Zdeněk Toman, a crypto-Jew, a man in hiding, under ample risk but not without self-servitude, secured the passage of hundreds of thousands of Jews to build the State of Israel and saved their lives in the process.
This is where human history needs a sobering collective pause with something more than a footnote of gratitude. But even that much proved impossible for the guilt-absolving underwriters of antisemitic complicity in Europe. That’s why you’re reading this story for the very first time.
So what in the world happened to Toman and his legacy?
As he amassed a small fortune in black market contraband, Toman’s genius, his ability to play all sides — Soviet puppet masters and Czech party apparatchiks (a few of whom were Crypto-Jews like himself) enabled him to save Jewish lives en masse. But there was much frantic political wrangling with the descent of the Iron Curtain. The left-slithering snake was about to swallow her own. As usual.
Led by the USSR, Eastern Europe’s Communist regimes were merciless, their secret goon squads brutal, their creed viciously antisemitic. No matter how poker-faced Toman tried to present himself, that Jewish genome of humanity was enough to give him away and destroy him. And he knew it.
Yet! Invoking his authority as a government official, Toman kept the borders open, allowing Jews their passage. But just as he reached the peak of his power and influence, things start to crumble.
The year is 1949 to beginning of 1950. Communist purges begin. Party members, with a morsel of power and spent their wartime years in western exile, are now persecuted, purged, or murdered. The clique of communists who spent their wartime years in London was particularly targeted in this perfectly Orwellian nightmare. Toman’s ignominious downfall and the resulting cascading tragedies are now imminent.
Now, much too visible as a person of influence and power, Toman is fired and arrested. Once the Proletariat was properly throned, there was little need for him to remain in the higher ranks. The first arrest warrant was issued shortly before the communist takeover, but never executed. Then, after the takeover, Toman’s arrest lands him in jail.
Getting arrested by the communist party as a top functionary meant torture and scripted confessions at a show trial. But Toman managed to escape from a prison located in the centre of Prague.
Lucky? Or did he have western assistance? Or something much more potent?
The jail was right next to the Palace of Justice, literally in the centre of Prague. In his recollections, Toman explains that he simply greeted the prison guards and walked out. Before they realized he was not their boss anymore but a prisoner, he was lost in the city.
Some believe his walk-out, via an open window, was purposely facilitated: Toman stored a vault of colleagues’ names on the tip of his tongue. Names he would not hesitate to drop in the slightest of kangaroo court proceedings.
All this took place early in the story of the newly communist Czechoslovakia. He was one of the first communists to be arrested and labelled enemy of the state. It is entirely possible that the lowest strata of officialdom were in a conundrum as to what to do with him, given his capacity to reveal names and their many secrets.
Toman escaped just before his transfer to a “safer” location. He understood what was unfolding; this was a system he helped build. Ultimately, his escape was successful because he abstained from using any of the contacts the secret police suspected he’d use.
Now, in time of total desperation and on the run, he turns up at the flat of the director of the JDC, Gaynor Jacobson, the one for whom he secured the passage of hundreds of thousands of Jews. He is flatly refused any help. Today, the director’s name proudly hangs at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum for eternal posterity. Asher Zelig Goldberger’s name...well, it doesn’t exist anywhere.
Nevertheless, Toman successfully uses his underworld contacts to get himself out of Czechoslovakia. At the time his wife had just given birth to his son. His son was promptly stolen, given a new identity and handed over to ministerial employees who could not have children of their own.
His wife? She committed suicide by leaping from her balcony, as the official story goes. Or, she was coaxed into getting some fresh air by way of the balcony. Take your pick.
No matter his attempts to locate his baby boy, Toman never saw him again. According to official records, his son died in a freak accident. For years, the intelligence agents hid the fact that he was dead and played a game of offering Toman a fake son in exchange for money. In the end, Toman never bought the story of his son’s death. And his final act on this earth was that of a father.
Once Toman escaped to the west, he immediately offered his services to American intelligence. He was debriefed and requested American intelligence bring down Rudolf Slánsky, the General Secretary of the Czechoslovak Communist Party. Slánsky was later arrested and executed, show trial and all.
Documents have Toman appearing in Paris, next, where he survives an assassination attempt. He eventually ends up in Venezuela, where his one surviving brother lives. There he starts an import-export business called “Gexim” and becomes exponentially rich. He eventually retires to Santa Barbara, California, with his new wife.
From his gorgeous seaside estate, he donates an inordinate amount of money to the Ben Gurion University in Israel, proving once again that you can’t eradicate a Jewish soul, even if that soul chooses a path as far away from Judaism as possible because he didn’t want to suffer like his younger self, his father and those he saved. Asher Zelig Goldberger made a number of trips to Israel in due course.
In his final act on this earth, Toman leaves the remainder of his wealth to his lost son, in case he’s alive and found and wants to come forward to claim his father and his legacy. No one has till this day.
In a world of shmata-producing Coco Chanels who spied for Hitler directly, music festivals dedicated to Richard Wagner whose only documented wish was to be remembered for his detailed designs on construction of gas chambers for the extermination of “Jewish termites”, and profiteering Nazi Oskar Schindlers who managed to save a minuscule number of Jews by comparison -.Asher Zelig Goldberger doesn’t exist. Because for him to exist, history has to dip into the roots of generational antisemitism that cannot be pinned on everyone’s favourite villain.
Has there ever been a bigger rescue effort, facilitated by a single man, so perfectly concealed by so many?
Was Toman a scrounger, a fixer, an amoral, unfeeling and self-serving quasi-gangster?
An irrelevant question with an implicit double standard applied, at least with respect to Oskar Schindler. Both men were heroes, but only one was indispensable at saving an approximate 300,000 lives, whatever the motivation.
Do any one of us, who never grew up in a dismal Warsaw Pact dystopia where nothing was available, everything was smuggled and everyone was for sale,.have the right to do anything but pay homage to this hero, let alone judge him? Any one of us - who have never even saved one life?
Oskar Schindler lived out his life in Germany much past WWII. He was buried in Jerusalem on Mount Zion, the only member of the Nazi Party to be honoured in this way. He and his wife, Emilie, were named Righteous Among the Nations by the Israeli government in 1993.
Yad Vashem does not list Zdeněk Toman as one of the Righteous Gentiles Among The Nations . Or righteous Jews, for that matter. We need to ask why.
Exceptjing his brother, all of Asher Goldberger’s family perished in the gas chambers.
Close to 300,000 Ashkenazi Jews, from mostly Eastern Europe, came to build the State of Israel from dirt and dust to an agricultural, scientific, technological and cultural Mecca. In 1948 they regained sovereignty for their ancestral home. David Ben-Gurion was the primary national founder of the State of Israel and the first Prime Minister of Israel. He was a Polish Jew.
Valerie Sobel is an Economist and a pianist, living in Western Canada. She devotes much of her time in travelling, philanthropic endeavors and freelance writing. She chairs a disabled veterans charity.