With the atrocities of the Holocaust that caused the murder of about six million Jews through unimaginable ways like gassing, mass shooting, and starvation, it was no surprise that many wanted to take revenge. This was how Nakam, a paramilitary organization made of Holocaust survivors, was formed.
They wanted to seek revenge for the death of their brothers and sisters who perished. The “Jewish Avengers of the Holocaust” might not have suits as cool as Iron Man’s, nor could they turn green and giant like Hulk, but they sure were as brave.
Nakam Was Formed
It all started in 1945 when after visiting the site of the Ponary massacre and the extermination camp at Majdanek and especially meeting the survivors of Auschwitz camp, Abba Kovner decided that he would take revenge. He was a Polish Israeli poet and writer who attempted to organize a ghetto uprising. When that failed, he hid in the forest, joined the Soviet partisans, and survived the war.
Kovner recruited some 50 Holocaust survivors, most former Jewish partisans and a few who had escaped to the Soviet Union. They named their organization Nakam (Revenge). They used the Hebrew name that meant “judgment,” which could also be an acronym for “the blood of Israel avenges.”
The members of Nakam believed that the Jews were not safe from another Holocaust just because Nazi Germany was defeated. As for Kovner, the only way to let the Germans know that the Jews were not to mess with was through proportional revenge, which meant they had to kill six million Germans, too. They had also doubted that the laws of the time would suffice to punish an event as extreme as the Holocaust. So, they had their plans ready to be set in motion.
Poison a German Village.
One of Nakam’s members, Joseph Harmatz, posed as a Polish displaced person and attempted to infiltrate the municipal water supply in Nuremberg. The place had been the headquarters of the Nazis, so it would be a good place for them to take their revenge. Through some bribery, Harmatz had Willek Schwerzreich placed in a position with the municipal water company. Schwerzreich observed the outline of the water system and the control of the main water valve. From that, they planned where they would put the poison that would possibly kill the most significant number of Germans.
It was Kovner who had to find the poison that they would use. So, he traveled to Palestine under the guise of a Jewish Brigade soldier on leave. But, he failed to convince the Haganah chiefs, the Zionist paramilitary organization, to give him poison.
In September, he met Ephraim and Aharon Katzir, chemists at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem who were sympathetic to the revenge plot. In December 1945, he already traveled to Alexandria, Egypt, carrying false papers, a duffel with gold hidden in toothpaste tubes, and cans full of poison. After he boarded the ship headed to France, Kovner’s name and three more were called over. He left the duffel to a friend named Ytzik Rosenkranz and instructed that he throw half the poison in the sea. He then turned himself in and was arrested by the British police.
Mass Poison the SS POWs.
Plan A was already out, so Nakam had to move to Plan B to poison the SS prisoners. In October 1945, he set up a laboratory in the Nakam headquarters in Paris to test various formulations of tasteless and odorless poison with delayed effects. The result was a formulation made of arsenic, glue, and some other additives that could be brushed onto the loaves of bread. They tested their formula on cats to confirm its lethality.
They decided they would poison the prisoners of Langwasser internment camp with 12,000 to 15,000 prisoners, most of whom were former SS officers or important Nazi figures. They managed to smuggle the arsenic and apply it to the bottom of each loaf to prevent the loaves of bread from looking suspicious. Only 3,000 out of the original 14,000 loaves of bread were laced with poison because the bakers went on strike.
Soon, reports would say that 2,283 German prisoners fell ill from poisoning, 207 of which were critical. None of them died. Soon, the German prosecutors started an investigation for attempted murder, but the preliminary studies were dropped due to the “unusual circumstance.”